Your guide to staying healthy this Ramadan

Simple steps to maintaining a healthy lifestyle and optimal energy levels throughout the holy month
Your guide to staying healthy this Ramadan
Tips brought to you by Mubadala Healthcare in partnership with Imperial College London
By Salma Awwad
Mon 24 Jun 2013 12:56 PM

Ramadan is a special month in the Islamic Hijri calendar that signifies reflection, prayer and developing empathy for the less fortunate, while fostering an appreciation of one’s blessings.

Before the celebrations and lavish feasts start for the arrival of dusk, there is the challenge of abstaining from eating and drinking throughout the entire day. As blood sugar levels run low, it can be difficult to maintain your concentration at work.

Here are some helpful tips at maintaining a healthy lifestyle throughout the holy month and tackling the woes of fasting in 40 degree weather:

1. Practising the right eating habits

Keep your Ramadan diet simple and similar to a normal daily diet. Ideally the fasting diet should contain foods from all major food groups including:

Bread, cereals or rice

Meat, chicken, fish or beans

Milk, laban or Yogurt

Fruits and vegetables

2. Hydrating the right way

As soon as it is time to break your fast, the first thing you should reach for is water. Drink plenty of water in the non-fasting hours to avoid dehydration and headaches.

Try to avoid drinks with high sugar content as a sudden surge of sugar into your system will result in your blood glucose levels soaring, followed by a crash and a lethargic feeling. Also avoid excess consumption of caffeinated drinks such as coffee, tea and sodas as these could dehydrate the body, resulting in water loss.

3. Breaking your fast

Iftar is the meal that breaks the fast, so it is important to keep it as a meal and not a feast. ICLDC’s Nutrition Education Manager Rahma Al Kebi suggests the following plan:

Three dates

Light Vegetable soup

A glass of Laban

Mixed greens salad

Basmati rice with either grilled chicken, fish, harees, or thareed

4. Maintaining a healthy BMI

Ramadan is the perfect time to absorb the spirit of fasting and become more aware of your consumption and eating habits. Maintaining a healthy weight is the first step towards a healthy lifestyle. A common way to identify a healthy body weight is through the Body Mass Index (BMI). The formula for calculating BMI is weight in kilograms divided by height in metres squared:

BMI = Weight/Height x Height. For example, 60kg/1.7 x1.7 = 20.8

Underweight = 18.5

Normal weight = 18.6-24.9

Overweight =  25-29.9

Obesity =  BMI of 30 or greater

5. Moderating and not eliminating physical activity

Moderate activity is good during fasting. A typical great example of moderate physical activity is 30-minute walk right before sunset or an hour after Iftar. However, excessive exercise is best avoided especially when it involves intense cardio training.

6. Resisting temptation

Space out your meals. During Ramadan, try not to be tempted to eat continuously from Iftar to just before Fajr. It is a good idea to pace your meals-just like your normal diet.

Always look for good carbohydrates, which are slowly absorbed by your body and therefore maintain the feeling of being full for longer. These slow release carbohydrates are also known as low glycaemic index carbohydrates. They include wholegrain bread and basmati rice, pasta cooked al dente. Fast release carbohydrates, otherwise known as high-glycaemic index and high sugar food are best avoided. Foods with a high glycaemic index include potatoes and white bread.

7. Suhoor: an essential pillar

Many people make the mistake of skipping this vital meal and opting for an uninterrupted sleep instead. If done correctly Suhoor is what sustains your energy levels through the day.

It needs to be a healthy, moderate meal, filled with slow energy releasing carbohydrates which maintain blood glucose levels and energise your body throughout the day. Slow-energy releasing or low-glycaemic index foods include grains and seeds, like barley, wheat, oats, semolina, beans, lentils, wholemeal flour, and basmati rice. Below is a simple and sustaining example of a Suhoor meal:

A glass of milk, laban or yogurt

A slice of wholegrain bread

Foul or eggs or tuna

Mixed salad

A piece of fruit such as apple, pear or an orange

Plenty of water

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