Fasting & Nutrition 101



 

Fasting & Nutrition 101


What Happens to My Body When I Am Fasting?

Fasting is an excellent way to detox your body and get rid of the toxins building up and remove dead and damaged tissue and cells. But where do you get your energy from? After the calories from the suhur and iftar meal have been used, the body uses carbohydrate stores first to provide energy in the form of glucose. Once carbohydrate (glycogen) stores from the liver and muscles are broken down, your body starts to burn fat to provide energy for cells through processes called ketogenesis and gluconeogenesis[1].

In Ramadan we want to cleanse our hearts and souls the same way fasting cleanses our bodies. To make the most out of Ramadan and to have enough energy to do worship, we need to make sure we are taking care of our health and body. To ensure that your body is functioning optimally, and you have enough energy for the day, a healthy diet is essential. Eating the wrong types of food will leave you fatigued and lethargic and will affect your daily performance.

The following are some tips to provide your body with optimum nutrition whilst fasting. (Please note that the following are general recommendations for the healthy population. For anyone with health issues or concerns, please consult your doctor before making changes to your diet).

1. Plan your meals – Before Ramadan, make a meal plan for the week or even the month. This will make the shopping for the week easy as well as solving the issue of not knowing what to cook.

2. Don’t miss suhur – you need to eat to ensure you have energy during the day. The Prophet s said “Have suhur as there is a blessing in it” (Bukhari[2]). Thus, do not miss it. Additionally, do it with the intention of fulfilling the sunnah to gain extra reward.

3. Hydrate! Make sure you are getting enough fluid. Your body cannot store water, so your kidneys will try to store as much as they can. Make sure to hydrate between sunset and dawn to ensure you don’t get dehydrated during the day. Dehydration can cause headaches, tiredness and difficulty concentrating.[3]

4. Reduce caffeine intake - Tiredness can also be due to caffeine withdrawal. This can last 2-9 days. If you are used to having caffeine during the day before Ramadan, it may take your body a while to adjust to this and can initially cause headaches and tiredness.[4] It is beneficial to reduce caffeine in the weeks preceding Ramadan. Caffeine is also a diuretic – a substance that increases the production of urine. Although cups of tea and coffee will count towards your fluid intake, they can cause you lose more fluids as well potentially contributing to dehydration[5]. For those who find it necessary to have a cup of coffee or tea, avoid having them too close to iftar and suhur mealtimes. Both coffee and tea contain compounds (tannins and phytates) which can inhibit absorption of nutrients[6].

5. Reduce fried food – having lots of samosas/spring rolls etc. before a meal can fill you up quickly, not living enough space for the actual meal. This will not keep you sustained for the day and can cause you to feel more fatigued and tired the next day. Ensure you have one main meal and less ‘snacky foods. Replace fried foods with fruit plates and salads. Soups are also a great replacement.

6. Protein – ensure you are getting adequate protein (0.75g/kg of body weight)[7]. Your body digests protein more slowly than carbohydrates so it will help you stay full for longer. Protein reduces levels of the hunger hormone, ghrelin which makes you feel hungry[8]. Choose more of the high-quality proteins like eggs, chicken, fish which are considered complete because they contain all essential amino acids.

7. Increase fruit and vegetables – Break your fast with salads and fruit instead of fried foods. Also include them as part of your suhur. Many fruits also have a high-water content, perfect to increase fluid levels. Don’t reduce your vegetable intake. From your 5 a day, at least 3 should be vegetables. Vegetables provide you with vital vitamins, minerals and antioxidants which have many health benefits.

8. Reduce refined and simple carbohydrates (white bread, baked goods, cereals, etc.)– these are very quickly broken down so they will give you an instant raise in blood sugar and spike of energy. Opt for dietary fibre and complex carbohydrates like wholegrains, oats, potatoes, etc., which are broken down slowly so will provide slow-release energy and keep you sustained for your longer. Fibre can improve satiety and bowel function[9].

9. Healthy fats are your friend (fats should make up ~30% of energy intake) – avocadoes in salad or on toast for suhur, extra virgin olive oil, nuts, seeds are all very calorie dense foods. This will make you feel fuller when eating less. Reduce saturated fats and trans fats e.g., processed meats etc.

10. Keep your salt intake low. High salt intake will make you feel thirstier.

11. Avoid sugary foods/added sugars – provides ‘empty calories’ – They provide a high energy intake without providing any nutrients. Sugar is also a major contributor to obesity as well as many other diseases. (Free sugars are different to the sugars found in fresh fruit and vegetables. The adverse effects of sugar are a result of added sugars, not sugars that are naturally occurring). Sugar is a diuretic because it increases the water lost from your body. When sugar is consumed, your body dilutes it to prevent harm, so it takes water from other parts of the body and gets rid of the sugars by producing urine.

