The Holy Month of Ramadan is fast approaching and while many of us are preparing to begin to fast, the worries of the current global Coronavirus crisis, as well as changes in lifestyle and habits, are undoubtedly on many people’s minds when preparing for Ramadan this year.
Clinical Dietitian Dr Dana Al Hamwi is a specialised nutritionist and expert in her field. Al Hamwi has become well known in the region for creating a healthy and sustainable lifestyle and eating plans and she also offers expert advice when it comes to safe and successful fasting. Here she offers insights into preparing your body and mind for The Holy Month, as well as how to prepare in the exceptional circumstances some might find themselves in currently.
What are some top tips you can suggest for preparing the body for fasting?
We are fast approaching the start of the Holy Month of Ramadan so we have to modify our lifestyle and eating habits as a preparation for it. Start by stopping snacking between meals as well as beginning to introduce healthy cooking practices and avoiding frying. Another thing to do is reduce your caffeine consumption as well as reducing milk with your coffee and get used to drinking a lot of water.
How soon before the Holy Month begins should we start to prepare our body?
At least one month before the start of the Holy Month so that the body can get used to the changes and a more healthy lifestyle
Are there any foods we should avoid in the lead up to Ramadan and any foods that are good for preparing the body?
We should reduce caffeine intake to avoid headaches which can be very common at the beginning of Ramadan. I would also recommend starting to eat one date with one glass of Laban before lunch. It’s important to start having an earlier breakfast and late lunch as well as avoiding snacks and drinks, except for water, in between meals. Start to reduce the amount of food you have for dinner – have something like yoghurt or salad or a bowl of soup, as well as reducing the amount of salt you are consuming. Avoid pickles and use spices and herbs as a substitute. Women especially should get used to including healthy options while preparing food. Try using chia seeds, quinoa, brown rice and flax seeds as substitutes for regular ingredients.
What about drinking water – is it a good idea to limit water intake in the lead up to Ramadan?
No, not at all. Water is very important for a healthy body and to boost immunity against viruses so we shouldn’t reduce water intake but we have to cut down on the number of sugary drinks including soft drinks and juices. You can compensate with herbal options such as anise, ginger or chamomile to boost the respiratory tract health.
Are there any ways we can prepare our sleeping patterns?
It’s important to get used to going to bed early in the evening so that it is easier to wake up for suhoor and then sleep through until the morning without affecting your job performance the next day. Avoid watching too much TV and try to increase physical activity. Of course with the current situation, this might be something that has to be done at home so my suggestion is to aim for doing between 8000- 12000 steps most weekdays. Also practising yoga and reading can help in reducing your stress levels and help in sleeping well at night. Including sources of magnesium in your diet will also help you to sleep better. You can get this from items including green leafy vegetables, nuts, yoghurt, quinoa, spinach and avocado.
With the Coronavirus outbreak being a huge concern will it still be safe to fast and is there anything we should be doing differently?
Of course, it will be safe to fast if we are healthy and not suffering from any chronic disease that might affect our ability to fight it. Fasting is a way of boosting the body’s immunity and detoxing from toxins but it’s important to be aware of our safety and ensure we are washing hands well, avoiding social gatherings, staying at home and listening to government regulations.
What about those who experience symptoms would you recommend continuing to fast as normal?
For people testing positive coronavirus, it’s not safe for them to fast as they will need more water, protein and vitamins to boost their body immunity in order to able to fight the virus.
If in self-isolation when Ramadan begins are there any tips you can give to those who will be home all day?
For those who are isolated because of positive testing, my advice is not too fast. For those in isolation as a precautionary action but are still showing symptoms I advise them to fast but drink more water, avoid caffeine and have one banana and three dates with Laban every day in addition to a healthy breakfast. Avoid heavy meals or fried food and unhealthy sweets. I would also suggest adding a bowl of vegetable soup with natural stock to your breakfast, as well a glass of yoghurt with one teaspoon of Manuka honey. Eating citrus fruits is very important in addition to a daily salad dish to ensure you are getting enough nutrients.
I also advise taking one tablespoon of olive oil every day before suhoor and drink herbal teas such as anise tea and chamomile. Exercising will also help in boosting immunity and in my opinion daily prayers and Taraweeh are the best natural physical and mental exercises.
Once Ramadan starts are there any recommendations you would make to keep energy levels up?
Healthy eating and breaking the fast with dates and Laban then prayers before soup and salad. I would recommend postponing your main course till after Taraweeh prayer as this will help with hunger.
When fasting what recommendations would you give to parents who still need to ensure their children have regular meals?
Firstly parents are role models to their kids so if they eat healthy their kids will do so.
If the kids are able to fast parents should ensure that they are eating healthy during suhoor and iftar meals in addition to having plenty of fruit and drinking enough water.
If they still young below the fasting age then they can teach them to eat only the three main meals a day but without eating anything in between.
What foods would you recommend for breaking fast?
Dates, Laban, soup and salad.
How about sugar is it something that we should reduce intake of during Ramadan?
Of course, adding sugar to drinks or eating a lot of sweets, as well as rice, white bread or pasta is unhealthy and might have a negative affect our health and immunity so it’s important to get used to reducing sugar intake and avoid adding sugar to drinks as well as not drinking too many juices and traditional Ramadan drinks such as Vimto. Replace sweets with healthy options such as Muhalabieh, rice pudding, dried fruits or fresh fruits and use brown rice as a substitute for white rice.