Fasting during Ramadan has many health benefits, but it can be challenging for those with chronic health issues.
In the latest Gulf News webinar, Healthy Ramadan: Fasting with Health Conditions, three top health experts from Fakeeh University Hospital identified various health conditions that require extra care while fasting, as well as discussed how to fast effectively to boost overall health.
Dr Ahmed Hassoun, Clinical Professor and Consultant Endocrinologist, and Dr Khaldoun Taha, Consultant Cardiologist, emphasized the importance of consulting with your doctor before fasting, if there is a pre-existing medical condition.
Dr Hassoun said that the most common condition that requires attention is diabetes. “Patients need to monitor their blood sugar levels and correctly adjust the timing of medication, taking them either before or after fasting, based on their specific condition. This is especially important as approximately 40 per cent of people go undiagnosed for diabetes.”
While talking about the precautions for patients with heart disease, Dr Taha emphasized the need to keep the blood pressure in check. “It is also critical to ensure that they are well-hydrated. They should drink between one and a half and two litres of water daily, sipping throughout the night.”
Follow a healthy diet
When Muslims break their fast every evening at sunset, they often tend to eat large portions of delicious food and sweets, which are sometimes high in fat, sugar and salt. Reshma Devjani, Clinical Dietitian, said that Ramadan meals need to be in line with a regular healthy diet. “Don’t succumb to cravings,” she said, adding, “Iftar should begin with dates and water rather than sugary juice, followed by salads and a light soup to control hunger and avoid overeating. The main iftar meal should have lean proteins and some whole grains including nuts, lentils and legumes. These nourish the body with fibres and create a prolonged feeling of satiety.”
Dr Hassoun and Reshma stressed the importance of breaking fast with dates, as they not only provide healthy sugar that immediately energises the body, but also electrolytes, fibre and other nutrients that give the body the nourishment it needs after hours of fasting. While dates are also good for diabetic patients, they shouldn’t eat in excessive amounts.
One of the things that is often overlooked during fasting is the importance of consuming healthy fats. These are needed not only in keeping you full, but also in enhancing overall nutrition, particularly for those with medical conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. Oily fish, olive oil, nuts and avocados are some examples of healthy fat.
Dr Taha outlined some of the benefits of fasting for heart patients. Studies show that cardiac patients improve their vascular risk by fasting, and by the end of Ramadan, patients can also show improvements in their levels of LDL and HDL cholesterol.
Meanwhile, Dr Ahmed also highlighted the benefits of fasting with diabetes, explaining how it can help control blood sugar, as well as improve insulin sensitivity, considering that patients end their fast with a healthy meal.
For foodies, who want to get healthier but do not want to cut out any food completely from their diet, Reshma had a valuable tip. “There is no such thing as a good or bad food, but balance is necessary. An easy way for people to eat within reasonable portions is to use the plate method – one half of the plate should be filled with vegetables or salad, one quarter with lean proteins and one quarter with whole grains. This can be accompanied with low fat yoghurt and roughly one cup of fruit.”
“How you eat is just as important as what you eat because it takes 30 minutes for your brain to know that you’re actually full. Therefore taking time to eat your food mindfully is important.”
Reshma also highlighted the role that activity plays in a healthy lifestyle and a healthy Ramadan. She encouraged those fasting to maintain regular physical activity during the holy month.
There are of course a small percentage of patients who cannot fast and Dr Taha warned patients not try to challenge them to fast, and should be aware of the signs for health complications.
Watch the webinar for a healthy Ramadan, and for more information and to book a consultation with a doctor at Fakeeh University Hospital, visit Fuh.care