As we gear up towards Ramadan, our thoughts turn towards keeping healthy throughout the fasting month, for Muslims and non-Muslims alike. We're excited to have a guest post from Dr Ng KC bringing us the 3 most common mistakes people make while fasting - and how to correct them!
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Fasting during the hours of daylight (or sawm) is practiced by Muslims worldwide throughout the month of Ramadan, and is one of the Five Pillars of Islam. With most only taking two meals in a day, the fast can be challenging, and even dangerous when practiced wrongly. Since the fasting month is almost upon us, it seemed like a good time for me to draw on my medical experience to share three of most the common mistakes people make while fasting, and how to correct them.
Taking excessively sweet food during sahur
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Sahur is the first meal of the day, taken before sunrise and the first prayer of the day. In some ways, this is the most crucial meal of the day for working Muslims, as they will be subsisting on the nutrition from this meal for the rest of the day. As a result, some choose to consume very sweet food for this meal (such as dates or traditional kuih), intended to provide energy for the day.
Although it seems to be a good idea on the surface, these foods actually make the challenge of fasting even more difficult. Excessive sugar is absorbed, processed and used quickly by the body. This means high blood sugar levels in the morning, followed by a rapid drop and hunger pangs for the rest of the day.
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Instead, the best food for sahur would consist of food items with complex carbohydrates and fiber, along with some protein and fats. The digestion of complex carbohydrates (like brown rice, oats, and wholemeal bread) takes a longer time and results in a slow release of sugar over the course of a few hours. The fiber, protein, and fat all help to stave off hunger pangs, and are essential parts of any balanced meal.
Overeating during iftar
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Iftar, or the breaking of the fast at sunset, is an eagerly awaited moment for many Muslims. After a long and difficult day of work, they are able to break their fast and relieve their hunger and thirst. Understandably, many prepare food in advance, only waiting for the sun to set to begin the feast. As a result, it is very common for them to consume a large amount of food very quickly and end up overeating.
Not only does this result in discomfort after the meal, nutritionally it is very unhealthy as well. After a day of starvation, the body is suddenly presented with an excess amount of food and struggles to cope with the sudden change. This results in a feeling of lethargy, making the exhaustion from the day’s work even worse.
A better way to handle this is to have a small snack (such as the traditional dates and milk) and a drink of water to break the fast, then wait until the evening prayers are complete to have a full meal. This allows the body to begin the process of digestion gradually and also reduces the feeling of hunger, making overeating less likely.
Rehydrating with sugary drinks
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As practicing Muslims don't consume any food or drink during the fast, dehydration is another problem that commonly occurs during the fasting month. Especially in warmer climates, an entire day of work without a drink of water often means a feeling of great thirst by the end of the day.
Many people then turn to carbonated drinks, fruit juices, cordials or isotonic drinks for refreshment, soothing their thirst with the sweet and cold drinks. As you might imagine, this is not the best way to rehydrate the body, as the rapidly absorbed sugars tend to make people even thirstier.
Instead, the best way to rehydrate is simply with plain water. Ordinary water is rapidly absorbed by the body and will quickly relieve any feelings of thirst. And worries about electrolytes tend to be overblown; there is no need to take any electrolytes with your drinks as you will get most of the electrolytes you need from your meals.
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Those are some pointers that I have learned from my time counselling people on their diets during the fasting month. But perhaps the most important advice is the simplest and yet most difficult principle to achieve: moderation. As the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) has said: “Nothing is worse than a person who fills his stomach. It should be enough for the son of Adam to have a few bites to satisfy his hunger. If he wishes more, it should be: "One-third for his food, one-third for his liquids, and one-third for his breath.”
I hope that with the help of these pointers, you will be able to have a healthier and more fulfilling fast!
Are you gearing up for a healthy fast? Be sure to check out our brand NEW range of healthy snacks under the "Shop" tab above!