Dubai: Are you putting on more weight during Ramadan or actually becoming leaner? A lot depends on whether you are fasting and feasting the right way, say experts.
Strike the right balance
Sakina Mustansir, clinical dietician at Prime Hospital said: “In anticipation of long hours of fasting, people tend to overeat during suhour. Ramadan is a time not just to cut back on calories, but about controlling excesses and practising moderation.”
Mustansir said individuals need to be mindful of striking the right nutritional balance in the meals they have in order to stay energised, healthy and keep their weight in check.
Avoid eating processed carbs, since they spike insulin leading to hunger and weight gain. You should also eat lean meats, fish or chicken to avoid muscle mass loss
“During suhour it is essential that people choose complex and dense carbohydrates with a low glycaemic index where sugar is absorbed slowly into the blood stream. Good proteins from healthy meat cuts, poultry or legumes and healthy fats such as avocado and nuts as well as fresh fruits and vegetables that provide good fibre and hold water within the body make you not only feel full longer, but also less thirsty as good hydration helps to stave off hunger and fatigue.
“Avoid eating processed carbs,” she added. “Since they spike insulin leading to hunger and weight gain. You should also eat lean meats, fish or chicken to avoid muscle mass loss, with good fats like almonds, walnuts, avocado and olive oil to give you energy and help keep you full.”
Focus on micronutrients to stay energised
Dr Nadine Aoun, clinical dietician at Medcare Hospital reiterated that those observing the 16-hour fast needed to focus on the micronutrients as well.
“While cereals, legumes, pulses skimmed milk yoghurt, eggs, poultry and nuts take care of the macro nutrients that our body requires, it is important to also focus on micro nutrients such as minerals, vitamins and enzymes that are required in trace amounts but are very essential to maintain healthy body weight and keep it in a state of optimum wellness,” she said.
Cut out fried and sugary food
Mustansir specifically warned against the intake of oily, fried and spicy food and excess sweets that people tend to have during Iftar meals.
While cereals, legumes, pulses skimmed milk yoghurt, eggs, poultry and nuts take care of the macro nutrients that our body requires, it is important to also focus on micro nutrients such as minerals, vitamins and enzymes that are required in trace amounts but are very essential to maintain healthy body weight and keep it in a state of optimum wellness.
“During the year, individuals do not have meal-heavy parties every day. However, during Ramadan people tend to attend iftars probably every day. It is impossible for them to resist the heavy food and desserts on display. They must remember that what is required to sustain oneself is three meals and two snacks during the holy month. The first is suhour, the second is the time they end fast which is usually with dates, water and a light, clear soup to get the body acclimatised to ingesting food again after a long period of fasting. This is followed by dinner and perhaps a late night snack before going to bed. So in reality there is no calorie deficit due to fasting as people make it up. But they must remember not to overeat with the thought that their body is food deprived. It’s a discipline of the mind that they need to cultivate.”
■ Make sure to drink plenty of fluids between iftar and suhour to prevent dehydration and reduce thirst. The most important fluid during Ramadan is water, since it has no calories unlike other drinks and helps in replenishing your thirst. Make sure you drink at least eight to nine glasses of water.
■ Avoid or limit coffee and tea since they are diuretic (fluid lost through urination), and gets you dehydrated especially at suhour.
■ Avoid sweetened juices, instead have fresh juices, but in moderation.
■ Avoid foods that are high in salt such as pickles, salty crackers, and canned food since they increase the body’s need for water. As well as try to avoid hot and spicy dishes as they increase your thirst.
■ Increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables since they are rich with water and fibres, and stay in the intestine for a long time and reduce thirst.
■ Avoid eating fried, fatty, and sugary food since they increase thirst, and are very high in calories and fat. They make you crave for more food, as well as cause weight gain. Try having fruits instead of sweets, and prefer grilling, boiling or baking foods instead of frying or deep frying.
■ Avoid skipping suhour since it is a very important meal as it balances blood glucose levels during fasting. It should not be missed since it would lead to hunger during the day.
■ Do not exercise while ‘fasting’ it is dangerous and unacceptable since you will be losing muscle mass. Exercise before suhour or after iftar.
■ Start your iftar with 1-2 dates to break the fast and replenish blood sugar levels. Then a glass of water and a warm soup to comfort the stomach after a long day of fasting, then a balanced main dish containing complex carbs, lean meats, and vegetables.
■ Have sweets in moderation 2-3 hours after iftar.
Dr Nadine Aoun, clincail dietician, Medcare Hospital
Sample suggestions for suhour and iftar
Suggestions for suhour: (quantities differ from one person to another)
One cup of low fat milk plus two tablespoons of oats plus one piece of fruit like banana, a handful of mixed dried fruits and raw, unsalted nuts
2.5 loafs of wholewheat Arabic bread+ 4 slices of low-fat white cheese or two eggs and one to two cups of vegetables, plus one cup of low fat yoghurt or milk and one piece of fruit
Suggestions for iftar/dinner: (quantities differ from one person to another)
To end fast for the day
One or two dates plus one cup of water and a bowl of vegetable or lentil soup
1.5 cups of salad plus half a cup of brown rice or wholewheat bread or sweet potato and 120 gram grilled fish or chicken with half a cup of cooked quinoa plus 120 gram of grilled chicken. One pot of low fat yoghurt could be added
Fruits are the best snacks (portions differ from one person to another)
Have sweets two to three hours after iftar and in moderation. Avoid having sweets daily, instead limit it to twice a week
Some ideas would be: low fat mhallabiyeh, or low fat custard and dark chocolate