While Muslims eagerly await the holy month of Ramadan each year, the month-long fasting period can take a toll on the body, especially if you are not ready. Energy levels and appetites deplete by the end of the month. However, health officials say that we should try to gradually ease our way into Ramadan.

"We should consider to slowly cut back on how much we eat and avoid eating large portions of high carb foods before the fast," advised Dr Teeb Al Awadi, consultant family medicine at the Medcare Medical Centre-Motorcity.

"This will help reduce our appetite and make it easier to control hunger during fasting hours. Make sure you stop snacking between meals and drink at least two to three litres of water in the days before the start of Ramadan," she advised.

In case, a person is diabetic, fasting advice varies on an individual basis - depending on the type, severity and medication that the patient is using for his diabetes control.

"Generally speaking, we recommend to increase fluid intake during the non-fasting hours, ensure eating a balanced healthy diet and take the Suhoor meal as late as possible before the start of the fasting," said the doctor.

Diabetic patients will need to visit their doctor prior to the start of Ramadan fasting to check the blood sugar control and to adjust their medication timing accordingly, she added.

With the weather getting hotter, the doctor said that there is a need to make sure to drink enough water. "Direct exposure to the sun, especially between 12pm and 4pm should also be avoided. Try to stay in the shade and wear hats if needed. Fasting can make you tired and fatigued. So, make sure to relax and avoid any strenuous activity during fasting hours," she said.

Dr Nada Al Mulla, family medicine physician and head of Nad Al Hammar health centre, said: "If fasting is done in a healthy manner, there is enough evidence to suggest that it has a positive effect on your health. By following simple healthy habits, people can reap the benefits of good health, which include weight loss and detoxification. Overindulgence during Iftar and Suhoor - consuming desserts and sugar-laden foods - can not only lead to weight gain but also health complications, especially for patients with chronic diseases including diabetes, high cholesterol and blood pressure."

Dr Al Mulla also said that patients with chronic diseases should consult their doctor before fasting. "In general, it is not advisable to skip Suhoor," she said.
Dr Wafaa Ayesh, director of nutrition at the Dubai Heath Authority (DHA), said:

"Skipping Suhoor and lack of sleep are major contributors that can cause heat stress. Some people eat heavy dinners and skip Suhoor, and this puts them at a higher risk of heat stress."

Dr Ayesh added that consuming drinks with caffeine such as coffee, tea and other soft drinks should be avoided as caffeine's diuretic properties can dehydrate an already parched body. "It is important to avoid drinking tea at Suhoor as tea increases salt excretion in the urine, which is needed for the body during fasting," she said.

"During Iftar, break your fast with dates and fresh laban, which is low in salt and then eat your food after your prayers. This will help you make smart food choices, especially if you are eating out at a buffet because it takes 20 minutes for the brain to realise that food has been consumed and it then sends signals the rest of the body. Breaking your fast with laban and dates helps prevent overeating. Also, dates provide instant energy."

For smokers, quitting is easier during Ramadan, said Dr Al Mulla. "To avoid the side effects of nicotine loss and to help the process of quitting, smokers should visit a cessation clinic and get medical advice on the best way to stub the habit."

Dr Al Mulla said that disrupted sleep routine can affect daytime functioning and reducing alertness, cause mood disturbances and creating an increased risk of injury.

Dr Panakkal Francis Sunny, specialist internal medicine, Medcare Hospital Sharjah, said that fasting in Ramadan for patients with diabetes carries an assorted set of risks and complications. "Do not overeat at meal times so blood sugar levels are not raised quickly," he said.

Suhoor and Iftar crucial to good health, say doctors

Worried about how you will be able to fast during the holy month of Ramadan as the summer sets in? Worry not, because even though fasting tests and enhances our endurance levels, it can help strengthen body if done right.

As the world's one billion plus Muslims gear up to fast during the holy month of Ramadan, there are perennial concerns over how to go without food and water for long hours in the scorching heat.

Allaying all such fears, nutritionists and doctors say that if done right by both preparing your minds and bodies in the run-up to Ramadan, this holy month can do wonders as it is accompanied by many health benefits.

Emphasising on the importance of the two most important meals of the day during fasting, Dr Adel Alsisi, consultant intensivist, Prime Hospital Dubai, said that Suhoor and Iftar are crucial to one's energy levels. "With the fasting day from sunrise to sunset, the body's energy can be replaced in these two meals. It is important to get in food from all five major food groups (carbohydrates, protein, milk, fruits and vegetables, fats), and this will provide an easier transition from using fat to burn energy as opposed to glucose. This can also help in a healthy way of losing weight, can help preserve muscles, lower cholesterol levels, and can help control being had over diabetes and blood pressure."

He said that a few days into Ramadan and the body begins to adjust to its new eating and drinking pattern as higher levels of endorphins appear in the blood, making fasters more alert, happier, and giving an overall feeling of better mental health.

Dr Alsisi added: "On the whole, Muslims who fast should avoid overly greasy and deep-fried foods, instead opting for baking, grilling and shallow frying. Opening the fast with dates and sweet, milky drinks is common in many households which provides the much-needed energy boost. Drinking plenty of water for rehydration will ensure the body is kept revitalised, reducing overindulgence."

Ruba ElHourani, head dietitian at the RAK Hospital, agrees that there's no denying that fasting rebalances the human body, refreshes and detoxifies it. "For those of us who live on a high-sugar, high-caffeine diet and high-caloric diet, fasting helps to clean our bodies of toxins accumulated from an unhealthy diet.

The first three days of fasting will be difficult, but after that, it gets easier as the body adjusts to the new routine."

She added that fasting also helps controlling blood sugar automatically and helps with insulin resistance, provided that we improve the quality of our food intake and cut down portion sizes at Suhoor and Iftar. "Moreover, if we follow a healthy diet, our body will not store fat, so eventually, it will help us to lose weight.

Sharing healthy tips for fasting, ElHourani said: "First of all, gradually cut down on meals. For example, if we are eating three main meals along with snacks, we can begin by eliminating the snacks. Then instead of three main meals, we can opt for a full breakfast, light lunch and very light dinner, like a salad or soup. For those of us who are used to drinking a lot of coffee or tea, we can slowly reduce the amount of caffeine and when we begin fasting, we should consume more water to prevent dehydration."

She added that this month is also a good time to assess and evaluate our food intake. "If we're on a high-caloric diet, we can use this opportunity to change or break this habit. Also, this is a good time to include breakfast in our routine, if we're used to skipping breakfast. This will reflect on our health and we will get more vitamins and minerals as recommended for our body."

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