As the month of Ramadan approaches, many people are eagerly anticipating the fasting season and the month of giving. It is a month where one learns tolerance, patience and empathy. From a health perspective, a lot of benefits can be had from fasting in the right way during Ramadan. The long summer days may pose a challenge as one may have to fast for as long as 14 to 16 hours.
To ensure your optimal health, it is necessary to follow some simple measures that would minimize any physical challenges.
If you are feeling unwell or taking medications:
It is very important that if one is unwell, one should consult his/her physician about whether they would be capable to fast. If you are on certain long-term medications that must be continued through Ramadan, then it is almost always possible to change the timings to suit the requirements of fasting. Consult your physician in this regard; do not try to do this on your own.
When a person undertakes a fast, then body has to draw upon stored forms of energy to keep you going, and this process starts 6 to 8 hours after the last meal. This energy comes from stores of glycogen in the liver and muscle tissue. Once these stores are mobilised, the body then turns to breakdown of fats for energy. This process can sustain the energy needs of the body for several days before depletion of proteins takes place. This can be avoided by eating sensibly between Iftar and Suhour.
Most of the recommended practices in fasting are designed to keep you healthy. The same practices are equally relevant to keep your gut healthy as well.
Your Iftar meals:
The process of breaking the fast is important. After staying off foods and fluids for a large part of the day, the gut enters a state of reduced activity. Therefore, you must ease your gut into the digestion process as overeating right after fasting could take a toll on your health. It is advisable to break the fast with a small morsel that is easily absorbable and offers ready energy. Traditionally this is done with a small drink of water and a couple of dates. Dates have an advantage of being rich in potassium and phosphates, both of which are essential while breaking a prolonged fast. After this, it is helpful to allow a few minutes to pass before taking a full Iftar meal. A word of caution is not to gorge on too many dates because of the high sugar content.
The Iftar meal itself should be a well-balanced meal with healthy proportions of carbohydrates, proteins and fats. It is a misconception that if you overeat then you will not feel hungry soon. In fact, when the stomach is challenged with larger quantities of food, then the process of gastric emptying is actually hastened by the body.
It is important to replenish enough fluids between meals. This is particularly important during summers. Even with this, it is better to space out the intake of liquids and to drink at even intervals rather than take in a lot at once.
People suffering from gastric problems:
- Patients who have REFLUX and ACIDITY should take small meals and avoid going to bed immediately after food. For these patients it is probably going to be easier to take a larger meal (not overeating) before dawn.
- Patients with FATTY LIVER will probably benefit from reduction in weight. However, a very rapid loss of weight can be equally damaging to the liver, hence having balanced meals is important.
- Constipation may worsen in some patients. This can be avoided by ensuring good hydration and intake of foods rich in fiber especially vegetables and fruit.
- Some patients may suffer from too much intestinal “gas” or flatulence. This can be avoided by avoiding certain foods that are not absorbed easily. Milk is a common cause for flatulence and those patients who have felt this problem, should avoid too much milk.
Dr. Amal Upadhyay
Consultant in Gastroenterology
Aster Hospital, Mankhool