Ramadan (fasting) is one of the five pillars of Islam and it is one of the most important months of the year for Muslims around the world. Beginning on the 24 April 2020, the majority of Muslims will be fasting during daylight hours.
During the month of Ramadan, most people are not aware of the steps they can take to improve their physical and mental health during the day; now, with the COVID-19 pandemic and the majority of people being at home with their kids and families, this Ramadan will be more challenging than the previous year.
Here are some tips on how people can eat healthily, and look after their mental and physical health during Ramadan and the pandemic.
Throughout the fasting days we tend to desire things that may not be healthy or necessary, but it is crucial we consume the correct nutrients during Ramadan to have the right intake of energy for our bodies and maintain our health. Making small changes to your diet during Iftari (the opening of the fast meal) and Suhur (the pre-dawn meal) throughout the month is also vital. There are nutrients that need to be embedded into your meals to keep you hydrated and full for a prolonged time during the day, and to boost your immune system, which is essential for COVID-19.
Things to consume during Iftari and Suhur
During Iftari it is important to have a balanced meal and plenty of water: you should aim for a minimum of two litres of water during the night-time hours. Make sure you’re hydrated before going to sleep, to keep skin nourished during the night and reduce the risk of being dehydrated during the day. The night time is usually the longest period your body will go without a drink, so it’s important that your hydration levels are topped up beforehand for the day.
It is equally vital to consume a meal that includes a good balance of starchy carbohydrates, such as potatoes, rice and bread, along with a good intake of vegetables, proteins such as meat, chicken or fish, and dairy for the natural fats. Remember that there is only a small window to provide your body with all the key nutrients that the body needs, so the focus on what to consume must be on quality. During Suhur, oats, rye, barley, brown rice, quinoa, berries, apples and oranges, which have a low glycaemic index and do not spike blood sugars are good options to consume to keep you going during the day.
Things to reduce or avoid
Some of the things you need to avoid are salt, caffeine, sugars and processed foods. When preparing meals for Suhur, it is really important to make sure you avoid too much salt as this will dehydrate you and make you thirsty throughout the day. Caffeine should also be avoided; although caffeinated drinks contain water, they can have a diuretic effect, increasing the body’s production of urine, which can lead to dehydration. It is also important to avoid processed foods and those with added sugars because they have a relatively low nutrient density. It is better to fuel your body with more nutritious options, particularly if you are also engaging in exercise as you’ll be burning extra calories.
Swap the deep-fried foods such as samosas for healthier alternatives like baked foods. Similarly, with sugary goods like doughnuts, ice cream and cakes, you can swap them with things like fruit salads and yoghurts. Avoid cooking methods like frying and deep frying and swap it for methods like baking or grilling and even light frying. For curries, it is useful to cook with a larger base of tomatoes and onions and less oil.
How to look after health and wellbeing and be active whilst in quarantine
Muslims now observing Ramadan will find it even more challenging to be active. However, sedentary behaviour may have now increased and physicality has reduced because of COVID-19. Partaking in regular physical activity is essential during Ramadan and quarantine. It’s essential to start off with light physical activity every day, for example ten to fifteen minutes of low intensity exercises such as walking, jogging, pilates, yoga, or stretching. Keeping this routine, the frequency and intensity can be gradually increased.
Remember that you will not have the same amount of energy and patience during the fasting day, particularly with being in quarantine, compared to any other day when you’re not fasting or not in quarantine. Therefore, avoid high intensity exercises like sprinting or lifting heavy weights, but you can still improve your stamina and fitness by engaging in more gentle cardiovascular activities such as brisk walks around the park or garden, cycling or jogging. Walking is the easiest form of exercise to fit in to your day because we do it all the time.
Advice for those who are working
Whether you’re working from home or still going to work, it is important to plan what you’re going to be eating in Suhur and Iftari. What you eat has an impact on your energy levels and it’s vital to focus on quality. Do do not skip the Suhur meal. Some people do this to keep up with sleep but you will need the energy from this meal to help you throughout the day.
One of the common mistakes people make during Ramadan is skipping their lunch break. Make your lunch breaks productive. Even though you can’t eat or drink anything, avoid working through your lunch break and do things like going out for a walk and getting fresh air, taking prayer breaks, or taking a nap. Make a daily to-do list and write down things that you’re finding challenging, and plan what to do to combat them efficiently.
With COVID-19 and most people working from home, it is challenging to balance home and working life and that may have a negative impact on your mental health and wellbeing. It is also important to have access to nature, fresh air, sun and greenery and to be active. You can still do these by opening your window/curtains, sit/stand on your balcony or go out to your garden as this will improve your mental health and refresh your mind. Keeping in touch with your family, friends or colleagues by phone, video call or social media can also be good for your mental health, but be mindful of the amount of time you spend on electronic gadgets.
This guide was put together by Ayazullah Safi, the researcher of the year 2018/19 by Birmingham City University. Ayaz is an Assistant lecturer and a Ph.D. researcher (researching and promoting physical activity, health and wellbeing of employees in the workplace) at Birmingham City University.
Find out more about the research that Ayaz is conducting.