For an average person, fasting 15 hours a day requires a certain amount of preparation.
While mental and spiritual preparation is a fundamental part of Ramadan, physically training your body to adjust to the fasting routine depends on the food you decide to regularly consume before and after your fast.
Ramadan is a month of devotion and self-discipline.
However, it is important to follow a nutrient-rich diet plan that maintains your health and endurance levels throughout the day, Dr Chandy George, Ayurvedic Lifestyle Consultant at Balance Wellbeing 360, told Gulf News.
Discussing the philosophy of fasting, Dr George pointed out that scientifically and medically speaking, fasting helps cleanse the body of toxins.
“Essentially this is something the body already knows how to do — every night as we sleep we are on a mini-fast. However, toxins tend to build up over the years and the body needs help to cleanse itself fully.”
During Ramadan a person who is fasting consumes a meal early in the morning before dawn or Fajr called ‘suhour,’ and ends their fast with another meal after sunset or Maghreb called ‘iftar’.
The approximately 15-hour fasting cycle, however, ensures that while the individual has to encounter challenges, it does not harm the body in any irreversible manner.
“The changes brought about by fasting can result in increased stress and moodiness but the body and the biological clock usually adjusts to the worst of the discomforts within a period of 24 to 48 hours,” explained Dr George.
While many wake up very early to consume suhour, some people choose to sleep. “The suhour happens earlier than the body is prepared for food intake — for those that actually stay awake, by 9am the body is already craving breakfast and caffeine,” said Dr George.
Around noon, fatigue resulting from staying hungry, followed by a lack of rest, may result in dehydration, low blood pressure and also a feeling of faintness, he explained. There is also a likelihood of feeling tired, experiencing headaches and nausea. “It is advisable to rest in the afternoon and wake up just before prayer time.”
End your day-long fast with a light meal. Start with dates and plenty of water along with green tea or coffee (kahwa), Dr George said. Recommending tender coconut water as the best juice to end a fast, Dr George advises people to avoid citrus fruit juices and instead opt for juices like water melon, bananas, and kiwi. Fasting throughout the day fills your stomach with acidic gastric juices, and citrus fruit juices will add to the acidity, he said.
“Home-made soups are also good for breaking your fast. Be gentle on your stomach and consume easily digestible foods and juices.” Iftar meals should include foods with simple carbohydrates such as breads and pastas. The tendency to consume a lot of food while ending your fast also tampers with the body’s metabolism and causes acidity. Greasy and sugary foods should be avoided as they are high in fructose corn syrup and sodium that can result in high cholesterol levels, explained Dr George. To satisfy your sweet tooth, use natural ingredients such as cane sugar, real honey, and fruits that are rich in fibre, such as figs.
For suhour, water and fluids are highly recommended before starting your 15-hour fast. “It is better to have juices, tender coconut water and soups so that your body is hydrated enough while the intake of solids should be kept minimal as it allows the body to burn conserved fats,” explained Dr George.
Choose foods that are rich in fibre, as foods that release energy slowly should be your priority during fasting. These include sugary fruits like banana and kiwi, as well as lentils and grains such as kidney beans, millets, semolina and wholegrain rice. “I also advise staying away from all fried, oily and dried foods to avoid constipation and indigestion, and it’s best to reduce the consumption of leafy vegetables.”
The key is to eat foods with complex carbohydrates such as wholegrain breads, starchy vegetables and beans during the suhour meals. Fluids like tender coconut water also help to maintain the electrolyte balance.