Ramadan will see Muslims around the world observing daytime fasting for 30 days, abstaining from meals and drinks, while spending large portions of their time in prayers. Through this COVID-19 pandemic, Muslims need to follow an immune-rich healthy diet that will provide immunity, energy and nourishment throughout the day and avert health problems.
Fasting allows the body to focus its energy on one at a time, and thus stopping digestion for a specific period allows the immune system to be more active. This will allow the body to repair cells and fight off germs better. Between sehri and iftar is when the immune system will be most active but to ensure this, the necessity of getting up to eat a wholesome sehri meal is important, no matter how inclined you may be to go back to sleep. If you do not get up for sehri, your body will be stressed due to a prolonged period of hunger, which may lower your immunity. Studies have shown that fasting can restore the immune system and help fight off infection.
When it comes to building a healthy diet during Ramadan, the key is to go for lighter but filling foods that will help your body replenish all the nutrients you may lose throughout the day. Try to set your table to include all the essential food groups – grains, vegetables and fruits, legumes, nuts, dairy or alternatives, and your protein sources. What and how you eat your meals will play an important role in helping you be healthy and immune for the duration of Ramadan.
A great way to break the fast is to have dates. The fruit is extremely effective in raising blood sugar quickly because they are easily and quickly absorbed. They can be consumed at Sehri or iftar. In Ramadan, we are slowly being dehydrated over the day. So, once we break our fast and during the non-fasting period, we need to have foods that put water into our body, not deplete it further.
Add salad as a side to your main meal at iftar. Not only will the greens and vegetables in the salad fill your stomach up with their volume but salads also prevent you from consuming too many calories at once. Antioxidants in foods, especially colourful fruits and vegetables can help prevent cell damage, therefore boosting the immune system. That is why consuming fruits as a snack in between iftar and sehri is highly recommended.
One can also consider having coconut water and fruity drinks which are super-hydrating. Fluids are very important for the health and vitality of the body during the fasting period and it is important to drink plenty of water, in addition to other refreshing drinks.
We need to drink eight glasses of water daily from iftar to sehri to prevent dehydration and constipation. Complex carbohydrates are foods that help release energy slowly during the long hours of fasting. They are found in foods such as barley, wheat, oats, beans, lentils, wholemeal flour, and rice. The foods that should be avoided in Ramadan are deep-fried foods, high in sugar, and high-fat foods including sweets.
Cooking methods are a big part of a balanced diet in Ramadan. Deep frying, frying, and excessive use of oil are harmful. Cooking methods like shallow frying, grilling, or baking are healthier, especially with chicken and fish.
As the pandemic continues to sweep its way across the world, iftar gatherings and family get-togethers are discouraging people from meeting each other and are also promoting social distancing. Ramadan is a beautiful opportunity to practice good habits that will stay with you even after the holy month ends and during COVID 19.
The writer is a nutritionist.