A Healthy Ramadan

Spinneys nutritionist Freda Molamphy shares her suggestions on how one can achieve good nutrition during the Holy Month 

What should a balanced iftar contain?  
Break a long day of fasting with dates and a light soup, juice or water. Try to eat low-fat, lean protein such as grilled, steamed or baked fish, chicken and lean meats together with plenty of fresh vegetables and fruit. Choose complex carbohydrates, such as wholegrain rice, bread, pasta and beans, rather than refined white carbohydrates. Try to avoid high-fat and high-sugar processed foods and sweet sodas and juices.

What tips do you have for people who are fasting to stay hydrated?   
Once the fast is broken, start the re-hydration process by drinking diluted fruit and vegetable juices and plenty of plain water. Drink little and often, rather than large amounts, as this allows the kidneys to function more efficiently and aids absorption. Steer clear of tea, coffee and sodas as these have a diuretic effect and contribute to fluid loss.

What would you suggest to eat from the following food groups?
Proteins – The most easily digested proteins would be fish and shellfish, followed by chicken, duck, lamb and finally beef. For non-meat-eaters, eggs, tofu and soya products are a good substitute. 
Dairy products – Choose small servings of low- or medium-fat milk and cheese such as feta, halloumi, ricotta and cottage cheese. Live, probiotic plain yoghurt and laban are good to aid digestion and overall gut health. 
Fruits and vegetables – All vegetables are good choices if you opt for raw salads or lightly cooked vegetables. Avoid anything served with creamy sauces or dressed with lots of oil and/or butter. Eat the skins where possible, which will help to boost your fibre intake – baked jacket potatoes are better than mashed, and un-peeled, washed carrots, and vegetables roasted with their skin on, such as capsicum, marrow, zucchini and eggplant are better options. 
Breads and grains – The best starchy foods to have are wholegrain varieties of bread, pasta, rice, etc. These are higher in fibre than refined white carbohydrates and thus help overall bowel heath and are also better for stabilising blood sugar. Oatmeal, quinoa, barley, rye products and farro are also excellent choices. Stay away from white breads, pasta and rice where possible, or go for smaller portions.

Can you suggest cooking methods that will help make Ramadan meals lighter?  
Boiling, baking, grilling, poaching, steaming and even microwaving are all great cooking methods, provided you don’t slather the food in butter or oil beforehand. Avoid fried – especially deep-fried – items that tend to be coated in crumbs or batter, as these are high in poor-quality fats and difficult to digest.

What is the best way to avoid gaining weight during Ramadan?  
The best way to avoid unnecessary weight gain, or at the very least keep it to a minimum, is to apply the general rule of ‘moderation’ in terms of eating patterns at suhoor and iftar. Exercise is important, too. According to the Prophet Muhammed (PBUH): “The son of Adam cannot fill a vessel worse than his stomach, as it is enough for him to take a few bites to straighten his back. If he cannot do it, then he may fill it with a third of his food, a third of his drink, and a thirdof his breath.”


Why do some people lose weight during Ramadan and how can this be avoided? 
Lavish buffets can be overwhelming at this time of the year and people end up eating less than their normal quota of calories. They may also choose lower-protein dishes, which will cause some muscle loss and overall weight reduction, since muscle is denser than fat. Try to maintain good muscle tone by choosing moderate servings of easily digestible protein. Eat small portions and spread them throughout the evening (if iftar) and allow yourself more time in the morning for suhoor.

What advice do you have for those who wish to continue exercising while fasting? 
The timing of the exercise really depends on the intensity. A gentle walk, swim or session of Pilates or yoga can be undertaken at any time, but more challenging routines such as weight training, a game of squash, running or an aerobics class would be best carried out after consuming some food to ensure that blood-sugar levels have returned to normal and the muscles have some fuel to burn.