24 Apr 2020
With people having to work from home and all religious institutions and gatherings being shut, we are experiencing a Ramadan like no other in Islamic history.
Preservation of life is of utmost importance in Islam and therefore guidance on social distancing should be adhered to for not only the safety of yourself but also of the wider community. With this arises many questions and challenges to our usual dietary practices and routine of Ramadan, some of which I hope to address here. WHO guidelines deem it safe for healthy individuals to fast during Ramadan. They also however highlight that COVID-19 patients may wish to discuss with their doctors whether they choose to break the fast if their health would be at risk, as they would do with any other disease.
Being stuck in doors and the constant snacking during isolation, has meant many of us are welcoming the month in order to get back on track. One of the most important things in this month is to ensure we stick to routine; it’s essential that you don’t skip suhoor (early morning meal before sunrise) or iftar (meal at break of fast - sunset), as it’s important to obtain all the vital nutrients and rehydrate yourself.
It’s natural to feel tired whilst fasting and due to the late nights of Ramadan. Perhaps negotiate a later start and end time with your managers where possible, as this may be more conducive to the fast timings.
Even though you may not be eating, it’s important that you continue to take your regular breaks, as you would at work. Regular breaks are essential for maintaining productivity and reducing errors whilst working.
Furthermore, use these breaks to step outside to:
- Soak up some sun to boost your Vitamin D levels.
- Meet the daily recommended exercise guidelines (minimum 30 minutes minimum 5/days a week)
Store cupboard basics
Given the current social distancing rules, it’s important to avoid unnecessary trips to the super market. Try to opt for foods which have a longer shelf life, are readily available or can be frozen. Cereals such as porridge, muesli, oats and bran are good options and are also considered low GI.
Such foods are slowly digested and give a sustained release of energy during the day, keeping you fuller and energised for longer, making them perfect for suhoor. You could add nuts or fruit to add more flavour and fibre. Bread can also be frozen, simply swap your regular bread for a seeded version. Not only is it low GI, compared to your white bread it’s also higher in B-vitamins, Iron, magnesium, zinc and fibre.
Continue to incorporate fibre in the forms of whole grains and fruit and veg. Fibre plays an important role in avoiding constipation but also to ensure you are consuming a range of vitamins and minerals, which are important for maintaining a healthy immune system. It’s important that you still aim for 5 fruit and veg a day. Given that fresh produce may not be readily available, opt for frozen, tinned or dried varieties where possible.
It’s important to moderate the frequency that you eat traditional foods high in fats and sugars, such as samosas, pakorahs, baklavas. They contain very little vitamins and minerals and can contribute to weight gain, especially in the additionally sedentary lifestyle we are experiencing at present. If you do enjoy these foods, avoid deep frying and try shallow frying, grilling and baking when possible.
Furthermore, we should continue to have a balanced diet, which also includes 3 portions of dairy. Perhaps exchange the usual sweet deserts for yoghurt topped with fruit or exchange the traditional drinks high in sugar and syrup such as falooda with a homemade smoothie. You could make this with milk, yogurt and frozen fruits.
Traditionally, meat-based dishes make up the main component of iftar. It’s important that we try and have at least 1 meat free day a week, not only is this beneficial for our health but also towards a more sustainable environment, after all looking after the environment is also important in Islam. Furthermore, getting hold of the usual meats consumed in Ramadan may be more difficult. You could perhaps opt for meals based on lentils and pulses instead, which again are easily stored and available. For fish, perhaps swap for tinned alternatives where possible.
Whilst the best source of vitamins and minerals is from actual foods themselves, given that our diets are restricted in Ramadan, you may benefit from taking daily multivitamin tablets. A regular over the counter one will suffice. Public Health England has also suggested we all take 10 micrograms of Vitamin D /day.
Don’t forget fluids! I’ve written for the BDA’s workplace specialist project on maintaining hydration during Ramadan. Head over to BDA Work Ready for these tips.
Whilst the current situation can be frustrating, preservation of life is of utmost importance in Islam and therefore Government guidance on social distancing should be adhered to for not only the safety of yourself but also of the wider community. We should perhaps use this month for establishing new healthy dietary habits that we can continue for more Ramadan to come. I hope you have a blessed month!
Freelance Dietitian BDA Work Ready accredited practitioner