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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 18 December 2018

Fasting in Ramadan: 'Don't break your fast with salty processed food'

Clinics and hospitals see stomach cramps and over-eaters every day in the Holy Month. Here's how to stay healthy.

Deep fried food displayed at an iftar in Dubai. Paulo Vecina / The National
Deep fried food displayed at an iftar in Dubai. Paulo Vecina / The National

Every year during Ramadan, healthcare professionals across the country see hundreds of residents suffering from a condition that only surfaces that month - stomach cramps and bloated bellies.

After more than 14 hours fasting, it can be tempting to break your fast with enthusiasm, but you could be spoiling your enjoyment and harming your health.

Dr Hani Jaber, a family medicine consultant at Healthpoint in Abu Dhabi, saw two to three patients per day last year complaining of abdominal pains after iftar.

“It is usually because they over ate," he says.

Every year, doctors repeat the same advice to fasting Muslims: “Break you fast by eating in moderation and gradually."

And every year, the numbers are steady across the hospital network.

“The awareness is there,” Dr Jaber says.

“But some patients believe that this would never happen to them, particularly the younger generation."

Dates, soup and a break

“Think of your stomach as a car engine that has been switched off for a long time. When you restart it, you need to give it time to warm up before speeding off. The same applies to the digestive system. It has been dormant for a long period of time and you can’t suddenly overload it with food.”

Most medics' advice is to start with a few dates and some soup followed by a short break, perhaps to pray, before returning to eat more.

“It is always advisable to have small, frequent and nutritious meals during iftar," says Lamees El-Derbi, a bariatric dietitian.

"And avoid fatty food, carbonated beverages, and juices and syrups with high concentrated sugar that are always served during Ramadan."

And the sweets and drinks that are often associated with Ramadan are best avoided.

Ms El-Derbi recommends a balanced meal consisting of all the carbohydrates, proteins and healthy fat.

Many vegetables and fruits are high in water content.

“It is advisable to have them during iftar to compensate for the water loss during the day.”

Nausea

Suhoor is in many ways the most important meal during Ramadan and prevents nausea and headaches while fasting during the day.

Ms El-Derbi suggests eating oatmeal with low fat milk, nuts and a banana or a cheese sandwich with whole meal bread and some fruit on the side.

That means when fasters rise for work, they will have plenty of energy, at least for the start of the day, and not feel queasy from hunger.

“Again”, she repeats, “it is best to avoid any salty, processed and canned food.”

For those who suffer from caffeine withdrawals she says "decrease the number of your caffeine intake a week or two before Ramadan".

Dr Jaber urges those fasting to take a break from the gym or strenuous exercise.

Skip the gym

“We also advise people not to use fasting as a means to diet and reduce their weight by additional workouts. The body is already fatigued and this is not the purpose of fasting,” he says.

Sleep is also of particular importance if an individual want to keep their energy levels up while fasting.

This can be challenging when Ramadan tents and entertainment run into the early hours of the morning.

“Managing our sleeping hours is the most difficult area but is also very important. If you don’t get enough sleep and in addition to fasting, then you will be unable to focus at work. You can't stay awake until dawn and then sleep,” he says.

Dr Jaber recommends sleeping after iftar until about 11pm or midnight, and then after suhoor.

“After suhoor they can sleep again for a few hours before heading to work so that in total you would have slept around six to seven hours.”

Know your rights

For those working outside for part or all of the day, Ramadan can be an extremely demanding time for the body.

“There needs to be open dialogue and trust between workers and their employer," he says.

"As soon as a worker begins to feel weak, he has to stop immediately and report to their employer that they feel unwell. This is better than staying quiet about it and then suddenly collapsing."

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Read more:

Everything you need to know in Ramadan in the UAE

Workplace Doctor: Do non-Muslims have to work full hours during Ramadan?