Fast way to better health
Follow these eating tips to stay healthy during Ramadan
A heap of rice and various dishes on a plate with a big mug of sugary drink may sound like an inviting way to break fast in the month of Ramadan.
But think twice, nutritionists warned.
Eating foods rich in saturated or trans fats during your iftar (break-fast meal) could lead to a spike in cholesterol levels, said Dr Kalpana Bhaskaran, domain lead for applied nutrition and glycemic index research at Temasek Polytechnic (TP).
"Even though Ramadan is known as a time of fasting, it is not uncommon for people to gain weight during this month as some families see every evening meal as a time of celebration," she told The New Paper.
Fasting starts about four hours after the pre-dawn meal, also known as sahur.
The carbohydrates from the food consumed will be broken down into blood glucose and the excess amount of glucose will be stored in the form of glycogen in the liver and muscle as the main source of stored energy for the body.
"During fasting, the stored glycogen will be broken down into glucose to supply the energy.
Later in the day, once the glucose storage runs out, fat will be used as the next source of energy," said Ms Siti Hussain, TP's applied food science and nutrition lecturer.
The energy stores are replenished during the sahur or iftar.
"This provides a transition from using glucose to fat as the main source of energy, and prevents the breakdown of muscle for protein," Ms Siti told TNP.
With just two meals a day instead of the usual three, it is crucial to still eat the same quantity of food as you would on a normal day.
For sahur, the Health Promotion Board (HPB) recommends:
- Wholegrains (brown rice, wholemeal bread and oatmeal). They help you to sustain your energy levels for a longer period, as they take longer to digest.
- Fruits and vegetables, which increase the feeling of fullness, help to prevent constipation, and contain vitamins and minerals that are vital for good health.
- Water, for hydration.
For iftar, HPB suggests taking note of portion sizes so as not to overeat.
Said HPB: "One good way to do so is to start iftar by eating dates, as they are easy to digest and help to decrease the feeling of hunger, thus preventing you from overeating.
"As our brain takes about 20 minutes to register fullness, we suggest that you eat slowly by savouring the flavour of each bite."
Those with medical conditions such as diabetes or hypertension are encouraged to discuss with their doctors how fasting might affect their health, Ms Siti said.
"Diabetics should closely monitor their blood glucose levels to avoid being hypo or hyperglycemic. (Those with hypertension) also need to check their blood pressure levels regularly.
"Especially when they are on medication that contains diuretics, they have to be extra vigilant as the fluid intake is not the same during fasting."
Ramadan can also be an opportune time for Muslims to try to change their routines in small steps to establish healthier habits, such as quitting smoking, said HPB.
Besides abstaining from eating and drinking from dawn to dusk during the fasting month, smoking is also prohibited.
"Smoking is a habit that can be overcome with determination, and professional and emotional support," said HPB.
"Family members and friends should be aware of the power of emotional support when it comes to helping a smoker quit.
"With emotional support, a smoker has a high chance of overcoming the withdrawal symptoms and relapses."