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21 - 27 July , 2012

Ramadan & Nutrition – An Expert Talk
Ramadan & Nutrition – An Expert Talkby WAJIHA JAWAID

"Ramadan should be celebrated as a month of fasting, not feasting,"says expert nutritionist Bushra Mushtaq. She completed her MSc in Food & Nutrition from the College of Home Economics in 1996, and is currently working as a senior clinical nutritionist at Aga Khan University Hospital. She provides nutritional counselling on conditions like obesity, diabetes, heart diseases, multiple food allergies and other chronic diseases. She has also been an active member of Pakistan Nutrition and Dietetics Society. MAG contacted Bushra Mustaq to understand appropriate eating habits for the holy month of Ramadan. Excerpts:

Why did you decide to pursue a career in nutrition and dietetics?
It always fascinated me to work in a hospital environment and to deal with patients. Manipulating diet plans and guiding people on good eating habits is something I really enjoy and love to do.

How would you describe your counselling style?
While working at hospital I have to deal with many patients and so I try to maintain a direct interaction with all of them. I use different tools and methodologies to assess their condition and dietary needs. First of all, I advise them to have a complete physical check-up. I also take their medical history to know whether they are suffering from any ailments or allergies. I also guide them on how to cook food in a healthy manner, formulate their menu and teach them to incorporate healthy eating habits in their daily lives. I have basically adopted a holistic approach where I also involve their family members in the treatment process.

As the month of Ramadan is approaching, please tell us what are the medical benefits of fasting?
The holy month of Ramadan has both physical and spiritual benefits. It is an ideal month to detoxify both your body and soul. It is a month of self-regulation and self-training where one can prepare for better living by adopting good habits. People usually take it as a month to treat themselves over iftar parties
but totally forget that Ramadan is the month to fast and not to feast. To reap the medical benefits of this Ramadan & Nutrition – An Expert Talkmonth it is very important to have a balanced diet.

What are some dietary guidelines that you would like to give specifically for this month?
There is a misconception among people that the diet plan in Ramadan should be different from what we follow during the rest of the year. Some people overeat at sehr and iftar thinking that it would provide them additional energy while fasting. It is a totally wrong approach and leads to lethargy, weight gain along with many health complications. People should try to have a balanced diet in Ramadan and include fruits, vegetables, dairy products, complex carbohydrates and protein based food items such as lentils, chicken, fish and lean mutton or beef in
their diet.

What are the common aliments that people usually complain of during Ramadan?
These include constipation, indigestion, headache, heartburn, joint pain and muscle cramps.

What can be done to avoid these problems?
To avoid constipation, completely eliminate refined carbohydrates and sugary items from your diet. Have fibre rich food items such as whole wheat products, oats and cereals. To keep your body well hydrated, reschedule your fluid intake and drink more water after iftar till sehr. Indigestion is caused by the intake of fried food items like pakoras, samosas, rolls etc. The excessive usage of refined flour and stuffing like cabbage, beans, eggs or potatoes leads to problems like indigestion and constipation. To avoid all such problems, eat in a limited quantity. If you like fried items, try to have them on alternate days to stay away from health problems.

What are the causes of joints pain?
During Ramadan one has to offer extra prayers such as taraweeh which increases the pressure on knee joints. The best way to deal with it is to increase your physical activities before the fasting month so that your muscles get used to this routine.

Are there any foods that keep the body nourished for a long time?
To feel energetic all day long try to have slow digesting food items. These are basically complex carbohydrates that release energy slowly keeping you active for the whole day. It includes grains and seeds like barley, wheat, oats, beans, lentils, whole wheat flour and whole wheat pasta.

Some people also complain of water loss from the body during Ramadan?
For that people should try to avoid caffeinated products such as tea or coffee because its consumption leads to frequent urination making the body lose all important minerals and salts. It also makes one feel lethargic. To treat it, try to have almond milk drink. Almonds contain good cholesterol as well as proteins and fibre. You can also have lassi and fresh lime to avoid this condition.

In your opinion what would be an ideal diet for sehr?
You can simply have plain yogurt with a bran chappati or consume oats cereal with milk. Dates are ideal to have in sehr as they are a good source of potassium and magnesium. You can also have bananas; they are also rich in potassium. It is ideal to have haleem in sehr as it is a slow digesting food and is rich in complex carbohydrates and proteins. In our country, people consume oily food items such as khajla pheni, which leads to problems like indigestion.

Why do people gain weight in Ramadan instead of losing it?
The main reason behind weight gain is overeating. Normally we consume three main meals in 24 hours whereas in Ramadan we consume oily and rich diet in a short span of 7 to 8 hours. Plus most of the people do not exercise during this month.

What is the ideal food to have at iftar?
Break your fast with dates and have a bowl of fruits. You can also have energetic almond drink with milk. Avoid all the oily stuff. Before your taraweeh prayer, you can consume bran chappati with low fat curry. If you feel hungry you can also have fruits and milk as snacks.

Is it alright to fall asleep immediately after sehr?
Those who follow this pattern also complain of indigestion and heart burn. To avoid this it is better to begin your daily chores after sehr and take a nap sometime in the middle of the day.

How about exercise while fasting?
Some people have great stamina and they can exercise even while fasting. If you are among such lucky persons then you should definitely workout to stay in shape. Otherwise for normal people it is advisable to walk for 45 minutes daily after Isha prayers. Moreover, taraweeh prayers also help in burning calories.

Do you recommend any supplements for sehri to remain energetic all day long?
If you are not diabetic and do not suffer from any ailments or deficiency, then it is better to take minerals and vitamins from natural sources rather than consuming supplements.

It is also believed that by consuming yogurt in sehr, you won't feel thirsty throughout the day. Is that true?
Yogurt is actually very refreshing and has a calming effect on the intestine. It has power-boosting proteins and bone-building calcium which fulfils the daily calcium requirements of the body.

Why do people feel lethargic during Ramadan?
Many people consume caffeinated products such as tea and coffee, it serves for them as energy boosting drinks. They have it to release their anxiety and calm their nerves. While fasting, they cannot drink tea and coffee so they feel lethargic and have headaches. To avoid this condition it is better to bring changes in dietary routine two or three weeks prior to Ramadan. Such as getting used to drinking plain water or green tea instead of coffee and tea.

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