While it sounds counterintuitive, some people gain weight when fasting, which could exacerbate their health risks if they have diabetes or are already significantly overweight. However, by sticking to a few simple rules, this outcome can easily be avoided, says an expert from Imperial College London Diabetes Centre (ICDLC), a Mubadala Health partner.
Dr Farhana Bin Lootah, an internal medical consultant at ICLDC, says, "Overeating will not only cause weight gain, but will also lead to unstable blood sugar levels, which can be a serious issue if you have diabetes. It helps to remind ourselves when choosing our meals that Ramadan is also about self-control and discipline."
Here, Dr Farhana gives some tips to help those fasting make healthier choices.
Eat a balanced diet
Dr Farhana says food eaten at iftar and suhoor should be simple and not differ very much from your normal diet. It should contain foods from all the major food groups:
- Fruit and vegetables
- Bread, cereals and potatoes
- Meat, fish, or alternatives
- Milk and dairy foods
Foods to avoid and healthier alternatives
She recommends avoiding the following:
- Heavily processed, fast-burning foods that contain refined carbohydrates, such as sugar and white flour
- Deep-fried foods, for example pakoras, samosas and fried dumplings
- High-sugar and high-fat foods, including sweets such as gulab jamun, rasgulla and balushahi
- High-fat cooked foods, for example, parathas, oily curries and greasy pastries
Instead, she says, make or choose the following healthier options:
- Baked samosas and boiled dumplings
- Chapattis made without oil
- Baked or grilled meat and chicken
- Homemade pastry
- Milk-based sweets and puddings, such as rasmalai and barfee
When preparing meals, Dr Farhana advises avoiding deep frying or using too much oil, instead try dry-frying or grilling or baking, which also helps retain the taste and original flavour of the food, especially with chicken and fish.
Best beverage choices
Water is the most important fluid to replenish your thirst during Ramadan. "Unfortunately, some people do not drink enough water and have only small amounts at Iftar and then forget to drink water until the next day," Dr Farhana says.
Water plays a significant role in weight loss and maintenance, because it helps to get rid of toxins and reduce the feeling of hunger.
Try not to drink large quantities of water all at once or a lot during a meal. Instead drink water between your meals and drink small quantities of water throughout the night. In addition to water, drink fresh fruit or vegetable juices rather than sweetened ones, and avoid sugary drinks.
It's also helpful to avoid caffeine-based drinks, especially sodas and cola. Caffeine is a diuretic and can stimulate faster water loss through increased urination, says Dr Farhana.
Avoiding indigestion after iftar
Our bodies have trouble coping with a sudden, high intake of food if we overindulge at iftar, leading to indigestion and heartburn, says Dr Farhana. Other common digestive problems include anything bloating, constipation, nausea and vomiting.
Generally, problems occur when people try to eat too much too soon. "It’s important not to try to consume the amount of food normally eaten during entire day in just six to eight hours. Focus on eating gradually, beginning with fluids and non-fatty, low-calorie food," she advises.
Dr Farhana adds that another problem is that many people tend not to exercise during Ramadan. "Exercise is very beneficial for healthy digestion, because movement helps stimulate the natural contraction of intestinal muscles, encouraging the food to move through your intestines more rhythmically," she explains.