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Oct. 5, 2022

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Fasting for Ramadan? Tips for doing it safely

Advice applies to anyone beginning healthier diet

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Yaz Kubba, a fitness trainer and founder of YazFit, drinks about a gallon and a half of water a day.

She started that about 10 years ago, and the first year, when it came time to fast for Ramadan — when Muslims don’t eat or, often more challenging, drink while the sun is up — she had to adapt.

“So I tried to squeeze in a gallon of water between sunset and sunrise,” she said.

And it worked. She went to work, exercised after and realized she still felt hydrated. “That was definitely a game-changer,” she said.

In the years since, she’s done the StairMaster for an hour, while she was fasting. She’s run up to six miles. “After, my mouth was literally still so watery,” she said.

That doesn’t mean that Ramadan fasting is easy. Kubba normally eats six to eight meals a day, so she jokes that she gets hangry even when she’s not fasting.

“But that’s the whole point of Ramadan, to take your mind off of that and connect with the spiritual experience,” she said.

Here’s a collection of advice from experts on diet, nutrition and wellness about how to be healthy as you observe Ramadan. Though the suggestions are specific to the holy month, much of the guidance is helpful for anyone who’s fasting or just wanting to kick-start a healthier diet.

Fasting can be beneficial

Fasting kicks our system into a healing phase, said Ussma Ghani, a registered dietitian and holistic nutritionist at Nutriacs.

“Since the day we were born, our (gastrointestinal) tract has been constantly working for us,” she said. “So when we give it a break, we’re allowing for the body to stop, clear out some dead cells and have some time to do some housekeeping or house cleaning.”

Other benefits of fasting can include better blood sugar control, decrease in stress and inflammatory processes in your body, and improving heart health and brain function, said Sumiya Khan, a registered dietitian and co-founder of Sanctuary Kitchen.

But if you’re going most of the day without eating, what you do put in your body is going to have a larger effect on how you feel throughout the day.

“The whole point of Ramadan and fasting is to practice mindfulness, discipline and control,” Khan said. “So practicing moderation, focusing on the company (of family and friends) and why we are fasting, as well as being very mindful of what you’re eating while you’re eating — that’s really part of the whole package.”

Pace yourself

“A lot of times after fasting, you’re so hungry that you just start stuffing your face,” Kubba said. “But then afterward you can’t even move.”

So slow down when you eat, said Abrar Naely, a registered dietitian who goes by Naelynutrition on Instagram. Take the time to chew. It takes the brain about 20 minutes to receive the signal from your stomach that you’re full.

Shamila Malik, a registered dietitian at Fresenius Medical Care North America, says some people might sleep in and not eat suhoor, the meal before the fast begins. But that’s a bad idea. You’ll be starving by the end of the day, she said, and eating the majority of your calories at night before you go to sleep is bad for your metabolism and will make you gain weight.

It’s better to break up your calories: some at suhoor and some at iftar, the meal when breaking the fast, she said.

Soumar Haddad, clinical dietitian at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, recommends easing into eating after a fast. It’s a Muslim tradition to break fast with dates — the Prophet Muhammad is said to have broken his fast with three dates — and this also has health benefits. “Dates have like 15 grams of carbs, one serving of carbs,” Haddad said. “So it’s instantly absorbed in the body so they get the energy boost right away.”

She recommends following it up with some bone broth and an appetizer to slow down the hunger. “Give yourself a little bit of a break, and after your prayers, come back and have a regular-sized meal,” she said.

Part of pacing yourself is also allowing yourself to satisfy various cravings in moderation, said Kubba — especially because there are often many social gatherings during Ramadan with delicious, not-so-healthy food.

“If you want something that’s high-sodium, that’s totally fine,” she said. “As long as it’s not every single day.”

And make up for it by drinking more water, she said.

“You have to focus on what you’re eating and when, because you don’t want to lose momentum and crash,” said Malik. “That could be a daily crash; it could be a midmonth crash.”

What to eat

Generally, high-protein and high-fiber foods give you energy for longer, because they take longer to be digested and absorbed in the body. Too much sugar and other simple carbs, such as white bread, will cause your blood sugar to spike, and then you’ll crash and feel hungrier.

“A morning meal high in protein is going to be really beneficial,” said Khan. “Examples of protein foods are eggs, yogurt — Greek yogurt, in particular — beans, lentils, fish, chicken and nuts.”

Whole-grain carbohydrates (whole grain breads, bagels, tortillas, oatmeal, quinoa) and healthy fats (avocado, nuts and seeds) will also help you feel satiated throughout the day. Fruits and vegetables are high in fiber, contain a variety of necessary vitamins and minerals and also provide hydration.

How to hydrate

A good strategy to prevent dehydration is to think about how much water your body needs in a regular day — and to make sure you get a similar amount of water between sunset and sunrise.

It doesn’t need to be a gallon, like Kubba, but for some, it amounts to drinking one or two glasses of water between each of the nightly prayers.

“If people have a hard time with water, they can add some lemon to it, or have some seltzer or teas,” Khan said.

Other tips to minimize thirst:

  • Avoid high-sodium food and fried foods. Too much poultry can also make you thirsty, Haddad said.
  • Drink liquids with electrolytes, such as coconut water, bone broth and sugar-free Gatorade.
  • Don’t gulp the water. Drink it slowly and steadily through a straw.
  • Eat foods with a lot of water content, including watermelon, cucumber, zucchini, yogurts, broths, nuts, seeds and dates.
  • Try hydrated chia seeds, Naely said. You can soak them in water or almond milk overnight.

The best way to tell if you’re dehydrated is the color of your urine. It should be light yellow or clear, so if it’s too dark, increase your fluid intake.

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