It’s a time to develop personal character by making a conscious effort to control emotions. From dawn until dusk Muslims are to abstain from sexual intercourse, eating and drinking, which includes taking anything orally including water and medications. To ensure one is able to fully engage in these religious activities it is important to prepare and consider your health so you can optimize the benefits of the month.
“Fasting is a form of worship required to be performed by all healthy Muslims beyond the age of puberty,” said Ramzan Shahid, MD, assistant professor in the department of Pediatrics at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine. “It is meant to purify the body and the soul.”
Fasting during Ramadan can be done safely and even benefit one’s health. It’s important to understand that fasting in Ramadan is different from total fasting or starvation diets, which can be unhealthy and lead to electrolyte imbalances. Only with a prolonged fast does the body turn to protein for energy by breaking down muscle.
This does not happen during Ramadan since people still eat two meals a day. A Ramadan fast can be beneficial to the body by allowing a person to lose weight, lower blood pressure, glucose and cholesterol all while maintaining muscle mass.
To gain these benefits it is essential to eat a well-balanced diet during Ramadan and to get plenty of rest.
“The deciding factor on whether a person stays healthy during Ramadan is not the fast itself, but what he or she eats during the non-fasting hours,” Shahid said.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind while fasting:
- Follow the medical advice of your doctor regarding the safety of fasting if you are on medication.
- Do not overeat during non-fasting hours. The sudden rise and drop in blood sugar following a large meal can make you fatigued and unable to perform nightly prayers.
- No matter how tired you are do not skip Suhoor, the morning meal. This meal is vital. It will help you get through the day by preventing hunger-related symptoms such as headache, fatigue and restlessness.
- In the morning eat filling foods that you digest slowly. These include foods that have complex carbohydrates and are rich in fiber such as grains, lentils, potatoes with the skin, green beans and fruits.
- When breaking a fast, eat fast-digesting foods that will rapidly restore glucose levels. Dates and bananas are excellent choices for Iftar, the evening meal.
- Throughout Ramadan avoid foods that are heavily processed, fried, spicy or fatty.
- Drink lots of water and fruit juice after Iftar to avoid dehydration, especially since Ramadan this year is during the summer.
- Minimize your caffeine consumption. Caffeine can act as a diuretic and cause an increased chance of dehydration.
- Balance your daily schedule to allow time for an early Suhoor, late Iftar, nightly prayers and adequate sleep.
“Ramadan is about learning self-discipline, willpower and patience. If people do not take care of themselves and adequately prepare for Ramadan they may feel fatigued, hungry and irritable. This is a difficult combination when in training to control your emotions and body. If people don’t keep their health in mind, they won’t be able to get the full benefits of the month,” Shahid said.
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Loyola University Health System (LUHS) is a member of Trinity Health. Based in the western suburbs of Chicago, LUHS is a quaternary care system with a 61-acre main medical center campus, the 36-acre Gottlieb Memorial Hospital campus and more than 30 primary and specialty care facilities in Cook, Will and DuPage counties. The medical center campus is conveniently located in Maywood, 13 miles west of the Chicago Loop and 8 miles east of Oak Brook, Ill. The heart of the medical center campus, Loyola University Hospital, is a 569-licensed-bed facility. It houses a Level 1 Trauma Center, a Burn Center and the Ronald McDonald® Children’s Hospital of Loyola University Medical Center. Also on campus are the Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center, Loyola Outpatient Center, Center for Heart & Vascular Medicine and Loyola Oral Health Center as well as the Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, the LUC Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing and the Loyola Center for Fitness. Loyola’s Gottlieb campus in Melrose Park includes the 255-licensed-bed community hospital, the Professional Office Building housing 150 private practice clinics, the Adult Day Care, the Gottlieb Center for Fitness, Loyola Center for Metabolic Surgery and Bariatric Care and the Loyola Cancer Care & Research at the Marjorie G. Weinberg Cancer Center at Melrose Park.