Indulging yourself while staying fit & healthy
Nutritionist: Rana Arafa
The holy month comes every year with a special spirit, blessings, food and gatherings. But it also comes with health challenges, namely how to enjoy the month without putting on extra weight. Fasting is all about self-control and self-regulation but how can this be implemented while enjoying all the Ramadan goodies?
Two weeks before Ramadan meal portions should be decreased. While it’s recommended that we eat 3 main meals and 2 snacks per day, we must try to decrease the portion in each main meal. It’s also a good idea to fast 2 days a week ahead of Ramadan, Monday and Thursday, to start getting used to fasting.
The sohour meal before the first day of fasting is very important because it this meal has to contain complex carbs to give you sufficient energy the next day, as well as a good amount of unsaturated fat and a sufficient amount of protein. Recommended sohour food items are yoghurt, beans, cottage cheese, balady bread or whole grain bread and vegetables. Include at least one large bottle of water with that meal.
Don’t eat any food high in sugar or high in salt, as those will leave you feeling hungry and thirsty during fasting the following day.
During the first couple of days of fasting try to keep moderate to low activity so as not to exhaust yourself. That is not to say sleep in until iftar, but try not to exert as much effort as you would during your regular day.
After a few days of the fast, higher levels of endorphins appear in the blood, making you more alert and giving an overall feeling of general mental wellbeing. The body at this point burns the excess of fat to produce energy, this is all part of detoxification that rids the body from toxins.
After 12 hours of fasting the body is starving for fluids, so it’s important to break your fast with a cup of room temperature water followed by 2-3 dates.
Dates prepare the stomach to receive the food after being inactive throughout the day by activating the release of digestive secretions and juices and are very rich in nutrients and fruit sugar essential for the brain cells and nerves. Dates also prevent constipation that may be the result of fasting, or the sudden drop in fiber intake throughout the day.
After breaking the fast, it’s best to start with a light soup then a plate of salad followed by the main course containing the 3 main components of carbohydrate, protein and fat. Try to minimize the amount of salt you consume to minimize water retention. Too much caffeine in tea or coffee might cause dehydration. Drink in moderation and choose drinks that will aid in the digestion process like green tea.
Between iftar and sohour eat a snack every 2 hours to keep your metabolism working. These snacks can be fruits, vegetables or nuts, and keep yourself hydrated by drinking at least 10-12 cups of water to ensure you don’t get dehydrated the next day.
Exercising 2 hours after iftar will ensure proper digestion. Remember to keep yourself hydrated while working out as you lose a good amount of water while sweating.
Nutritionist: Dr. Cherifa Aboul Fottouh
What are the main causes of an increase in weight during Ramadan?
We need to know first that our body is easily fooled into thinking that you’re going to starve it when you don’t eat for a long period of time. The body starts to set itself to starvation mode. So once you start eating the body starts to store the food as fat. During Ramadan, our metabolism doesn’t work at its best. Ideally a person should eat every 2-3 hours, small meals, in order for the metabolism to function fully. Therefore, in Ramadan we should still eat 4-5 small meals and drink lots of water to be able to compensate the long fasting hours.
Would weight drop off easily once we resume our normal routine and diet?
Yes, it would be easy to lose it when we go back to our normal routine of 6-8 small meals. But even during Ramadan, if we follow a healthy lifestyle, we won’t gain weight; on the contrary, we might actually lose weight.
What are bad eating habits to avoid?
We should try to avoid eating too much when breaking the fast. We should start with eating a date or two, with a full glass of water, then head to pray, wait until the body realizes it’s getting food, and then start eating. Start with salad, followed by protein, followed by any other thing. Also, we should try to avoid having desserts right away after iftar, it’s best to wait two hours after eating, and stick to small portions.
How can we eat carefully when we are invited out during Ramadan?
The best way is to eat carefully during Ramadan generally, even if you’re invited. Start with a glass of water, wait 5 minutes and then have salad and vegetables, followed by protein, and finally carbohydrates, including sweets.
Which foods will give us the nutrition we need without excess calories?
Vegetables. They’re full of vitamins and don’t hold many calories. The more colorful the plate is, the more vitamins it has. So make sure your plate is colorful and beautiful.
What is an ideal combination of foods for sohour?
Beans, egg, yogurt, oatmeal and milk.
If we are introducing children to fasting what foods should they eat?
Our children have to get enough food, I mean healthy food. We have to be sure that their food includes three servings of protein (eggs, meats), two servings of vegetables (1 cup raw salads and 1/2 cup cooked), two servings of fruit, five servings of carbohydrates, (I prefer 1 cup of cooked rice, 1/2 balady bread, 1/2 oats), two servings of dairy products, five servings of unsaturated fat like olive, sesame or flaxseed oil (or any vegetable oil) and eight glasses of filtered water.