12. Have oily fish at least twice a week – they are an excellent source of omega 3.

Calculate your daily energy requirements using the Schofield Equation. This required your BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate) and PAL (Personal Activity Level). It can be worked out from the following website https://globalrph.com/medcalcs/schofield-equation-bmr/


Macros

Protein – 0.75g/kg of bodyweight Fat – 30% - 35% Carbohydrates – 50% (Complex carbs and dietary fibre. Majority should come from fruits and vegetables, not refined carbs)

 

Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

Pregnant and breastfeeding women should consult with their doctors before fasting. Please consult with your GP before making any changes to your diet. The following is general advice to have a healthy diet

· Pregnant women have higher energy requirements. Ensure you are having enough calories from the right macronutrients.

· Ensure you have adequate levels of vitamins and minerals. During pregnancy, requirements for iodine, iron, B12 , omega 3 and folate increase. Deficiency in these can cause long term risks in the child. (Do not supplement without consulting with a healthcare professional)

· Keep a balanced diet to ensure the child is receiving the right nutrients and to ensure you have enough energy.

Breastfeeding

For every mother, breastfeeding is different. Fasting may impact the milk of certain mothers in different ways to others. Current research suggests that abstaining from food will not reduce milk supply, but dehydration could. Thus, for breastfeeding women who want to fast, after having consulted their doctor, hydration is extremely important. Optimal nutrition is extremely important at this stage to ensure the child does not become deficient in key vitamins and minerals because micronutrient composition of milk can be affected by fasting.


 

Healthy Suhur Ideas

1. Eggs with toast (wholegrain/sourdough/rye bread) and avocado

2. Granola/Muesli with Greek yogurt. Add some fresh fruits and nuts for extra flavour

3. Hummus with olive oil and bread

4. Foul Mudammas (Egyptian Fava Beans)

5. Shakshouka with tomato, spinach and chickpeas/beans

6. Toast with nut butter

7. Barley Porridge (Talbina) with dates and a drizzle of honey (Talbina is from the sunnah. In a hadith[10] it mentions, “It (talbina) soothes the grieving heart and cleanses the ailing heart just as one of you cleans dirt off his face with water.” Barley is a wholegrain and rich in fibre).

8. Oats – can be baked or cooked. Experiment with a variety of milks, toppings and flavours

9. Soup

10. Nabidh (Soaked dates or raisins in water) – It helps remove acidity from the stomach and improves digestion. It should be consumed within 12 hours of soaking ideally and should not be drunk after 2 days as it ferments and begins to become alcohol. This then makes it haram. Out of precaution, one should not leave it soaking for more than one day and should consume within this time frame.


 

About the author

Ustaadha Aisha is a qualified Aaalimah as well as a second year student studying a Level 6 Diploma in Nutritional Therapy at BCNH

 

References [1] Lessan, N. and Ali, T. (2019) ‘Energy metabolism and intermittent fasting: the Ramadan perspective’, Nutrients, 11(5), p. 192. doi: 10.3390/nu11051192 [2] Sahih al-Bukhari: 1923 [3] Pross, N. et al. (2013) ‘Influence of progressive fluid restriction on mood and physiological markers of dehydration in women’, The British Journal of Nutrition, 109(2), pp. 313-21. doi: 10.1017/S0007114512001080 [4] Sajadi-Ernazarova, K. R. et al. (2021) Caffeine Withdrawal. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK430790/ [5] Marx. B, et al. (2016) ‘[Mechanisms of caffeine-induced diuresis]’, Medecine Sciences (Paris), 32(5), pp. 485-90. doi: 10.1051/medsci/20163205015. Epub 2016 May 25. PMID: 27225921. [6] Petroski, W. and Minich, D. M. (2020) ‘Is there such a thing as "anti-nutrients"? A narrative review of perceived problematic plant compounds’, Nutrients, 12(10), pp. 2929. Doi: 10.3390/nu12102929 [7] Based on recommendations from the British Nutrition Foundation, 2021 [8] Kohanmoo, A., Faghih, S., and Akhlaghi, M. (2020) ‘Effect of short- and long-term protein consumption on appetite and appetite-regulating gastrointestinal hormones, a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials’, Physiology & behavior, 226, 113123. doi:10.1016/j.physbeh.2020.113123. [9] Salleh, S. N. et al. (2019) ‘Unravelling the effects of soluble dietary fibre supplementation on energy intake and perceived satiety in healthy adults: evidence from systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised-controlled trials’, Foods, 8(1), p. 15. doi:10.3390/foods8010015. [10] Sahih al-Bukhari: 5417

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