Ramadan began on April 13 this year, and is one of the most important months of the year for Muslims. For the month of Ramadan, the majority of Muslims will fast during daylight hours and cannot eat or drink until the sun sets – after which many have a big feast during Iftar (the ending of the fast meal).
Fasting days can be difficult – and may be even more challenging this year because of the pandemic. But there are many things that people can do to look after their mental and physical health during Ramadan.
1. Good nutrition
There’s only a small window to provide your body with all the key nutrients it needs, so you should focus on consuming high quality foods.
During Iftar drink plenty of water, and eat a good balance of starchy carbohydrates, vegetables, proteins and dairy, for natural fats. Having these nutrients in your meals helps keep you hydrated and full for a longer time, and can even boost your immune system, which is especially important this year.
During Suhur (the pre-dawn meal), focus on eating foods which have a low glycaemic index – such as wholegrain foods, fruit and vegetables including oats, rye, barley, brown rice, quinoa, berries, apples and oranges. These foods won’t spike blood sugars and will help you feel fuller for longer. This can also help you control your appetite and will help keep you going throughout the day.
2. Avoid some ingredients
Some of the things you need to avoid are salt, caffeine, sugars and processed foods.
When preparing meals for Suhur, it’s important to ensure you avoid too much salt as this will dehydrate you and make you thirsty during the day. Caffeine should also be avoided. This is because caffeinated drinks have a diuretic effect, increasing the body’s production of urine – which could also lead to dehydration.
It’s also important to avoid processed foods and foods and drinks with added sugars. These have a relatively low nutrient density, won’t keep you full as long, and are also linked with increased risk of disease. Moreover, overeating these types of foods can damage the heart and kidneys, slow the immune system, and may cause weight gain.
You can swap deep fried foods, such as samosas, for healthier alternatives such as dates and fruits. Similarly, try to swap sugary foods like doughnuts, ice cream and cakes with things like fruit salads and yogurts.
Avoid cooking methods like frying and deep frying and instead try baking or grilling as it’s generally healthier. If you’re making a curry, stew, or sauce, it’s useful to cook with a large base of tomatoes and onions because a large base of tomatoes can help maintain healthy blood pressure and reduce blood glucose, and onions are high in vitamins, minerals and fibre.
Muslims observing Ramadan will find it challenging to be active. But being physically active has significant health benefits, which is why it’s important to keep exercising regularly throughout Ramadan.
However, it’s important to note that your energy level and patience during the fasting day will not be the same – especially in quarantine – compared to the days when you’re not fasting or in quarantine. As such, avoid high-intensity exercises like sprinting or lifting heavy weights during the day – but you may be able to do this in the evening after Iftar.
Instead, start off with light exercises for 15-30 minutes – such as walking, jogging, pilates, yoga, or stretching. Try a brisk walk around the park or garden, or a short cycle or jog. Walking is the easiest form of exercise to fit into your day while fasting.
If you want, you can gradually increase the amount and intensity of the exercise you do depending on how you feel each day.
4. Plan ahead
This year’s Ramadan is during exam season, so students and those working may need help to feel more energised during the day.
As such, it’s important to plan your meals. Don’t skip Suhur to keep up with your sleep. And whether you’re studying, working from home or going to work, it’s vital to plan what you’re going to be eating in Suhur and Iftar. What you eat has an impact on your energy levels the next day – so again focus on eating quality, high-nutrient foods.
It’s also important you avoid working through your lunch break – a common mistake many people make during Ramadan. Even though you cannot eat or drink, try going for a walk and getting fresh air, taking prayer breaks, or taking a nap. Perhaps make a daily to-do list and write down things that you’re finding challenging and plan how to combat them efficiently. And if you can, try to go outside during your lunch break, as this can improve your mental health.
Of course, it’s important that you also indulge in your favourite foods and drinks during Ramadan. But make sure you’re looking after yourself to ensure you stay healthy throughout the month.
Ayaz Safi does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.