Make smart meal choices this Ramadan
The best approach is to have a balanced diet with the right proportion of carbs, fats and proteins.
Stop yourself from overeating and choose your dishes wisely
Fasting during the holy month of Ramadan can be good for you if done properly. In addition to the spiritual benefits, it is a great opportunity to accrue some physical benefits as well. The changes that take place in the body depend on the length of the continuous fast. During a fast, glucose stored in the liver and muscles is used up first, and fat later becomes the next source of energy. If prolonged for days and weeks, the body starts using protein for energy. As fasting lasts from dawn to dusk, the body's energy stores can be replaced during the pre-dawn and pre-dusk meals.
The best way to approach your diet during Ramadan is to have a balanced diet with the right proportion of carbohydrates, fats and proteins. If you are not careful, you might filter away an opportunity to lose weight and gain it instead. The food that you eat should not differ too much from your normal diet. It should contain food from all major food groups like fruit and vegetables; bread and cereals; fish and meat; dairy products, and food containing fat and sugar. Choose foods that are absorbed slowly to help you during the long hours of fasting. These include complex carbohydrates (e.g. wheat, oats, beans, lentils and millets) and fibre-rich foods (e.g. whole wheat, grains and sweet fruits like apricots and figs). Foods to avoid include fast burning processed foods that contain refined carbohydrates and sugar, as well as fatty foods (e.g. cakes, biscuits, chocolates and Indian sweets).
A group of patients that need to be extra careful during the month are diabetics on oral medication or insulin, as the glucose-lowering effect can last long and cause hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar). Therefore, Suhoor should be a wholesome moderate meal that is filling and provides enough energy for many hours. It should include slow digesting foods, such as Arabic bread, salad, oats or toast, so that there is a constant release of energy. It is also important to drink enough water. At Iftar, break your fast the traditional way with dates. This will provide an initial burst of energy. Thereafter, drink plenty of water, as it will help in rehydration and reduce the chances of overindulgence.
In summary, your diet during Ramadan should not be very different from what it normally is. Do not overeat, and avoid fatty foods and processed foods. If you are diabetic, make sure the Suhoor meal is wholesome and healthy, and if your sugar levels drop, break your fast and contact the doctor immediately.
The writer is a Specialist Internal Medicine at JTS Medical Centre.