How to be healthy in Ramadan while fasting- a resource for patients and clinicians
Ramadan is here and particularly in the UK, each fast is about 21 hours. These can have a physical and emotional toll on the human body. As a result, it is worth covering the common conditions that affect people during this time and how to keep healthy in Ramadan. This information is not for religious purposes.
This information is available here as a PDF for easy sharing.
What to expect:
Firstly only fast if you feel able to. Several groups of people are recognised to be exempt from fasting. These include those:
- with an illness
- who are travelling
- who are young (before puberty) or of old age
- who are pregnant or breast feeding.
Because of the long time between starting the fast at sihori (suhoor/sunrise) and iftaar (sunset) in the UK, the fasting time of Ramadan can be a challenging 30 days of 21 hour fasts. If we have a hot summer this can make the fasting more difficult.
The first couple days are difficult due to adapting to the lack of fluid and food. Often, after a few days the body becomes used to this and sleep deprivation is often a greater challenge. Ensure appropriate rest to tackle this. Regarding work, explore with your employer alternate working patterns or use of leave if you are struggling. You should NOT see your GP for a fit note in this circumstance as fasting is not a medical sickness condition.
Headaches: a common symptom particularly at the start of Ramadan most commonly due to dehydration or caffeine withdrawal. Prevent this with good hydration with sugar-free decaffeinated drinks when breaking fast. When able to drink, sip slowly and regularly rather than bulk drinking for better hydration. You may occasional use of simple analgesia such as paracetamol if needed, available at your local pharmacy or self care at your local shop as appropriate.
Constipation: caused by dehydration and irregular eating patterns. This can subsequently lead to stomach cramps, a common symptom in people that are fasting. This is managed with good hydration when breaking fast as above, fibre rich diet like fruit or vegetables and if severe occasional use of simple laxatives via your local pharmacy or self care at your local shop as appropriate.
Indigestion /heartburn: because of the long fasts this is a common symptom especially made worse by eating oily food. Managed by eating healthily especially fresh fruit, lean meat, yogurt based foods and avoiding complex carbs at night. If severe try simple antacid remedies or see your local pharmacist or self care at your local shop as appropriate.
Muscle cramps: again caused by dehydration, see advice regarding headaches.
Chronic health conditions: You should know if it safe for you to fast depending on your chronic health condition. If you are unsure, a non-urgent phone call with your GP would be the best way to confirm. If you are on medications, it would be best to discuss with your local pharmacist the best way to manage taking your medications with fasting if safe to do so.
Diabetes: managing chronic health conditions can be a challenge, but diabetes is probably the most complicated. It is worth looking at advice from diabetes UK. In summary:
- If your diabetes control is poor or you are on medications discuss the safety of fasting with your GP practice’s diabetes nurse team.
- If you need to test your sugar levels, be prepared to do this more often given the risk of low sugars (hypo/ hypoglycaemic episodes). This is more important for those on certain medications or insulin.
- Continue having a varied and balance diet focusing more on slow release, low glycaemic index foods such as oats, pita bread, lentils and wholemeal rice in place of normal rice. Avoid sugary and fatty foods.
- When you break the fast, ensure you drink plenty of sugar-free and decaffeinated drinks to avoid dehydration.
Here are some simple suggestions for sihori meals to start your fast with:
Simple pieces of low glycaemic fruit such as :
In addition using fruits such as prunes, figs and dates can help to reduce constipation effects. Top with natural yoghurt and then a low sugar granola or seeds/nuts for a nutritious and balanced start.
Oats are an excellent slow release grain that can stave off hunger and keep you functioning. Similar to above you may mix with fruits. Either have as a bowel of porridge or leave to soak overnight with either milk or water. Make to taste.
Eggs are a great way to have a healthy protein infused meal to keep you going. Either poached or boiled, with simple salad, avocado or on wholemeal/soda bread. A nice savoury start to fasting.
A great way to manage sihori for those that hate having breakfast. Blend a variety of fruits and veg and drink. Try this recipe for a balanced shake which is high in iron and other nutrients.
- Half a large banana
- Large handful of spinach
- small handful of almonds
- 1 pitted date
- large tabletspoon of soaked oats or bran fibre
- water to taste