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Another Ramadan rolls in, with its own colours and flavours. Once more, the table fills up with the iftar spreads. Once more, the shopping malls don a festive look with lights and banners and special promotions. Once more, the mosques fill up with the faithful performing their taravih prayers. Kicking off our special Ramadan run-through this year is a special feature on nutrition during Ramadan. At the centre of this month of piety and abstinence lies the ritual of fasting. No food or water is consumed during the daylight hours from dawn to dusk. This obviously means a drastic change to our lifestyles and eating patterns. To help you take a healthy route through this month, we have a special feature on nutrition.

Food and fasting: the healthy solution

Somewhere in his notes for The Gunslinger, Stephen King talks about the power of suggestion and the lure of the forbidden. He talks about how if someone tells you not to think about something, there's nothing that can stop you from immediately thinking about it.

What's this got to do with this article, you ask? Well, there's nothing like Ramadan, the month of abstinence, to get you thinking about things you are supposed to be less concerned about especially food. So what happens when one goes through the day without eating and all this time one is obsessively thinking about food? Come iftar, and there's bingeing on fried and fatty food, which puts one off dinner. Sehri can either be a mad glut-fest or a mini diet, and then the next day, there's no eating and the cycle repeats itself. By the time Eid rolls around, your blood pressure has gone haywire, your bathroom scales have quit on you, and your skin looks like the 'before' picture for a dermatologist's ad.

Okay, so maybe we exaggerated a little. Nutrition, being essential to good health, however, is not to be taken lightly, so especially during Ramadan, when our daily routines are drastically altered, and our eating patterns change, one should be extra careful.

We caught up with Tamanna Chowdhury, Dietician at the Apollo Hospital, Dhaka, for the dope on eating right during Ramadan.

“Ramadan brings about a change in the eating pattern, and also in the type of food that is consumed. All too often, people tend to over-compensate during iftar for the food they were not able to consume during the day, and then skip dinner. Others either eat too much during sehri, or even try fasting without sehri. This irregularity causes problems like a change in the metabolism, or gastric disorders, or ulcers, and can be particularly dangerous for people with diabetes and/or renal disorders”.

With so much riding on the right diet and routine, here are Tamanna's recommendations for a healthy Ramadan:

Don't skip meals
While the caloric requirements for a person depends on the BMI (body mass index), which varies, your body requires you to have at least three square meals for a healthy metabolism. Hence, despite the fact that gorging on iftar wouldn't leave you with much of an appetite for dinner, try not to skip meals.

“Skipping meals can cause problems like listlessness, gas, and ulcers” says Tamanna.
Ease slowly into iftar with a light meal that is rich in fresh fruits and plenty of liquids. Take a light dinner right after the evening taravih prayers, and then go to bed an hour or so later. The ideal time for sehri would be just an hour before the Fazr prayer.

Guzzle by the gallons
One of the biggest risks of Ramadan is that of dehydration, and that in itself could lead to a host of other problems. So start drinking right from iftar, and make sure you pack in 12-14 glasses of water through the night. Yoghurt drinks and fresh fruit juices are also a good way to re-hydrate; make sure they are sugar-balanced. Drinking fizzy drinks are never encouraged by nutritionists, and less so during Ramadan.

Fit vs. fat
Fasting brings some weighty issues to mind, not the least of all is weight. A lot of people find themselves gaining weight during this one month, as opposed to losing it. The reason is often the over-abundance of fried, fatty food that is partaken during iftar.

Aside from piling on the pounds, an excess of fried food can lead to heartburn and wreak havoc with the skin. The total amount of oil present in the food items should not exceed 6-7 teaspoons over a 24-hour period.

A more sensible option would be to substitute the fries with cooked or boiled food. Dry grain items like chira or muri are also a healthy option, as are fresh sprouts, greens and salads. Home-made halim, which tastes great is packed with nutrients. This Ramadan, Lifestyle recommends experimenting with offbeat low-fat snack items like noodles, sandwiches and soup instead of traditional friend iftar treats.

Along with watching what you eat, you should keep an eye on your exercise schedule. Light to moderate exercise is fine, but should be done early in the morning, or an hour or so after iftar, so as to prevent fatigue.

Ion Zone
Another nutrition trap we often fall for is an ion imbalance caused by excess sugar and salt in our food. Iftar means a lot of sherbets and sweet drinks, and this can make a mess of the glucose levels. Sugar shock anyone?

As mentioned before, fresh fruit juices and yoghurt drinks are a healthier option than artificial drinks. Go wild with home-made smoothies, sherbets and mocktails!

Students appearing for exams are allowed to have a little extra sugar, as glucose is important brain-food. Instead of reaching for that Tang, though, a hot mug of Horlicks or chocolate milk is a much better option.

People suffering from diabetes, or cardiac/renal disorders should consult their physicians ahead of Ramadan about medication, and a proper diet plan for them. Particularly, diabetic and renal patients are discouraged from undertaking exercise.

A little careful planning and ingenuity can see you through the month with minimum discomfort, and here's hoping that Eid finds our readers looking happy, healthy and hearty.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- The nutrition requirements for a person varies from person to person. Consult a nutritionist about a diet and exercise plan for Ramadan that will suit your particular needs and requirements.
· Do not try fad diets without proper medical advice!
· If you are a diabetic or renal patient, or if you are on prescription medicine of any kind, please consult your physician about doses and timings.

Sabrina F Ahmad
Special thanks to Tammana Chowdhury and Shahana Rahman
Photo: Amirul Rajiv



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