Dr Kawther Hashem, Campaign Lead for Action on Sugar
In the UK, Muslims will be abstaining from food and drink from sunrise (approx. 4am) until sunset (approx. 8.15pm). During the month, only two main meals will be consumed by the majority of Muslims, the iftar (evening meal to break the fast) and suhur (the pre-dawn meal before starting the fast). During those meals, it is important to consider the amount of salt and sugar eaten, because this can make a difference to how you feel during the fast, as well as your future health.
Reducing your salt intake
Even if you do not have conditions such as high blood pressure that requires you to limit the amount of salt you eat, consider being particularly mindful of the amount of salt eaten during Ramadan. This is because salt can have an immediate effect if consumed in excess. Eating salty foods or adding lots of salt at the table or while you are cooking for you or your family can make you all feel extremely thirsty and dehydrated.
It is common to add too much salt to many dishes such as curries, stews and soups during cooking, so consider reducing the amount of salt you add, if you do it quite gradually, eg first don’t add any when you are cooking the rice, next vegetables, etc, your taste buds will get used to it and they will still taste delicious! Remember, you can add salt back in, but you can’t take it out.
Furthermore, consider the amount of salt you are consuming overall, in addition to the salt you add during cooking, you may be consuming many salty sides, such as deep fried foods, olives, pickles, sauces and cheeses. It is important to consider reducing the amount of salty foods you are having regularly during Ramadan to avoid getting too thirsty during the day, so try and eat fresh vegetables as crudites, with homemade (lower salt) dips and sauces.
Reducing your sugar intake
There are many different traditions associated with Ramadan, depending on the cultures and origins of the Muslims celebrating the holy month. One of these traditions are the sweet foods associated with Ramadan. You might think that sweet foods made with honey or sugar-soaked fruits and nuts are ok, but that is still sugar! Sweet foods will vary in levels of fat and sugar, but they tend to be highly calorific regardless, and of course right now, we have almost no opportunity to burn those calories off. So during Ramadan consider reducing the foods that are less nutrient-dense such as the sweet foods. This is because you will need to take in enough of the essential nutrients during the meals and not displace them with less nutrient-dense foods.
After breaking fast it common for people to feel bloated or very full very quickly. Therefore, consider the types of foods you consume a lot of and how nutritious they are. It is recommended to fill yourself up first with nutritious foods such as fruits and vegetables, wholegrain or high-fibre starchy foods, healthy fats and good sources of dairy or dairy alternatives, instead of high fat and sugar foods. This is because these types of foods will provide the vitamins, minerals, fibre and energy really needed during Ramadan. Only then should one indulge in some sweet foods, and only in small amounts.
Ramadan is a time for great celebrations, however we are all thinking about our health at the moment and even small changes can make a big difference to your health, both now and in the future. Wishing you all a Ramadan Mubarak!