The holy month of Ramadan is a time when many Muslims across the world fast during daylight hours, eating one meal (the ‘suhoor’ or ‘sehri’) just before dawn and another (the ‘iftar’) after sunset.
During fasting hours when no food or liquid is consumed, the body uses its stores of carbohydrates (which are stored in the liver and muscles) and fats to provide energy once all the calories from the foods consumed during the night have been used up. The body cannot store water and so the kidneys conserve as much water as possible by reducing the amount lost in urine. However, the body cannot avoid losing some water when you breathe, sweat, use the toilet.
Depending on the weather and the length of the fast, most people who fast during Ramadan experience mild dehydration, which may cause headaches, tiredness and difficulty concentrating. However, studies have suggested that this is not harmful to health, provided that enough fluids are consumed after breaking the fast to replace those lost during the day. However, if you are unable to stand up due to dizziness, or you are disoriented, you should urgently drink water or take a rehydration solution. (Salt and sugar)
Once the fast is broken, the body can rehydrate and gain energy from the foods and drinks consumed. Having not eaten for a long period, it is advisable to eat slowly when breaking the fast and to start with plenty of fluids and fluid-rich foods such as fruits, vegetables, soups and stews.
The changes to eating habits and lack of fluids during the day may cause constipation for some people. Consuming plenty of high fibre foods, such as whole grains, high fibre cereals, fruits and vegetables, dried fruit and nuts alongside plenty of fluids may help to ease constipation as well as doing some light physical activity, such as going for a walk after iftar can help.
What to eat and drink at suhoor and iftar?
Drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated for the day ahead and go for starchy foods for energy, choosing high fibre or whole grain as these tend to be digested more slowly.
Suhoor provides fluids and energy for the day of fasting ahead, so making healthy choices can help you to cope better with the fast.
Some better options are –
- Oats – you could choose porridge, which will provide fluids too as it’s made with milk or water, or muesli with milk or yoghurt. Fresh or dried fruit, nuts or seeds as toppings is a plus.
- Rice or quinoa – rice pudding with fruit, quinoa with veggies, savoury rice preps with less oil and salt
- Yogurt – a great option as it provides nutrients like protein and calcium. It can be consumed with cereal or fruit.
- Bread – go for wholegrain options as these provide more fibre. Avoid combining bread with salty foods like butter, cheese, or preserved meats. You could try nut butter (without added salt) or banana. As bread is fairly dry, make sure you drink plenty of water or other fluids alongside.
- Scrambled egg/ egg omelette with multigrain bread
When first breaking the fast go for plenty of fluids, low fat, fluid-rich foods and foods containing some natural sugars for energy.
Avoid consuming a lot of foods or drinks with added sugars.
Some healthy options are-
- Drinks – water, milk, fruit juices or smoothies, lassi, wood apple juice, coconut water, buttermilk
- Dates – traditionally eaten to break the fast since the old times, dates are a great way to break the fast as they provide natural sugars for energy, provide minerals like potassium, copper and manganese and are a source of fibre. You could also try other dried fruits such as apricots, figs, raisins or prunes, which also provide fibre and nutrients.
- Fruits – provides natural sugars for energy, fluid and some vitamins and minerals.
- Soups – meat broths, pulse soups, like lentils and beans.
- Meat, fish – steamed, grilled, boiled, baked. Paneer.
- Jowar, ragi, brown rice – low-fat preparations can be consumed
- Try to keep the amount of fatty and sugary foods and sugary drinks to a small amount.
- Salt stimulates thirst hence avoid consuming a lot of salty foods.
Make sure the foods you eat provide a balance of starchy foods, fruit and vegetables, dairy foods and protein-rich foods.
Remember that you have a relatively short time each day to provide your body with all the essential nutrients and fluids it needs to be healthy, so the quality of your diet is especially important during Ramadan.