It is time of the year when Muslims around the world fast. Afghans passionately observe Ramadan. However, for many it may be more testing because, for the last few years, due to the lunar cycle, Ramadan falls during summer – long and hot days.
Fasting does not only mean to abstain from eating and drinking during the day; it also requires observing self-discipline and restraint, being nice to people, controlling anger and giving charity.
Apart from the spiritual experience, for which Allah has promised great rewards, fasting can also benefit the health.
As the fast only extends from dawn till dusk, there is ample opportunity to replenish energy stores at pre-dawn and dusk meals. This provides a progressive, gentle transition from using glucose to fat as the main source of energy. It prevents the breakdown of muscle for protein. The use of fat for energy aids weight loss, preserving the muscles, and in the long run reduces cholesterol levels.
In addition, weight loss results in better control of diabetes and reduces blood pressure. A detoxification process also seems to occur, as any toxins stored in the body’s fat are dissolved and removed from the body.
To fully benefit from fasting, we should be careful about the type and quantity of food we consume. Overeating can harm the body. Therefore, the diet should be simple and not differ too much from one’s normal everyday diet.
Patients with chronic conditions, such as ulcers, heart conditions or diabetes, particularly, who regularly inject insulin, should seek medical advice before starting a fast.
The pre-dawn meal should be wholesome and filling to provide enough energy for many hours. It is important to include slowly-digested foods: such as, grains and seeds, like chickpeas, barley, wheat, oats, cereals, semolina, beans, lentils, wholemeal flour, and basmati rice.
Fibre-rich foods are also digested slowly; these include whole wheat, potatoes with the skin, all types of bread and breakfast cereals, and vegetables.
A moderate and balanced diet, especially not missing the pre-dawn meal, taking in enough fluids and, if necessary, some painkillers can help prevent headache.
Headaches can also be prevented by not exposing yourself to direct sunlight, covering your head, using sunglasses to reduce the effect of glare from the sun and relieving any tense muscles with a short, gentle massage.
Iftar or breaking the fast
The meal for iftar can include dates, following the prophetic traditions. Try to eat a healthy balanced diet, enjoying some protein from meat, chicken, fish or lentils and some vegetables.
Generally, we should avoid sugar, white flour, fatty food (e.g. cakes, biscuits and sweets), black tea, coffee or colas.
Some people tend to eat and drink too much when they break the fast. It can cause heartburn, belching or other stomach problems. We should be very careful in our intake. Have a light meal for iftar and let it digest to quench our thirst and hunger, followed by dinner after an hour or so. However, dinner should also be light so that we can sleep in peace and wake up hungry for the pre-dawn meal.
Preparation of food
Healthy ways of preparing food are: shallow frying, baking and grilling. Use seasonal fruits and fresh juices, squeezed at home rather than packaged drinks.
We should avoid deep-fried foods, such as pakoras or samosas, high-sugar foods (baklawa, jalebi, gulab jamun), and high-fat cooked foods (parathas, oily curries and greasy pastries).
However, baked samosas, milk-based sweets and puddings can be had in moderate quantities.