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Surviving Ramadan

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The days of Ramadan have been getting hotter and longer for some years now. This presents a challenge for pious Muslims, who have to fast from dawn to dusk, nearly 15 hours, in the scorching heat, though religious leaders say that this challenge will lead to greater faith among those fasting.

Like it or not, Ramadan is during the hot seasons now; so, be mindful of the heat and humidity. If you are tired during the day, do not hesitate to take a nap and rest. After sunset, make sure you drink plenty of fluids and stay well hydrated during the night. Try to avoid very salty foods so as not to be excessively thirsty during the next day. It is recommended to avoid strenuous physical activity while fasting.

For nutritionists and dietitians, maintaining a balanced diet during Ramadan is all the more important in hot temperatures; otherwise, the body can be deprived of the required nutrients. Eating too much outside the fast, or eating unhealthily, can also affect how people feel while fasting. According to nutritionist Osama Rafik, people should avoid gorging themselves at breakfast; they should follow the sunna, breaking the fast with dates and either milk, water or fruit juice.

“After fasting, you need to bring your fluids and blood sugar level up without overdoing it,” Rafik says. The iftar meal, properly prepared, contains a lot of energy, and dates are an excellent source of fiber, carbohydrates and essential minerals that help keep energy levels up. After performing al-maghreb prayer, Rafik recommends eating a light starter, such as soup or crackers. This will replenish the body's electrolytes, which are vital for brain and nerve function; it can also help kick-start the stomach and prepare it for iftar.

Many people feel lethargic during Ramadan, something that can be due to skipping sohour, the pre-dawn meal. However, according to Rafik this is especially important for fasters; “sohour provides fasters with energy throughout the day of fasting,” he says, “but be careful not to overeat”.

“Focus on eating foods that are slow to digest and rich in complex carbohydrates and protein, such as fruits or vegetables, and drink plenty of water,” Rafik adds, “an egg or white cheese on a piece of whole-grain toast, a slice of watermelon, yoghurt, and two glasses of water are an excellent sohour. Foods like barley, wheat, oats, beans and lentils can provide your body with nutrients for up to eight hours, almost twice as long as sugary foods”.

Staying hydrated should be at the top of any faster's list this year. When the weather is hot, it is important to drink more fluids than during the rest of the year, and with Ramadan hitting at such a hot time of the year, one loses even more water. However, Rafik recommends not giving in to the temptation to drink too much water during iftar in order not to overload the system; “drink a healthy amount of water and juice throughout the night instead,” he says.

Useful Tips

 Rafik has some tips to avoid dehydration or exhaustion during the holy month:

  • During the hottest part of the day, between 12:00 noon and 3:00 pm, stay in cool areas (indoors or in the shade) and limit physical activity. Rest if possible.
  • Avoid fried and spicy foods, as they may lead to acidity or indigestion.
  • During the evening hours, resist the temptation to drink tea, coffee or soda. When visiting friends or family, ask for water.
  • Between iftar and sohour, oriental sweets should be consumed with moderation. Serve yourself, your family and your guests a “dessert” of fresh fruit instead and a reasonable amount of nuts.
  • Eat the sohour meal just before dawn to gain the most benefits.
  • Avoid fatty dishes during sohour and drink lots of milk.
  • Reduce your intake of salt and pickled food in the sohour, since these will rob your body of moisture.
  • Try to steer clear from sweets at sohour, as they can cause a rise in blood sugar, which will make you thirsty later in the day.
  • Sip water throughout the evening; aim for eight glasses by bedtime. To help you keep track, fill and refill a water bottle with a measured amount of water, and be sure to finish it.
  • Eat enough fiber to avoid constipation.
  • Eat juicy fruits, such as watermelon, grapes and tomatoes, as these will provide your body with much-needed water.
  • Light exercise, such as walking for 15-20 minutes, is best in the evening hours.

Drinks of the Season

During Ramadan, the body loses liquids. In order not to get dehydrated, especially during the hottest time of the year, people should drink more after iftar. The following are special kinds of drinks that are popular for this purpose. To make a cold drink using any of the ingredients below, just soak them, with or without sugar, in cold water. Tamr hindi can also be soaked in milk, which combats stomach acid.

Qamar eldin (apricot juice), the most traditional of Ramadan beverages, is made from dried apricot paste. The Medieval physician and philosopher Avicenna, known in the Arab world as Ibn Sina, rightly praised dried apricots for their thirst-quenching properties and as antidotes for diarrhea.

Qamar eldin aids indigestion, regulates the metabolism and is packed with vitamins A, B and C, as well as calcium, iron, potassium and phosphorous. A perfect way to start iftar, it produces enough of a sugar rush to start the digestive system working without over-stimulating it; go easy on the sugar, though. Qamar eldin soothes jumpy nerves and stress, so it is great after a hard day at work. It also contains folic acid, which is very good for pregnant women.

One cup of karkade (hibiscus) contains 17% citric acid and half as much vitamin C as an orange. It helps boost and strengthen the immune system, especially while fasting. Hibiscus is also widely used to regulate blood pressure, which can fluctuate between low during fasting and high after iftar, due to the concentrated sugar intake during the meal.

Known in hot regions of the globe as an effective thirst quencher, hibiscus reduces the buildup of fatty deposits in the arteries and reduces blood cholesterol levels. It is used in treating urinary tract infections and aids in regulating blood flow and helps maintain the blood sugar balance in the body.

Erq sous (liquorice root) is a popular drink in Arab countries, especially Egypt and Syria. Although not to everyone's taste, liquorice, better known in the form of candy than as a drink, is one of the most biologically active herbs known. Acting as an anti-inflammatory, it affects the immune, circulatory and respiratory systems.

Liquorice is a chronic fatigue combatant, mimicking the effects of natural hormones. As such, it fights off lethargy by causing fluid retention, which will make you feel less thirsty; raising blood pressure, which usually dips while fasting, due to the lack of sugar intake; and combating potassium loss.

Kharoub (carob) is another acquired taste, though it is worth trying as it reduces cholesterol, aids digestion and acts as an antioxidant. Pinitol, an active component of kharoub, has been shown to regulate blood glucose and is especially recommended for diabetics.

Tamr hindi (tamarind) comes from a tropical African fruit tree, but is now widely grown in India. It has one of the highest levels of carbohydrates and proteins found in any fruit, and is the perfect beverage for diabetics, as it regulates blood sugar and cholesterol. It is also extremely rich in vitamin C, which boosts the immune system, and is high in beta carotene. Other essential minerals found in Tamr hindi include potassium, phosphorous and calcium.

Laban rayeb (a yoghurt drink) is one of the most popular drinks in the Middle East; it has also found its way to Egypt, where intake is generally restricted to this time of year. It is well known that the friendly bacteria found in live yoghurt can aid digestion, as well as help clean the intestines and digestive tract, all of which can be necessary to treat an upset stomach after a few days of heavy iftars and sohours. As it requires no added sugar, those watching their waistlines tend to prefer this creamy drink.

*The article was published in the PSC Newslertter, Summer 2012 issue.

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