How to ensure healthy fasting for kids
In Islam, fasting is not obligatory for children until the age of adolescence.
Abu Dhabi - Doctors stress that it is vital that children who are fasting have to end their fast with dates, not because it is the Islamic way, but also the healthy way.
By Jasmine Al Kuttab
Published: Sat 17 Jun 2017, 9:25 PM
Last updated: Sat 17 Jun 2017, 11:35 PM
Parents must be aware of the overall health of their children who are fasting, according to experts.
They urge parents to keep a watch on the nutrition and rapid change in sleep pattern of children, should they give fasting a try.
In Islam, fasting is not obligatory for children until the age of adolescence. However, children follow the adults in the family and attempt to fast during the holy month of Ramadan.
Doctors stress that it is vital that children who are fasting have to end their fast with dates, not because it is the Islamic way, but also the healthy way.
"Dates contain natural sugar and carbohydrates that will instantly provide the child with energy, so it's important they end their fast with a date," said Dr Nashwa Bashaa El Din, paediatrician, Burjeel Hospital Abu Dhabi.
"After eating a date, the child can have a small nutritious meal, that is filled with fibre, minerals, vitamins and protein, an hour or two before the big meal."
She added that vegetables, nutritious soups, whole grains, chicken and fish can be given at Iftar time, and urged to avoid fried, fatty, salty and sugary snacks.
Dr El Din said that children must also drink water throughout Iftar, right until suhoor, in order to keep their bodies hydrated for the next day. "One litre of water should be divided throughout the hours to keep them hydrated. But ensure they do not end their fast with a lot of water. The stomach is empty throughout the day, it will not tolerate a lot of water taken quickly, they need calories from nutritional food first."
Dr El Din said that although children are not expected to fast until they reach puberty, children as young as eight can give fasting a try. "Eight-year-olds can fast for 4-5 hours, it will be good training for them."
Nadia Mohammed, a mother of two living in Abu Dhabi, said her oldest daughter started fasting last year at the age of 10.
"My daughter saw that we fast at home and she felt encouraged to try it. Last year she fasted until around 3pm but this year she is fasting right until Iftar."
Disturbed sleep pattern
Dr Shabeer Nellikode, consultant neurologist and managing director of Universal Hospital in Abu Dhabi, said that the responsibility to provide children with healthy fasting options lies with parents. He added that staying up throughout the night could have detrimental effects on children.
The pineal gland controls our sleep cycle, and when we are exposed to sunlight in the morning, the pineal glad will secrete and keep the sleep cycle normal.
Dr Nellikode said: "Parents making their children stay up late are to be blamed for affecting their sleep cycle. When children's sleep cycle is disturbed, they will also become disturbed, so the parents end up overfeeding them just to keep them happy."
Besides, parents often load their children's meals with sugar and unnecessary calories. "Children need to sleep early and have a spread-out eating pattern, not binging at one go."
He added that Ramadan has a number of medical benefits, but it is crucial to try and make the most of the benefits that the holy month has to offer.
"There are a lot of medical benefits with fasting, even for children, including hormone readjustment and immunity improvement."
"Productivity will also improve, but children must stay active."
He added that youngsters under 12 can start fasting with breaks between the month, while those that are 12 and above can fast throughout the month.
"Ramadan is a time for enjoyment and having solidarity with those that are fasting, so make it a positive and healthy experience for your children."