KARACHI (DAWN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Muslims believe that the spiritual blessings of Ramadan are manifold, and when done right, the holy month of fasting can also come with tangible physical benefits. Combining healthy food choices with fasting resets one's metabolism and can help one shed a few pounds and lower one's cholesterol.
Ramadan should not be the season of pakoras, parathas and all-you-can-eat buffet iftars. Those afternoon naps are certainly not going to help burn off the nightly half-kilo of jalebis.
Fasting is not a licence to eat with abandon, and nor should it be, according to sunnah (prophetic Islamic traditions).
There is no need to sink into a food coma after every iftar (break-fast meal) or slosh to bed after drinking litres of fluid at sehri (pre-dawn meal) – only to spend the next two hours peeing it all out. And healthy eating in Ramadan does not have to mean boring, bland, unfamiliar “diet food” either.
Quinoa for sehri or grilled salmon at iftar will make fasting seem like a penance instead of a blessing if those are not the sort of foods you would eat anyway. It is perfectly possible to incorporate your favourite Ramadan treats and the sort of food you would normally eat into a sensible, nutritious eating plan.
Here are five golden rules of healthy eating during Ramadan:
1. STAGGER YOUR HYDRATION
Dehydration is the toughest part of fasting, especially in summer, but loading up on water at sehri is not the best plan. Filling your stomach like a water balloon results in one of two things – throwing up or multiple visits to the loo.
It is far smarter to stagger your hydration through the night.
Start with two glasses of water at iftar, and follow with a glass every hour till bedtime. By the time you sleep, you will have had six glasses of water. Aim for a manageable two glasses at sehri and you have had eight glasses in the day, which is usually sufficient.
Do stay out of the sun to minimise moisture loss through sweating. Remember tea and coffee are dehydrating and should not be counted in your fluid intake.
2. AVOID SUGAR LIKE IT IS THE MOTHER OF ALL EVILS
We all crave something sweet but sugar results in highs and lows that leaves you with more cravings and thus messes up your metabolism. Sugar gives you empty calories without nutritional benefits and is key in Ramadan over-eating.
Totally giving up sugar may be a stretch but limiting it is essential.
Stay away from those giant special-offer bottles of Coke or Pepsi. But if you like your sweet drinks, gradually reduce the amount you use to limit the sugar hit.
Load up on fruit before letting yourself touch any mithai or chocolate. Use grapes in your fruit chaat for sweetness and stay away from the sugar jar. Switch your gulab jamun for ras malai, a dessert similar to cheesecake, which has more milk and less sugar.
3. HAVE ALL THINGS IN MODERATION
If you really must have parathas and pakoras, limit them to a once-a-week treat rather than a daily indulgence. Instead of pakoras at iftar, try a healthy channa chaat with loads of veggies and spices or dahi vaday which are much less oily. Try baked samosas instead of fried ones or little grilled chicken shashliks instead of pakoras.
Keep choice to a minimum to help avoid over-eating. Accompany your dates with one snack item at iftar and then eat a simple evening meal, with one meat dish and one vegetable dish or salad accompanied by rice or roti.
For sehri, parathas are a poor choice in any case and likely to cause heartburn. Full of processed flour and fat, they lead to lethargy rather than providing a slow release of energy to keep you going through the day. Aim instead for complex carbs in your morning meal – wholemeal roti, daal, semolina or oatmeal. Eggs are great if cooked in very little oil but add more protein in the form of milk, yogurt and nuts to your morning meal.
By all means, indulge in your Ramadan favourites but limit unhealthy food to bite-size portions that you savour rather than platefuls that you wolf down. And beware of the buffet iftar as the Quran is categorical on waste.
4. BEFRIEND FIBRE
With mealtimes askew and without that morning hit of caffeine, constipation becomes a major issue for many – with attendant gas making things even worse.
Add fibre to your diet to keep your gut moving. Fresh fruit and veggies are ideal, especially pears, but sprinkle wheatbran on your cereal or eat a couple of dried prunes every night to up your fibre intake.
5. SAVE THE OIL FOR YOUR HAIR
Good fats in moderation are an essential part of a balanced diet but we tend to have too much oil in our diets as a nation. Those super-sized cans of oil that fill the advertising slots every Ramadan? All they do is fill the brands' coffers and our hips and arteries.
Decant your oil into small bottles and keep an eye on how much you use. Save fried food for special occasions and bake or grill your food when you can. Grilled kebabs, baked filo pastries and baked samosas are all delicious and use a lot less oil. As for the carts of samosas and pakoras on every street-corner, give them a miss - chances are the oil has been re-fried to toxicity.