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From Fasting to Feasting: A Bumpy Transition?

From Fasting to Feasting: A Bumpy Transition?
Eid Al-Fitr

In Indonesia it is Lapis Legit, in India it is Seviyan, and in Egypt it is Kahk.

What do these dishes have in common? Two things actually. They are packed with calories and are all enjoyed during `Eid Al-Fitr.

Let’s face it. Celebrating a religious occasion with food, or any other occasion for that matter, is human nature.

It is so much ingrained into the human psyche that the word “feast” has taken up another meaning in addition to “an annual religious celebration.”

According to the Online Oxford Dictionary, feast also means “a large meal, especially a celebratory one” and “to feast” means to “eat large quantities of…”

Food is undeniably one of the pleasures of life. In the Holy Qur’an, Allah said: “O mankind! Eat of that which is lawful and good on the earth, and follow not the footsteps of Shaytan (Satan). Verily, he is to you an open enemy.”(Surat Al-Baqarah: 2:168).

In describing heaven, the Qur’an has extensive descriptions of the fruits, as well as the rivers of honey and milk, which will be at the disposal of believers. These are described as being like nothing they have ever experienced in life.

But this is heaven, where there is no weight gain, cholesterol, heart attacks, or any of the other tribulations that earthly mortals must face.

Take heart. We’re not about to tell you to abandon those earthly pleasures; only to enjoy them with a pinch of salt, no pun intended.

Tip#1: Slow Transition

During Ramadan, the body is accustomed to a certain routine of receiving food doses at certain times of the day. This routine, for most people, is not the norm. To return to pre-Ramadan food habits may cause a jolt for the body’s systems and hence trigger health problems such as heart burn and the dreaded weight gain syndrome.

According to Tarek Rushdi, consultant of clinical nutrition and intensive care in Cairo University’s Faculty of Medicine, the first day of `Eid is pertinent to the process of returning back to normal food routine.

“`Eid is about happiness and enjoying who you are with. It’s not about bringing about indigestion,” he said. He recommends that before the Fajr prayers, one should eat something small. “Something like a date and not a sugar topped kahk (Egyptian biscuits made for `Eid) of course,” he joked.

Later on after prayers something light should be eaten such as milk or yogurt. A moderately light breakfast should follow. “Anything heavy at this point may cause heartburn, which could take up to a week in treatment,” he explained.

Eating `Eid desserts should be in moderation, he stressed. “Also, from a psychological perspective, overeating during `Eid may trigger lethargy and inclination to sleep for long periods of time while everyone’s having fun,” said Rushdi.

Tip#2: Simulate Ramadan Habits

The main cause of heartburn during `Eid is eating at times when there is no gastric juice for digestion. “Food is putrefied and the result of this putrefaction is heartburn. Digestive enzymes [as a medication] are then the only cure. Milk is also [helpful] to neutralize acidity,” he said.

Rushdi suggests eating the main meals during `Eid at timings that are close to Ramadan’s iftar and sahur. This, he says, helps the body to gradually be reintroduced to normal eating habits.

Tip#3: Modify Your Recipes

Learning a few culinary tricks might come in handy during `Eid. By modifying recipes through decreasing fats and substituting sugar with honey, molasses, or dates, the dishes served might be higher in nutritional value and taste even better.

The glycemic index of date and honey is low, so it doesn’t cause the blood sugar to shoot. “But I prescribe ma`moul (a cookie stuffed with dates) for those who suffer from being underweight. It’s packed with calories. [Remember] moderation is the key,” he said.

When making the Pharaonic-originated Egyptian Kahk, `agamya, which is honey-based, or `agwa (date paste), are the best stuffings, for example.

Lapis Legit

Lapis Legit, an Indonesian delicacy.

However, Rushdi is against the use of artificial sweeteners. “I’m not for it and I’m not even sure how practical they are to use from a culinary perspective. Also, even if they do work, you’d have to use a large amount for the [larger] dishes and that’s a dose that’s not acceptable,” he said.

He declared a more favorable stance towards the use of fructose. However, it’s important to make sure that the children who will be eating the dishes are not allergic to fructose, he stressed.

Another trick is to reduce the amount of butter used by mixing it with oil. While this may not reduce the fat content, it will reduce the amount of harmful saturated fats found in butter. “Beware of hydrogenated oils though,” warned Rushdi.

In Indonesia, a famous `Eid dessert is Lapis Legit. Also known as the thousand layer cake, Lapis Legit may not actually have a thousand layers, but the caloric estimate of the dish may come quite close.

It is composed of several layers of pancake-like dough, and some recipes recommend spreading butter between each layer. Confectioner’s sugar is then sprinkled on the top.

“An alteration of this recipe could probably include skipping the butter between a few of the layers. That should do the trick and it most certainly won’t affect the taste. Also, how about having just a thin slice?” he said.

Seviyan, an Indian/Pakistani `Eid breakfast dish, is also known as sweet vermicelli. The vermicelli is fried with butter and spiced. Sweetened milk is added. Normally, condensed sweetened milk is used.

To alter this recipe, Rushdi recommends toasting the vermicelli in a non-stick pan without the use of fat. The same brown toasted color is achieved without the extra calories. Skimmed milk could also be used and the dish may be sweetened with a natural sweetener such as honey.

He cautioned that while there is a trend towards using brown sugar and brown wheat, they should be used with discretion; because although they may have fibers that reduce absorption from meals, they still have the same amount of calories.

Tip #4: Think of Ramadan as an Incubator for Good Habits

It’s all in the mind. Ramadan should not be thought of as a month of deprivation, but of discipline. “It’s discipline for the rest of the year and for people who complain from obesity, cardiovascular diseases, and excessive smoking. Put simply, Ramadan is camp for a better life,” said Rushdi.

Most sugar cravings are switched off during Ramadan, but because of over-compensation, weight gain is observed afterwards.

A final word of caution: when you hit the salad bar during `Eid, please stay away from items that include mayonnaise or any form of raw eggs. “Anything with raw eggs as an ingredient should be avoided because of the bird flu virus,” Rushdi cautioned.

This article is from Science’s archive, originally published on an earlier date.


About Lamya Tawfik

Lamya Tawfik, freelance writer of the Science Section.

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