*Lauren Evans is a nutritionist with BSc (Hons) in Human Nutrition and MSc in Exercise & Nutrition Science
Fasting during Ramadan is already a challenge within itself; however fasting during one of the warmest months of the year not only intensifies this challenge but also requires a true commitment that can only be marvelled. With an average of 14 hours fasting between Suhoor (Sunrise) and Iftar meals (Sunset), nutrition and hydration during meal time are both highly important.
Fasting affects your body in many ways. As your body undergoes quite a drastic change from receiving food and water on a regular basis to not receiving anything for an extended amount of time, it understandably causes a shock to the system. Your body becomes unsure whether food will be readily available and as a result of this, tries to reserve as much energy as possible by slowing down your metabolism.
In this context, your metabolism is the speed at which your body converts food into energy. A slow metabolism means that the food is converted into energy much slower, which can result in weight gain particularly after Ramadan when normal eating habits are resumed.
Therefore it is important that during Ramadan you undertake measures to keep your metabolism as normal as possible. One of the best ways to do this is with light exercise as this can speed up your metabolism, helping to counteract the effects that fasting has on slowing down your metabolism. Exercise should only be carried out after Iftar or before Suhoor and doesn’t need to be anything intense. The best form of exercise would be a 30 minute brisk walk in the morning or evening.
Water is said to make up over two-thirds of the human body. It is essential for many bodily functions such as aiding digestion and the transition of waste, lubricating eyes and joints and maintaining healthy skin. Dehydration can cause tiredness, headaches, nausea and even affect your everyday decision making. If you are thirsty, this is a sign you body is already dehydrated. As water is not permitted during fasting hours, it is vital that you fully hydrate outside of fasting hours. It is recommended, generally, that you consume at least 2 litres of water per day.
However, due to the possibility of warm/hot weather throughout August, you should aim for 2.5-3 litres per day which is the equivalent of 5-6 small water bottles or 10-12 average (250 ml) glasses. For example, to consume 10 glasses of water you could have 1 glass when you wake up in the morning, 1 before you eat, 1 whilst you eat, 1 after you eat, 1 when opening fast at iftar, 1 before your main evening meal, 1 during your meal, 1 after your meal and 2 before you go to sleep. Although water is the best option to hydrate the body, it is fine to consume other liquids such as cordial, milk and fruit juice. Try to avoid fizzy drinks, tea and coffee as the caffeine acts as a diuretic.
It is important to remember that there is no need to over indulge or consume excess amounts of food at Iftar and Suhoor than you normally would. The reasons for this being, most people assume a more inactive lifestyle during Ramadan which means they will use less energy thus require less energy.
The metabolism slows down so the rate at which the food is converted into energy is much slower and so the body’s demand for food/energy will also be reduced. Hence there is no need to make up for what was not consumed during the day. A balanced diet similar to that consumed before the commencement of Ramadan should be sufficient.
It is expected that the longest fasting day (1st August) will be around 15 ½ hours and the shortest day (30th August) 13 ½ hours. With these long days it is recommended that complex carbohydrates are the primary contributor at Suhoor. Complex carbohydrates are digested slowly and consistently throughout the day which means food last longer making you feel less hungry.
These are found in pasta, spaghetti, brown rice, granary bread, potatoes, high fibre cereals, porridge oats, beans and lentils. At Iftar it may be more beneficial to consume simple carbohydrates to begin with, as these are digested faster in order to replenish blood sugar levels more quickly. These are basically foods that contain white flour or sugar such as white bread, honey and fruit. Make sure protein is consumed with both morning and evening meals and a variety of vegetables with the evening meal. For dessert, fresh fruit is the best option and as a starter, soup is a good choice.
* For more details visit Lauren Evan's website: www.nutrispex.co.uk