Dubai: Being cooped up at home for weeks now means that health and diet are arguably more important than ever. That extra time spent at home means lack of movement and easy access to constant snacking post-iftar. The first two weeks of Ramadan have now gone by and our bodies should have adjusted to this new way of eating. But sometimes, even then the weight won’t shed too easily.
And you aren't the only one
“I have a healthy iftar every night, I don’t overeat and I decreased my carb intake since the start of Ramadan, but I can’t stop snacking throughout the day. That is the challenge for me” Nermine Mansour told Gulf News.
"I have actually cut out sugar completley during this month, but it has been a struggle to lose the weight," said Dina Azzmi.
"It is so hard for me to resist having something sweet after iftar. My body has never craved anything more. I feel like it's caused by a dip in sugar levels. That explains why sweets are so popular during Ramadan," said Kareem Hussain.
To keep your body healthy during Ramadan, you need to stay active, drink enough water and eat the right food, especially during pandemic self-isolation.
Gulf News speaks to UAE Team Emirates’ nutritionist, Gorka Prieto and Olga Donica, the Resident Dietician and Expert in Lifescience-Nutrition at Clinique La Prairie in Switzerland on how to maintain a healthy diet.
Working on your immunity, helps you lose excess weight
Gorka: Maximising your supply of vitamins and minerals by eating 3-4 servings of fruit and 2 servings of vegetables at ifar will support your immune system, provide the fibre you need for the proper functioning of your intestine and increase hydration. By including these important servings in your diet, you automatically lower your calorie count because they fill you up when you eat.
Tip: Berries, Strawberries and Spinach are two products loaded with nutrients and antioxidants, which are very important during Ramadan.
Olga: Since your immune system is directly connected to your gut, it is essential to have foods that act by improving and restoring your intestinal microflora. Add more probiotics and foods that boost your immunity like yogurt, kimchi, kombucha. Blueberries, oats, flaxseeds, leeks, onions, mushrooms, asparagus, garlic are all among powerful prebiotics and should be part of your diet too. They are quite easy to incorporate into your meals.
Stay on top of your hydration
There is nothing more important than re-hydrating during Ramadan. Remember, in normal circumstances, we are supposed to drink 2.7 to 3.5 litres of water a day. A much harder task when your window of intake has decreased. Keep drinking throughout the night, especially if you are working out during the month.
In case you didn't know, the more water you drink, the less water weight and bloating you have in your body.
Gorka: If you do workout, try to hydrate yourself with 500-700ml of water/h + mineral salts. Weighing yourself before and after doing a workout is a good strategy to know how much water weight you have lost and to know how much you need to rehydrate.
Tip: Multiply the weight lost in Kg by 1.5 and the result will be the liquid you must drink to properly rehydrate.
Since you don’t eat often, make your meals count nutritionally
Olga: There is no one specific nutrient, which will give you a better immune system; but a mixed diet with lots of fruits and vegetables definitely has its benefits. A balanced diet will give you both the macronutrients (protein and carbohydrate) and the vital micronutrients (zinc, selenium, vitamin A, etc.) that you need. A good combination of fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes is what the body needs daily. Remember quality over quantity. Also, brightly coloured fruits and vegetables are imperative to include in your diet:
Red coloured fruits and vegetables contain anthocyanins, lycopene and other flavonoids that are known to fight stress.
Blue fruits like blueberries, plums and eggplant are great for protecting your nervous system.
Yellow coloured vegetables such as pumpkin, squash carrots, sweet potato are rich in beta-carotenes important for skin health, immune system and preventing cancer cell development.
For greens, choose the cruciferous family that includes broccoli, brussels sprouts, kales, collard, garden cress etc that provide liver and gut support.
Ideally, consuming foods with high nutrient density and diversity seems to be the best approach for minimizing cellular stress and promoting optimal health. For example, potatoes cannot be used to replace vegetables and fruits can’t be substituted by juices. Stay away from refined starches as they are poor in fibers and micronutrients. Items to add to your grocery-shopping list are buckwheat, black rice, quinoa, millet, bean-based pasta, oats etc.
Gorka: Try to ingest a minimum of 30-40 g of protein divided into 4-5 intakes per day. This should be enough to preserve your lean muscle mass (something you might lose with the lack of food and workouts you can do in Ramadan) and help with recovery after each workout.
Try to adjust your carbohydrate intake based on exercise workload. If you do moderate/high intensity exercise, try to eat whole carbohydrates at each meal of the day (rice, potato, bread, sweet potato, pasta, cereals, etc.). If you do not exercise, then decrease the amount of these during the day.
Consuming fat is also important: consuming healthy fat such as nuts, blue fish, avocado, extra virgin olive oil, is important for the proper hormonal function of your body. Avoid all ultra-processed foods and replace with quality foods such as vegetables, nuts, fermented dairy products, eggs, fish, lean meats, and legumes.
Take advantage of eating at home
Usually Ramadan brings with it a slew of invitations to eat out and go to family members for iftar. If you stay home, like you are supposed to, cook your meals from scratch every day and you will notice an amazing change in your body and how you feel.
Gorka: The secret to maintaining a healthy diet is cooking your meals at home with delicious and fresh ingredients, even if it’s a simple dish such as soup. Vegetables and beans-based soups are an extremely nutritive source of fiber and contain important vitamins.
Many other healthy recipes, which are easy to create in your kitchen, are bowls, sautéed food, and quinoa salads.
Increase your vitamin D intake
Gorka: In the current situation, many of us cannot be out in the sun, so it is important that we consume foods rich in vitamin D (vitamin found in fat). Also consider supplementing with vitamin D3 if you are inside all day. 15-20 minutes in the sun is equal to between 1000UI-2000UI/day.
Also, since we are talking vitamins, try to consume blue fish 3 times a week (salmon, mackerel, horse mackerel, sardines, tuna, etc). Foods high in omega 3 (EPA and DHA) contain many anti-inflammatory and immunological benefits that will keep your immune system strong.
Olga: Vitamin D is especially important for your immune system, especially during this time. It is vital to get your daily dose of sunshine by stepping out for a bit, whether that’s in your balcony or for a quick walk around the block.
What worked for me
Ramadan has always been a difficult time for me to lose weight properly. Something about the late night sugar craving and the overcompensating for the food I am not eating during the day, as well as being exposed to many many tempting options while eating out.
This year has been different for obvious reasons. Staying home has kept me healthy. No pressure to try or even make indulgent and tasty food. I make basic food.
This Ramadan, I would actually get up from the dining table feeling a little bit hungry. Then I realised that was the trick: Plain old, simple calorie deficit.
I ate what was in front of me. Soup, salad and a main. I just tried to cut down on carbs as much as possible. But, I stopped eating before I felt full and turned to water instead of anything else.
I also skipped dessert (I know it sounds kind of sad, but it’s okay after a while). There was the odd day or two, where I would try a little bit of that kunafa or baklava, but I restricted myself in a way that I have never seen or done before and it showed me how easy it can get after you do it a few times.
I then won’t eat a single thing until my suhoor at 3.30am. That’s when I eat filling foods that will keep me energised all day long. Two eggs, Egyptian foul and some cheese. And a lot of water.
Two weeks into Ramadan and for the first time in years I haven’t gained weight. I managed to lose over 2kg, that’s an average of a healthy 1kg a week. Now I just need to keep going and by the end of the month I am looking at 4-5kgs dropped and a sweet difference in my jeans size.