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Healthy ways to fast outlined

DURING the Holy Month of Ramadan, Muslims across the world fast from dawn to dusk. Ramadan brings along with it a lot of changes in lifestyle, mind and body and of course changes in eating habits. As Muslims completely abstain from food and water in daytime, The Gulf Today helps the UAE residents with some guidelines for keeping a healthier fast.

According to Samya Athamneh, dietician at Al Zahra Hospital, a healthy eating habit with a touch of common sense can go a long way to make fasting free of adverse health effects. During Ramadan, the metabolic rate of fasting persons slows down and other regulatory mechanisms start functioning.

Samya explained, "Eating a variety of food items moderately is the key to optimum health. It's particularly true during the Holy Month of Ramadan. To be healthy, one must consume foods from the major food groups--breads and cereals, milk and dairy, meat and beans and vegetables and fruits. A balanced diet improves blood cholesterol profile and decreases gastric acidity. It also prevents digestive problems."

Anjali Dange, dietician at Welcare hospital in Dubai said, "A number of changes take place in one's body during the initial days of fasting as a reaction due to the sudden change in diet during Ramadan. So, instant energy foods are required at the time of breaking the long fast, to give the body the energy that it has missed during the day."

Dietary Guidelines


At the time of breaking the fast, the body immediately needs an easily available energy source in the form of glucose. Dates and juices in the above amounts are sufficient to bring low blood glucose level normal. Juices and soups also help to maintain water and mineral balance in the body.

An unbalanced diet and heavy serving of sherbets and sweets with added sugar have been found to be unhealthy.

Sample menu: 2 to 3 large dates +1/2 cup of orange juice + 1 small loaf of Arabic brown bread + 3oz roast beef + 1/2 cup steamed vegetables + 1 cup of sliced raw vegetable salad added with 2 teaspoons of olive oil + 1 cup of low fat yogurt.


For the bed time snack, it's preferred to consume food from the major food group including salads, chicken or fish or lean meat, plus some grain as rice or bread or pasta. A small tub of low fat yogurt and fruits can also be served.

Sample Menu: Sandwich made of one brown Samoon bread, plus 3 to 4 tablespoon of low fat Laban or a slice of low fat cheese and slices of cucumber and lettuce.


Consume a light pre-dawn meal, eating whole wheat or oat cereal or whole wheat bread. Have a salad along with 1 to 2 servings of fruit.

In view of the long hours of fasting, the so-called "complex carbohydrates" or slow digesting foods should be consumed at Suhur, resulting in less hunger during the day.

These complex carbohydrates are found in foods that contain grains and seeds like barley, wheat, oats, millet, semolina, beans, lentils, whole meal flour and unpolished rice.

Sample Menu: 2 to 3 slices of brown toast + 1 boiled egg + 1 cup of low fat milk +1 handful of bran or cornflakes + sliced of tomato and cucumber + 1 fruit item.

DOs and DON'Ts

* Drink sufficient water between iftar and sleep time to avoid dehydration

* Consume sufficient vegetables at a meal

* Consume fruit at the end of the meal

* Maintain calorie intake to roughly what you take when not fasting

* Maintain the same level of activities, as you were not fasting

* Eat slow burning foods such as whole wheat, oats, beans, lentils, brown bread, brown rice.

* Eat high fibre foods like vegetables and fruit to avoid constipation

* Avoid fried and fatty food, these can cause heartburn and weight gain

* Engage in some kind of light exercises such as stretching or walking.

* Avoid caffeine drinks such as coke, coffee or tea

(As the sudden decrease in caffeine prompts headache, mood swing and irritability, reduce the amount of intake gradually)

* Avoid smoking cigarettes, as it negatively affects utilisation of various vitamins, minerals and enzymes. (If smoking cannot be given up, cut down gradually the number of cigarettes)

* Avoid carbonated drinks have been added with caffeine.

Health hazards

There are number of changes and effects that the Holy Month can have on the body. During the initial days of fasting you may encounter slight dizziness as well as frequent headaches. This problem is more common with tea and coffee addicts. Fried foods, very spicy foods and foods containing too much sugar such as sweets--a popular choice during Iftar--can cause indigestion, heart-burn and weight problems. They should be limited during Ramadan.

For non-insulin requiring diabetes patients, who require oral medication, fasting may be done with precaution with the consultation of their doctor. They are advised to reduce the dose of diabetic medication and strict adherence to anti-diabetic diet, including eating complex carbohydrates (Slow burning foods). Meanwhile, patients who require insulin shots, observe fasting may be too risky.

Hypoglycaemia or low blood sugar may cause feeling of weakness, especially in the afternoon. Such patients should eat solid Suhur included slow digesting foods. In severe cases, it's better to avoid fasting.

Dehydration may exacerbate constipation, leading to piles, which is very painful. Drinking plenty of water and fluids, high fibre containing foods and vegetables are the solutions for it. Using medicine as a preventive measure will be helpful. Indigestion and bloating happen due to overeating, fried and fatty foods, eggs, cabbage, carbonated drinks like cola.

Insufficient fluid and salt intake or excessive fluid and electrolyte loss causes lethargy or feeling weak and light-headed. So, itís recommended to increase water and fluid intake to avoid excessive sweating and keeping cool.

Muscle cramps, as a result of inadequate intake of calcium, magnesium and potassium, can be solved by eating foods rich in minerals such as vegetables, fruits, dairy products, dates, meat products.

Patients who suffer from peptic ulcer, hernia, gastritis, high blood pressure, kidney stones should consult a doctor if they intend to fast in Ramadan.

Fasting can often increase levels of gastric acidity in the stomach which can cause a burning feeling, heaviness in the stomach and sometimes a sour taste in the mouth. This can be overcome by eating foods rich in fibre during iftar, such as whole wheat bread, vegetables, humus, beans and fruits. These foods trigger muscular action and the proper churning and mixing of food, breaking it into small particles, which helps to reduce the build up of acid in the stomach.

Source: Gulf Today
Posted: 03/09/2008

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