Nutritionist Victoria Tipper gives us tips on fasting without causing yourself harm.
During Ramadan, Muslims fast during daylight hours. Many non-Muslims also choose to join them. However, it’s important to fast safely.
Observe how you eat
After sunset and before sunrise, you should aim to eat in a similar way to your normal everyday diet, unless that normal diet is full of junk food. Eat across all the food groups, particularly focusing on foods that will promote a slower rate of digestion which will help maintain energy levels during the daily fasting hours. This is particularly important for suhoor. Many who are fasting do well by eating smaller meals more regularly, during the non-fasting hours.
Also it is important to eat slowly, it is very tempting to devour food after the long fasting hours but this will lead to overeating and problems with digestion. The first stage of digestion happens in the mouth, with chewing and enzymes in our saliva. Try putting your fork down in between mouthfuls of food or engaging in conversation to prevent you from eating too quickly.
Increase your fibre
Be sure to boost dietary fibre during Ramadan and when fasting. As a complex carbohydrate it is recommended that men and women consume 38g and 25g daily, respectively. The slower rate of digestion, when including fibre, avoids spikes in blood sugar levels.
Conversely, simple and refined carbohydrates such as sugar-rich foods, sodas, sweets, white bread and instant white rice will digest at a faster rate, leading to energy slumps.
Ways to increase fibre in your Ramadan eating plan include keeping the skin on fruits and vegetables, such as on baked potatoes. You can also add beans or lentils to meals and a tablespoon or two of high-fibre milled flaxseeds to yogurts, salads or soups.
The rate at which different carbohydrates raise blood sugar levels can be measured using the Glycemic Index (GI), with a lower GI indicating lower blood sugar levels and slower digestion. There are ways to lower the GI level, for example eating carbohydrates with a protein or a fat will slow the rate of digestion (brown rice and chicken or peanut butter on rye bread), preventing blood sugar spikes and energy slumps.
Another way to slow digestion time is to opt for foods that aren't processed. Avoid packaged food and opt to cook your own at home from scratch. Slightly undercooked pasta will have a lower GI, for example. Adding a little lemon juice or vinegar will also help slow stomach emptying time, reducing the GI of carbs.
Ensure your diet is balanced
Make sure each meal has a good balance of vegetables (should fill half the plate), protein (around a quarter of the plate), low GI and wholegrain carbs (around a quarter of the plate) and a little healthy fat (avocados, olive oil, coconut oil, organic ghee, grass-fed butter, nuts and seeds).
Rehydration is key
Always start iftar by drinking water and perhaps some milk or tea. Also have a piece of fruit, or some dates, before you eat as this will raise sugar levels gradually and help hydrate the body after the fast.
Another great way to open the fast is by drinking a soup. A chilled version will rehydrate and cool the body down or a traditional lentil-based soup, will act to raise blood sugar levels slowly.
You want to consume at least two litres of water after sunset to make up for the water you have missed during the day. It is a good idea to sip water regularly during the non-fasting hours, to help you stay hydrated during the next day. Refrain from activities that will cause dehydration during the day such as intense exercise or physical work, save it for after you have broken the fast.
Certain vegetables like cucumbers, lettuce, celery, courgettes and aubergine are mostly water so they will rehydrate you, too. Fresh fruits are another great source of hydration with tomatoes, watermelon, grapefruit and apples being some of the best choices.
The high water content of such fruit and veggies will also help you to feel fuller for longer, so the liklihood is you will consume fewer calories overall.
A super hydrating green smoothie can be made to pack a nutrient dense punch. Adding some coconut water can add some well needed electrolytes, too, particularly if you are continuing to exercise throughout Ramadan.
Can anyone fast?
There are some who are not advised to fast, including those who are sick or unwell, expectant or new mothers who feel fasting isn’t working for them and also those who are very young or old in age. People are always able to make up for time missed from fasting during Ramadan at a later point when they are in full heath.