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How to eat right and keep well during Ramadan

Tips on how to stay hydrated and retain optimal energy while fasting as the holy month of Ramadan marks its start.

It's that time of year again: 1.84 billion Muslims around the world will be welcoming the holy month of Ramadan with their first day of fasting on May 16. For other countries, May 17 will be the first day of fasting.

Ramadan is the holiest month for Muslims as it is regarded to be the month that the holy Quran was revealed to Prophet Muhammad on the night of Laylat al-Qadr, one of the last 10 nights of Ramadan.

Millions of Muslims around the world will be fasting every day for a month, refraining from eating, drinking (yes, even water) and smoking from sunrise to sunset.

It is a month that teaches self-discipline and awareness for those living in poverty.

As one of the five pillars of Islam, fasting during Ramadan is accompanied with increased spiritual reflection, worship and acts of charity.

Fasting for the whole day can be a more gruelling experience for some depending on where they live.

For instance, those who live in Oslo, Norway will be fasting 19 hours, while Muslims in East Jerusalem in occupied Palestine will fast for roughly 15 hours and those living south of the equator such as in Buenos Aires, Argentina will fast for just 12 hours.

It is common to experience unusual fatigue and dehydration when fasting.

Students and academics at Birmingham City University in the United Kingdom have come up with a guide featuring tips to support the wellbeing of those who fast and to help them retain as much energy as possible throughout the day.

  • Water, water and more water during night-time hours - experts advise drinking as much water as possible during Iftar (breaking of fast) and Suhoor (pre-dawn meal) times, especially if hot weather is expected during the day. Make sure you have at least two litres of water during night-time hours.
  • Learn the importance of balance - when fasting, your body is deprived of nutrients that your system needs. The experts emphasise that it is so important to make sure that when you can eat, you keep your meals balanced so that you feed your system enough nutrients from each group.
  • Think about the alternatives - swap deep frying for grilling, baking or shallow frying and swap heavier foods for lighter alternatives. For example, swap cake and chocolate for fruit and yoghurt.
  • Fitness and fasting can work together - gym enthusiasts can stick to their routine of working out everyday. Light exercises are great to keep blood flowing and the system working. Cardio exercises are also fine to do when fasting as long as you don't overdo it.
  • Lots of protein and avoid salt for Suhoor - For the pre-dawn meal, experts recommend eating foods that will provide the body with enough energy to last a good few hours. It's important to focus on slow-digesting foods like high protein and high fibre. Some great examples of these are oats, and whole wheat foods like barley, brown rice, buckwheat and whole wheat bread or pasta.
  • Iftar time is for water, dates and well-balanced meals - It is traditional for Muslims to break their fast with a date, which has scientific benefits. Energy-rich foods with natural sugars are a great way to provide fast-releasing energy to the system. Things like raw fruit, particularly dates and even fruit juices, are perfect for this. When it comes to meals it is really important that they consist of a good balance of starchy carbohydrates, like potatoes, rice and bread, along with a good intake of vegetables, proteins such as meat or fish, and dairy for the natural fats.
  • Keep energised without water or snacks - experts advise that there are small things you can try each day to keep you alert and maintain your energy. Things like taking small breaks from revision or work and going on small walks, writing daily to-do lists or listing what you're finding difficult and working on combatting these, and planning meals to make sure you're eating the right things to get good energy levels can all have a bit impact. 

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