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Archana Baju, Dr Piyush Somani and Sakina Mustansir share tips about different dietary habits during Ramadan Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: The advent of the Ramadan brings with it a marked difference in dietary habits, with the period of abstinence from food and drink during the day meant to human body and mind.

In effect however, most residents end up overindulging during the holy month, and suffer from more gastrointestinal illnesses as a result.

Doctors and health professionals across the UAE have therefore called on residents to eat right in order to derive the full benefits of Ramadan.

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“Ramadan is a month of detox to cleanse the mind and body. Fasting helps regulate cholesterol levels, improve cardiovascular functions, boost metabolism and increase immunity. It can also aid in weight loss, and studies have proven that Ramadan fasting also causes positive metabolic changes that may be associated with increased lifespan. Fasting is believed to reduce the risk of cancer biomarkers and markers of oxidative stress and inflammation, which greatly damage the blood vessels in the heart,” Archana Baju, clinical dietician at Burjeel Hospital, Abu Dhabi, told Gulf News.

Do not miss out

“Unfortunately, many people miss the benefits due to unhealthy eating patterns and leading sedentary lifestyles. Eating rich foods with high calorific value contradicts the purpose of the fast, leading to weight gain and digestive issues,” she warned.

Baju’s words of caution were echoed by Sakina Mustansir, dietician with Prime Hospital.

“Ramadan fasting has innumerable benefits right from detoxification to deep cleansing to repair at the cellular level. It helps with gut cleanse, fat loss, improved lipid profile, better glucose control, and much more. But all these benefits are only possible when you take care of the food during the eating window. Eating the wrong foods, on the other hand, will counteract the benefits of fasting. In fact, overeating heavy meals with an excess of fried, oily or processed foods will not only nullify the benefits of fasting, they can even lead to negative health effects,” Mustansir said.

Doctors and health professionals across the UAE have call on residents to eat right in order to derive the full benefits of Ramadan. Image Credit: Supplied

Digestive complaints

In practice, there is a surge in digestive complaints at health facilities across the country during Ramadan, most of which are a result of unhealthy eating habits.

“Gastrointestinal issues like indigestion, heartburn, bloating, belching, acid reflux, along with dehydration, fatigue and irritability, are common complaints during Ramadan. The gastrointestinal problems are usually due to increased intake of oily foods or calorie-dense meals problems, and lying down soon after a meal can also increase the risk of developing acid reflux,” Baju said.

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Lack of hydration

In addition, some residents fail to hydrate adequately before beginning their fast, which further exacerbates the problem, added Dr Piyush Somani, consultant gastroenterology with Prime Hospital

In order to enjoy the full benefits of fasting, the doctors urged worshippers to adopt a healthy diet, and take on healthy eating habits over Ramadan.

“It is strongly recommended to follow a healthy balanced eating plan with a lot of fibre and adequate hydration. Eating slowly and mindfully goes a long way,” Baju said.

Probiotic foods like yogurt, laban and kefir can also help balance gut health. On the other hand, an excess of caffeinated beverages and fizzy drinks are best avoided as they promote dehydration.

When meeting friends

This advice also applies when meeting friends and family for a meal.

“The best thing to do when attending gatherings and Iftar parties regularly is to eat slow. When you eat slowly, you get the satiety signal sooner, which helps prevents overeating. A good tactic is also start with salads first, whereas any desserts should be reserved for the end in order to avoid a sugar spike,” Mustansir advised.

“We need to plan accordingly in order to entertain and treat our guests with healthy food choices. Be a role mode, and encourage healthy eating with family and friends,” Baju added.

Elements of the Ramadan diet

◉ Include complex carbohydrates, lean proteins, and fibre in your meals.

◉ Fruits: Choose fruits that provide the sugar, potassium, and magnesium our bodies need. A good example is dates and bananas.

◉ Meats: Limit red meats; instead, opt for healthy chicken and fish preparations for proteins. Lentils, beans, and peas are also good sources of protein.

◉ Fibre: Include a minimum of one cup of cooked vegetables and salads for fibre that will keep the gut healthy.

◉ Rice dishes: When enjoying a rice-based dish like mandi, kabsa or biryani, make sure not to overeat, and pair it with salads and vegetables.

◉ Beverages: Herbal teas, sparkling water, or home-carbonated water and lemonade are the best alternatives to sugary soft drinks.

◉ Alternative recipes: Rework recipes of traditional Ramadan delicacies with whole wheat flour, low sugar alternatives, and natural ingredients.

◉ Oils: Choose healthy oils, incorporating healthy nuts and nut butter as fat alternatives.

◉ Dairy: Avoid high-fat dairy products by replacing them with low-fat versions or dairy alternatives like almond milk, soya milk or oat milk.

◉ Cooking method: Changing the cooking method, as this can greatly impact the nutritional quality of dishes. So, instead of deep frying, opt for techniques like steaming, grilling, baking and air frying.

At iftar:

◉ Start with a few dates.

◉ Drink a glass of water, followed by laban or vegetable soup to avoid indigestion.

◉ Eat your main meal 10 or 15 minutes later. This will prevent excessive food intake by giving you a sense of fullness, which, in turn, will help digestion.
For suhoor:

◉ Do not skip this meal, and try to time it right before the fast begins. Eating before bedtime, or avoiding eating during suhoor, may cause low blood sugar problems and dehydration the next day. As a result, you eould feel dizzy and distracted.

◉ A light, healthy and filling breakfast is a great option. So opt for dairy products and fresh vegetables such as cheeses, eggs, tomatoes, and cucumbers. Other good options include oatmeal with milk and berries, peanut butter with toast and a cup of milk, poached egg with bread, and frozen yogurt with fruits.

◉ You can always enjoy a soup, or vegetables cooked in olive oil.

◉ Dried fruits like dates, walnuts and almonds are also great food supplements. They can make you feel full for long hours throughout the day.

◉ Make sure you consume plain water, and avoid sugary drinks, sodas, and caffeinated beverages, as these can leave you feeling thirsty during the day.

◉ Avoid fried, oily foods and greasy dishes, which can cause indigestion and heartburn.

◉ Steer clear of simple and refined carbs; foods like pastries, donuts and croissants are low in essential nutrients.

◉ Limit your intake of salty food, as the extra sodium in salted nuts, chips and pickles can make you feel very thirsty during the fast.