datesInstead of the usual samosas, pakoras and sweet beverages for Iftar, why not instead try a healthy and balanced diet to make the most of the
month of Ramadan? HEALTH asks Fahmida Jafri, Department Head of Clinical Nutrition & Dietetics in Ajman how we can make the change for optimal health and wellbeing.

The Focus
The month of Ramadan, explains Jafri, is a great opportunity to focus on bringing back a balanced and healthy lifestyle into your life. “Through fasting you begin to learn how to manage your eating habits, how to improve self-control and discipline,” she says as this month requires you to give the stomach a break, and by doing so you are able to break down and expel the accumulated toxins from your body.

Gaining Optimal Benefit
According to Jafri, the fasts of Ramadan can improve a person’s health, however if the correct diet is not followed, it can actually worsen it! “The deciding factor is not the fast itself, but rather what is consumed in the non-fasting hours,” she says as to fully benefit from fasting, a person should spend a great deal of thought to the type and quantity of food they will indulge in through the blessed month.

Five Food Groups
During Ramadan, Jafri explains that you need to put extra effort into including foods from all five food groups to ensure variety and a well-balanced diet. “These foods include: breads, cereals and other grain products, fruit and vegetables, meat, fish and poultry, milk, cheese and
yoghurt,” she says, however limit fats and sugars as these contain very little nutrients and are high in calories. “The most commonly consumed foods by Prophet Mohammed (Peace be upon Him) were milk, dates, lamb/mutton and oats.”

Cooking Method Alternatives

  • Instead of deep frying, opt for shallow frying- usually there is very little difference in taste.
  •  Instead of frying, optfor grilling or baking which is healthier and helps retain the taste and original flavor of the food, especially chicken and fish.
  • Instead of cooking curries with excessive oil, start with measuring the oil used in curry and try to bring the oil content down gradually, forexample, reducing five tablespoons of oil to four. This is a good way of reducing oil without noticing much difference in the taste. A useful tip is to use more onions and tomatoes in the bulk of the curry.

At a Glance 10 Foods to Avoid During Fasting and Their Replacements

1. Fried foods
Oily and fried foods tax the digestive system and load our bodies with free radicals. The best alternative would be grilled or baked vegetable kebabs or steamed dumplings.

2. Soft drinks
All carbonated and caffeinated drinks should be avoided to maintain good hydration during fasting. Homemade laban, lemonade, and unsweetened fruit juices can replenish energy and electrolytes.

3. High sugar based sweets
The intake of these results in excessive caloric intake versus requirement due to caloric and fat density. Can be exchanged with milk based puddings or milk rice.

4. Coffee
Excessive intake of coffee leads to loss of water and minerals during fasting due to its diuretic effect. Instead switch to black tea with
lemon or herbs for a refreshing alternative.

5. High fat processed foods
Convenience foods such as nuggets, ready-to-eat meals, sausages, and samosas should be discouraged during fasting as they can pose a risk for gastrointestinal health due to food contamination or additives and preservatives. Instead fresh homemade baked items can be made using various herbs and spices for better health and taste.

6. Refined carbohydrates
Refined foods particularly white flour, sugars and high fructose corn syrup should be avoided during fasting as it increases glycemic load of the meal and reduces intake of good fibers. Whole meal preparations like harees and oats porridge are recommended due to their fullness and nutrient content.

7. High fat Gravies
Gravies or curries cooked with ghee or butter should be replaced with soups or curries made with potassium rich fresh tomatoes and
herbs to minimise gastric load.

8. Junk food
French fries, burgers and pizzas are disastrous food choices, which lead to high trans fat and sodium intake.

9. Packed fruit juices
Preserved foods have high sugar and salt content, which can disturb the electrolyte balance of our body. Moreover, packed juices are prepared with 1 percent real juice and 99 percent sugar water. Best alternatives are fresh juices and vegetable cocktails.

10. Croissants and Pastries
Food items for breakfast (Suhour) should be low in bad fats and rich in fibers. Croissants and pastries dull out the appetite leading to inadequate nutrient intake and causes acidity during fasting hours. A healthy Suhour should include whole grain porridge, eggs and milk
or yoghurt.

(Credit: Fahmida Jafri)

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