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Maintaining good health in Ramadaan

As Salaam u Alaikum,
I am Dr. Raeesa Moolla.

Ramadhaan mubaraak to all, albeit that we will soon be entering the last ten days of Ramadhaan! I hope this short article enlightens you on how to maintain a good healthy lifestyle during Ramdhaan.

The Islamic fast is not a total fast where no food or drink is taken for 24 hours. We are allowed to consume whatever we want during Iftaar and Suhur. Because the length of the fast is not more than 24 hours, most body functions stay the same. Ramadhaan gives us the ideal opportunity to detoxify our bodies of all the toxins we consume. It is the perfect time for smokers to give up smoking or others to give up any form of addiction.

Preparing for Ramadhaan spiritually and physically enables us to enjoy this blessed month. I don’t mean only packing our freezers with every type of savoury available, although preparing food earlier gives us more time for Ibaadah.

• If you are doubtful about your health eg. A diabetic patient please consult your doctor. Preferably someone who understands the religious obligations of fasting. This should be done well before commencement of Ramadhaan so that if medication needs to be given or changed you are well controlled prior to Ramadhaan.
• Try to decrease your work load; if possible ask your employer if you can make up your extra hours later on.
• Reschedule children’s homework time.
• Stock up on healthy foods.
• Go to bed early and have as much rest as possible.
• Improve your fitness level before Ramadhaan by doing cardiovascular exercises such as brisk walking, jogging, cycling. Weight bearing exercises can improve your muscle strength and make it easier for you during Taraweeh Salaah. Stretching exercises can improve core muscle strength which plays an important part in stabilizing a person posture during Salaah.
• Avoid unnecessary physical activities and exercise during the month of Ramadhaan. If you are very fit and feel that you must exercise during Ramadhaan then the best time is after Taraweeh Salaah. Taraweeh salaah alone is said to enable one to lose up to 200 calories. During the performance of a correct salaah each and every muscle in the body is exercised. Salaah is a gentle form of exercise
• Schools should be informed to excuse children from sports and strenuous activities especially in summer.

Throughout the world the incidence of excess weight and obesity is increasing. This leads to other health problems such as hypertension, heart attacks and stroke. Ramadhaan is the correct time to correct the diet; it gives overweight people the opportunity to loose weight and change their lifestyle.

At Suhur
Foods with a high glycaemic index (between 70-100) are fast digesting (within 2-4 hours). These are sugary foods and refined carbohydrates.
Large amounts of refined carbohydrates cause the blood sugar to rise rapidly with a sharp drop resulting in lethargy, dizziness, weakness and hunger about 4-5 hours into the day. Avoid spicy foods as they may result in heart burn and indigestion. Avoid normal tea as it has a diuretic effect; rather change to herbal or rooibos teas.
We should wake up for Suhur even if it’s for a glass of water. Prophet Muhammed (SAW) said “The thing that differentiates between our fasting and the fasting of the people of the Book is eating Suhur”. (Sahih Muslim)
The best foods to eat are low GI, eg, Muesli, oats, brown flour, dates, dried fruits. Bran containing foods eg, muffins, protein eg, eggs, chicken, beans, vegetables and fruit.
For those unable to eat at Suhur and who are under weight, a meal replacement eg, “Ensure” or “Life gain” will be ideal.

At Iftaar
We need food that provides us fast energy. It is a Sunnah of our Prophet Muhammad (Sallallaahu Alaihi wa Sallam) to break the fast with dates and water. And what can be more refreshing at Iftaar than a glass of Zam-Zam? Dates are high in vitamins, minerals, fibre and they have a low to medium GI. They cause a surge of glucose to go through the blood stream. Performing Maghrib Salaah after this gives the stomach a chance to digest the dates and to start working slowly.

Haleem (a broth made from oats, Barley, wheat and chicken/ meat) is also very nutritious, it is slow burning with complex carbohydrates and a low GI. However if very spicy it can cause indigestion and heart burn. It is best to have it after Maghrib Salaah. Rasulalalah (Sallallaahu Alaihi wa Sallam) used to eat Saweeq (made from ground wheat and barley) which is very similar to Haleem. Eat savouries in moderation 1-2 only.
Grill samoosas rather than fry them. Eat foods rich in carbohydrates a small quantity of high GI food eg, white bread and white rice. They provide instant energy for a short period of time; together with some complex carbohydrate (low GI), a small serving of meat or chicken or lentils as well as fruit and vegetables.
Over eating at Iftaar can lead to gastro-oesophagael reflux disorder. It also hinders the performance of Taraweeh as more blood is diverted to digest the enormous amount of food consumed at Iftaar. The symptoms are limbs feeling weak and flabby.

During summer months long days of fasting requires us to make sure that we are well hydrated at the beginning of the fast. Start rehydration when the fast is broken. A glass or 2 of water before Maghrib, further 2-3 glasses of fluid during Iftaar. 1 or 2 glasses of water can be consumed while performing Taraweeh and thereafter another glass before bedtime. Thus the fluid levels can be hydrated overnight.
At Suhur only a top up is required. If too much liquid is taken at Suhur it will be flushed out in the next hour or so.

The following are symptoms of dehydration:
Weakness, dizziness, lethargy, muscle cramps, blurred vision.
Those who suffer from low blood pressure will benefit by increasing their salt intake eg; adding it to fruit drinks or food. Sport drinks also contain electrolytes like sodium and potassium. Calcium and magnesium supplements may be required for those who suffer with muscle cramps.

Most children want to partake in fasting as they want to be involved in the family rituals of Ramadhaan. They have been taught from an early age the blessings of Ramadhaan.
In general children under 7 should not fast for the whole day. They may fast for a small segment of the day and as they grow older gradually increase the time frame of the fast. Because of their smaller bodies the possibilities of dehydration is high. If your child does fast it should be under strict supervision.
Between 7-10 years: if your child is healthy and can manage they may fast under adult supervision. Younger children (+-7 years) can fast till Zuhr and if no detrimental effects to their health they can slowly extend the time. Realistic expectations need to be set.

We will continue with illness during Ramadhaan in the next post In-shaa-Allah.

1. Ramadhaan- A complete Guide
2. Health Guidelines for Ramadhaan – Dr F Haffejee

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