With the month of Ramadan upon us it is useful to look at ways of trying to maintain a healthy diet whilst fasting. Fasting for 12 to 24 hours or more can lead to dizziness and fatigue and a lowering of metabolic rate as a means of conserving calories or energy. Here are some simple guidelines to make sure that your diet remains balanced and healthy during this fasting period:
Don't skip breakfast (Sahur) Even though sleep may seem far more appealing than waking up to force down some food, don't skip breakfast. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Research has shown that breakfast provides the essential energy and nutrients needed for concentration, while keeping hunger symptoms like headaches, fatigue, drowsiness and restlessness at bay. In addition, it speeds our metabolic rates. It is therefore vital to ensure an adequate intake at breakfast time.
Eat a wide variety of foods When your daily intake is limited to two meals per day, you need to put extra effort into including foods from all the food groups. Our bodies need at least 40 different nutrients daily, to ensure that we grow properly and maintain good health. Although most foods contain more than one nutrient, no single food provides all the necessary nutrients. Moreover, foods have benefits that can't be replicated by a pill. So it is important to eat a wide variety of foods every day, to ensure that we get all of these nutrients. Select foods each day from each of the five food groups:
· Breads, cereals and other grain products
· Fruit and vegetables
· Meat, fish and poultry
· Milk, cheese and yoghurt
· Fats and sugars (these are low in nutrients & high in calories, so limit intake!)
Eat low glycogenic (GI) foods at breakfast to help control blood sugar levels Carbohydrates are classified according to their glucose response or glycogenic index (GI). The GI measures how fast the carbohydrate of a particular food is converted to glucose and enters the bloodstream. The lower the GI, the slower the food is converted to sugar and the longer it satisfies your hunger. Selecting low GI foods helps maintain normal blood sugar, minimizes hunger pangs & satisfies appetite without providing excess calories. Also, by controlling blood sugar levels, you prevent excessive eating binges as a result of low blood sugar levels. Remember to include low GI foods at each meal, and to avoid eating high GI foods on their own, but rather to mix them with low GI foods, which will give an intermediate GI overall.
Be aware of your cooking methods By making small changes in your cooking habits, you can create great-tasting foods that are also healthy for you. Many of those treasured family-favorite recipes have a very high fat content for today's health-conscious living. Don't give up on your favorites – just convert them! Here's how:
· Always trim off excess fat from before cooking, or use venison, chicken and soya as lower fat options. Remove poultry skin & choose light meat (e.g. breast).
· Cut down on fat intake during cooking:
- cook onions in a little water or vegetable stock rather than oil or butter
- use non-stick frying pans & non-stick sprays rather than oil or margarine
- bake, grill or roast foods rather than frying
- cook roasted meat or poultry on a wire rack so that the fat can drop off
- Steam or boil vegetables
- when preparing rice, noodles & other grains, season with herbs, spices & broths rather than added fat
- prepare soups, gravies & sauces in advance, so that they can be refrigerated, allowing you to remove the layer of fat that forms on top.
- Use herbs and spices to add flavor & zest to low-fat cooking. Basil, bay leaf, oregano, & rosemary add distinctive flavors & colors to meat & vegetables. Spices, like cinnamon, ginger & nutmeg enhance the sweet taste of foods, & seasoning blends, such as chili powder, curry powder provide a complex array of flavors
· Avoid taking in too much salt
- Use garlic, dry mustard, pepper, onions, mushrooms & tomatoes to add flavor to meat and vegetables - Add sliced lemon or lemon juice to white meats & fish
· Make healthy changes to recipes Cut the fat in half - if a recipe requires cream or whole milk, use evaporated or fresh skim milk. If a recipe requires a whole egg, use two egg whites, etc.
Eat enough carbohydrate foods - especially those rich in fiber These foods provide the body with energy. They are rich in B vitamins, and are an excellent source of fiber. Hi-fiber foods also fill you up more than low-fiber counterparts. Foods high in fiber include brown rice, wholegrain, fresh fruit and raw veggies.
Remember your fruits and vegetables Fruit and vegetables add color and variety to the menu. They are "protective" foods as they help the body fight off sickness and disease. They are also rich sources of a variety of vitamins, minerals, and fiber, and are low in calories.
Drink sufficient fluid Always include water in your diet, and cut down on caffeine-containing beverages. Caffeine is a diuretic and will not provide adequate hydration.
We all know that maintaining a balanced diet by eating healthily has a vital influence on your well being. Try following the above principles so that this fast period does not sway too much from the principles of good nutrition.