It is yet another holy month of fasting for Ahmed Abdi, a Muslim who is bracing for fasting Ramadan during a hot, dry summer.
But having fasted Ramadan for many years, Abdi, 30, believes he has mastered the art of overcoming thirst and hunger in preparation for this dry season. Over the years his formula of survival has been overreliance on food and drinks.
“Over all those years of fasting, I made sure that I eat, eat and eat during non-fasting hours, because I want to have the energy to continue fasting for all the 30 days,” he told AboutIslam.net.
“I think it will be the same formula for me this time around when there is a crippling dry season in this part of Africa.”
Oblivious to the impending health implications of overeating, Abdi is among many around the world who are yet to understand the jigsaw puzzle to maintain a healthy body during the holy month.
Abdi assumes large quantities of food can be beneficial to stimulate energy and maintain the required body metabolic rate.
“I am not the only one who does that. I am certain many other Muslims out there eat large amounts of food to survive the long hours of fasting” he says.
But if his experience is anything to go by, eating large quantities of food comes with little, if no extra benefit to the fasting body.
“What I have realized is that, when I eat less food at dinner and Suhur I become active and lighter than when I eat more food. But it is my perception that I must eat a lot.”
Although many like him are hesitant to change their dietary adaptation, Abdi’s experience with overeating underlines the importance of a proper diet during the holy month of Ramadan, where an improper diet can become counterproductive.
Just Like Any Other Day
Achieving and maintaining a healthy diet can be challenging. A person must sustain a careful balance between calories consumed and energy expended for efficiency.
This year when Ramadan falls in the summer, we will have very long and hot days to contend with. Most health troubles are likely to result from unsuitable diet or as a consequence of over-eating.
From Islam’s perspective, overeating contradicts the principal aims and spirit of Ramadan where a Muslim shares the feeling of hunger with the poor.
From a medical standpoint, the habit of overeating is also prohibited for its adverse effects on the mechanisms that regulate the body’s metabolic rate.
Nutrition experts and dieticians say that overeating is an issue that will only add to the escalation of one’s poor body performance when fasting.
A proper diet that has a smaller amount of food but is satisfactorily balanced will keep the fasting Muslim healthy and active during the holy month of Ramadan.
According to Mahat Mohamed, a Kenyan nutritionist, the best policy is to take in normal quantities of food groups just like any other day of the year.
“To remain healthy during Ramadan, normal quantities of food from the major food groups: bread and cereal, milk and dairy product, fish, meat and poultry, beans, vegetable and fruit should be consumed,” noted Mohamed.
“One must ensure that these food groups are adequately and well balanced as per the food pyramid.”
According to a Ramadan Guide prepared by Communities in Action Enterprises, a not-for-profit organization based in the United Kingdom, fasting can advance the health of an individual if a proper nutritional plan is adhered to.
“The fasts of Ramadan can improve a person’s health but if the correct diet is not followed – can possibly worsen it! The deciding factor isn’t the fast itself, but rather what is consumed in the non-fasting hours,” reads part of the guide.
The organization’s researchers say that, in order to fully benefit from fasting, a person should spare a great deal of thought to the type and quantity of food they will indulge in throughout the blessed month.
“Overeating cannot only harm the body but it is thought to also interfere with a person’s spiritual growth during the month.”
Health experts say that the metabolism (the rate of chemical reactions in living beings needed to maintain life) of a body determines which substances it will find nutritious and which it will find poisonous.
Food consumed during Iftar, dinner, or Suhur (the pre-dawn meal) can lead to some unintentional excesses or dangers.
Therefore, to maintain the right metabolic reactions, the fasting person needs to watch over what he or she is taking in during non-fasting hours.
Medical practitioners also say that the ability to remain active or lazy during the fasting day depends on the kind and quantity of food one consumes.
In dealing with every day activities efficiently and tirelessly during daytime fasting without losing much of the body’s energy, dieticians recommend an assortment of dietary plan.
“To overcome inactivity and laziness one needs to take light/high energy foods when breaking fast,” says Mohamed.
For enhancing body performance, dieticians advise energy-dense foods particular duringIftar and dinner.
These foods may include dates, enriched porridge, fruit juice, also cereals like rice, pasta, oats, fruits and proteins like milk, all this in a balanced diet.
Due to the longevity of fasting hours in some parts of the world, “complex carbohydrates”, or slow digesting foods, should be consumed at Suhur so that the food lasts longer (about eight hours) resulting in less hunger during the day.
Most experts recommend a light Suhur that may include complex carbohydrates that are found in foods that contain grains and seeds like barley, wheat, oats, millet, semolina, beans, lentils, whole meal flour and unpolished rice.
Doctors say that, during fasting, dehydration is another common feature that can significantly reduce performance and activity of a fasting body. Dehydration may be worse during this summer Ramadan where the sun is biting harshly.
According to nutritionists, dehydration will also depend on how much you had to drink before your fast, physical activity, and the efficiency of body organs such as kidney.
“Drink sufficient water and juices between Iftar and bedtime to avoid dehydration and for detoxification of the digestive system,” advises Mohamed.
“You also need to avoid strenuous exercise, keep away from eating refined carbohydrates, and energy consuming stressful events [like having] arguments, while having resting minutes in between heavy duties.”
According to Mohamed, a fasting person should keep away from heavy gas forming foods like taking lots of beans late at night, high-fat diet, highly refined foods, junk foods like crisps, dehydrating juices like sodas, sugars, fried foods and very spicy foods.
This article is from Science’s archive and we’ve originally published it on an earlier date.
- Communities in Action (CIA) enterpirses Ramadan Guide. Powered by Google Docs.
- Austin, Syed H. Akhtar, Health Aspects of Fasting in Ramadan. Stay Healthy during Ramadan, Texas.
- Austin, Syed H. Akhtar, Significance of fasting in the month of Ramadan, Texas.