Fasting is healthy if done correctly, says celebrity dietician Ghida Arnaout
Ghida Arnaout, the in-house celebrity dietician of Physique TV – the region’s first dedicated health and lifestyle television channel – offers tips on how to fast healthily and happily.
What are some of the biggest physical challenges of the Ramadan fast?
Even though fasting in Ramadan is a challenge, if done the right way it can be healthy. One of the greatest challenges, especially in the Gulf, is dehydration. It is essential to drink enough fluids and water during the night hours to make up for the water and electrolyte loss in your body. Also, if you suffer from any kind of disease, it is very important to consult your doctor first before attempting to fast.
Every year, when Ramadan comes around, the news is full of stories of mass hospitalisation as people break their fast somewhat overenthusiastically. What is the best, and least harmful, way to break the fast?
One of the virtues of fasting is discipline and if the fast is broken with huge meals and overeating, it is totally missing the point of this practice. The best way to break the fast is by having a glass of fluid such as water, natural fruit juice or yogurt with two dates. Dates are full of quick sugars and contain minerals lost during fasting such as phosphorous and potassium. You can take a 15-minute break after this small snack and then start with your main meal that should be healthy and controlled as well.
What are some of the best foods for reinvigorating oneself after the day’s fasting without overeating?
The breakfast meal should contain a salad, a soup and the main dish. People tend to cook several dishes in Ramadan, which leads them to overeat. Stick to one kind and make sure your meal consists of complex carbohydrates such as brown bread, brown rice and quinoa; lean protein such as grilled fish or chicken breast; legumes, yogurt and enough vegetables; and good fats such as olive oil or raw nuts.
What about preparing for the day’s fast? Are there any particular superfoods or methods of eating before sunrise that can help to best prepare and give you strength for the day ahead?
The suhoor meal should never be missed. It is your fuel for the next day and if you miss it, you will risk losing muscle weight and feeling fatigued. The best suhoor meal should consist of complex carbohydrates and proteins such as brown toast with turkey breast or low fat cheese or yogurt with oats and dried fruits. Avoid caffeine and salty foods during suhoor as this may lead to more dehydration the next day.
The roads are usually chaotic in the moments leading up to sundown. Any advice for those who may have other people’s lives in their hands, such as taxi drivers, to keep their concentration after a long day’s fasting?
Again, never ever skip your suhoor meal and make sure you drink enough fluids to hydrate yourself for the next day and keep focus. Avoid fried and fatty foods, as these tend to make you feel more tired and sleepy, which will not help on the road.
Finally, what’s your own favourite iftar treat? It doesn’t necessarily have to be healthy, though I suspect in light of your job it will be.
My favourite is a Lebanese dish called fatteh, which is made of yogurt, chickpeas, fried bread and nuts. I make it healthier by using low-fat yogurt and toasting the bread instead of frying it. I also love kunafeh [cheese pastry soaked in sweet syrup]. It’s hard to make that healthy, so I try to have a very small piece if it’s available on the table.