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Sunday, October 01, 2006

Doctor offers health guidelines for Ramadhan

Sikander Z. Hashmi, eat-halal.com

Come Ramadhan, our diet is radically altered. Our meals get condensed in
mornings and evenings, with no intake in-between for an extended period
of time. For some of us, the intake of oily foods skyrockets. These
changes in diet aren't well received by everyone.

Dr. Farouk Haffejee of the Islamic Medical Association of South Africa
(Durban) has created a list of recommendations for dealing with Ramadhan
in a healthy fashion. They deal with common problems encountered in
Ramadhan.

Dr. Haffejee suggests that in the month of Ramadhan, "our diet should
not differ very much from our normal diet and should be as simple as
possible." He says that our diet should maintain our normal weight,
although he does mention that if one is over-weight, Ramadhan is a good
time to shed some pounds.

He also recommends foods that last longer.

"In view of the long hours of fasting, we should consume slow digesting
foods including fibre containing-foods rather than fast-digesting foods.
Slow digesting foods last up to 8 hours, while fast-digesting foods last
for only 3 to 4 hours," writes Dr. Haffejee.

Slow-digesting foods are foods that contain grains and seeds such as
barley, wheat, oats, semolina, beans, lentils, wholemeal flour, and
unpolished rice. These are called complex carbohydrates.

Fast-burning foods are foods that contain ingredients such as sugar and
white flour. They are called refined carbohydrates.

According to Dr. Haffejee, whole wheat, grains, seeds, vegetables (like
green beans, peas, and spinach), fruit with skin, dried fruit (such as
dried apricots, figs, prunes, and almonds) are all examples of
fibre-containing foods.

Dr. Haffejee says that meals in Ramadhan should be well-balanced, and
they should contain foods from each food group, such as fruits,
vegetables, meat/chicken/fish, bread/cereals and dairy products.

He discourages fried foods that some of us are addicted to.

"Fried foods are unhealthy and should be limited. They cause
indigestion, heart-burn, and weight problems," Dr. Haffejee points out.

Below are Dr. Haffejee's recommendations for a Ramadhan diet:

AVOID:

Fried and fatty foods.
Foods containing too much sugar.
Over-eating especially at suhoor.
Too much tea at suhoor: Tea makes you pass more urine taking with it
valuable mineral salts that your body would need during the day.
Smoking cigarettes: If you cannot give up smoking, cut down gradually
starting a few weeks before Ramadhan. Smoking is unhealthy and one
should stop completely.

EAT:

Complex carbohydrates at suhoor so that the food lasts longer making you
less hungry.
Dates are excellent source of sugar, fibre, carbohydrates, potassium and
magnesium.
Almonds are rich in protein and fibre with less fat.
Bananas are a good source of potassium, magnesium and carbohydrates.

DRINK:

As much water or fruit juices as possible between iftar and bedtime so
that your body may adjust fluid levels in time.

Below, Dr. Haffejee has listed common health issues faced in Ramadhan,
their causes, and their remedies:

CONSTIPATION

Constipation can cause piles (haemorrhoids), fissures (painful cracks in
anal canal) and indigestion with a bloated feeling.

Causes: Too much refined foods, too little water and not enough fibre in
the diet.

Remedy: Avoid excessive refined foods, increase water intake, use bran
in baking and brown flour when making flatbread.

INDIGESTION AND WIND

Causes: Over-eating. Too many fried and fatty foods, spicy foods, and
foods that produce wind e.g. eggs, cabbage, lentils. Carbonated drinks
like Cola also produce gas.

Remedy: Do not over-eat, drink fruit juices or better still, drink
water. Avoid fried foods, add ajmor to wind-producing foods.

LETHARGY ('low blood pressure')

Excessive sweating, weakness, tiredness, lack of energy, dizziness,
especially on getting up from sitting position, pale appearance and
feeling faint are symptoms associated with "low blood pressure". This
tends to occur towards the afternoon.

Causes: Too little fluid intake, decreased salt intake.

Remedy: Keep cool, increase fluid and salt intake.

Caution: Low blood pressure should be confirmed by taking a blood
pressure reading when symptoms are present. Persons with high blood
pressure may need their medication adjusted during Ramadhan. They should
consult their doctor.

HEADACHE

Causes: Caffeine and tobacco-withdrawal, doing too much in one day, lack
of sleep, and hunger. Usually occur as the day goes by and worsens at
the end of the day. When associated with "low blood pressure", the
headache can be quite severe and can also cause nausea before Iftar.

Remedy: Cut down caffeine and tobacco slowly starting a week or two
before Ramadhan. Herbal and caffeine-free teas may be substituted.
Reorganise your schedule during the Ramadan to have adequate sleep.

LOW BLOOD SUGAR

Weakness, dizziness, tiredness, poor concentration, perspiring easily,
feeling shaky (tremor), unable to perform physical activities, headache,
palpitations are symptoms of low blood sugar.

Causes (in non-diabetics): Having too much sugar i.e. refined
carbohydrates especially at suhoor. The body produces too much insulin
causing the blood glucose to drop.

Remedy: Eat something at suhoor and limit sugar-containing foods and
drinks.

Caution: Diabetics may need to adjust their medication in Ramadhan.
Consult your doctor.

MUSCLE CRAMPS

Causes: Inadequate intake of calcium, magnesium and potassium foods.

Remedy: Eat foods rich in the above minerals e.g. vegetables, fruit,
dairy products, meat and dates.

Caution: Those on high blood pressure medication and with kidney stone
problems should consult their doctor.

PEPTIC ULCERS, HEART BURN, GASTRITIS AND HIATUS HERNIA

Increased acid levels in the empty stomach in Ramadhan aggravate the
above conditions. It presents a burning feeling in the stomach area
under the ribs and can extend up to the throat. Spicy foods, coffee, and
Cola drinks worsen these conditions.

Medications are available to control acid levels in the stomach. People
with proven peptic ulcers and hiatus hernia should consult their doctor
well before Ramadhan.

KIDNEY STONES

Kidney stones may occur in people who have less liquids to drink.
Therefore, it is essential to drink extra liquids to prevent stone
formation.

JOINT PAINS

Causes: During Ramadhan, when extra salah are performed, the pressure on
the knee joints increases. In the elderly and those with arthritis, this
may result in pain, stiffness, swelling and discomfort.

Remedy: Lose weight so that the knees do not have to carry any extra
load. Exercise the lower limbs before Ramadhan so that they can be
prepared for the additional strain. Being physically fit allows greater
fulfilment, thus enabling one to be able to perform salah with ease.

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