The insider: Dietitian Lim Ai Leng
We speak to a dietitian about the best ways to be healthy this fasting month. By Emma Chong
What should you eat at sahur to prepare yourself for the day?
Even though you’re fasting, you need to still practice balanced nutrition, especially at sahur. Try to have slow digesting foods like complex carbohydrates. Things like unpolished rice, wholemeal bread, cereals and lentils are very good because they make you feel full and the feeling can last the whole day. Besides that, at sahur it’s best to have a balanced meal that has carbohydrate, protein from fish or meat – but bear in mind it should be lean meat, and too oily. Vegetables for fibre, and fruits also. Fruit juice is okay, but with fibre retained.
What about when breaking fast?
When you break fast, again balanced nutrition should come in. Start with dates – dates are very good because it’s been proven that they are high in dietary fibre (which is good for lowering cholesterol), and rich in vitamin b complex, iron and beta-carotene. Moderate amount of fat, high dietary fibre, unpolished carbohydrates and try to cut down the refined sugars (like chocolate and sugary drinks) and fried food.
What’s a common mistake people make when breaking fast?
A lot of times when people break fast, they could be overeating and taking too much unhealthy food. They could have a misconception, thinking: Oh since I fasted the whole day, this is the best time to eat whatever I want to compensate for what I didn’t take during the day.
Can you actually lose weight during Ramadhan?
Well the calorie consumption is definitely reduced, if we practice healthy eating. If you do so and at the same time increase or maintain activities and energy consumption then you will have a lower balance of energy in the body and that can help a person to lose or maintain weight. It’s possible – if you practice healthy eating.
And staying hydrated can also be a problem during fasting.
Yes, when people fast, they often do not take enough fluid. So make sure outside of the fasting hours you drink enough. Fresh fruit juice is good, or nutritious drinks like soya, cow’s or even oat milk. Many people do not drink enough, taking into account the 12 hours they can’t drink. So I would suggest at sahur time to drink at least two glasses of water, and make sure the food is not salty. If you take too much food which is high in sodium at sahur then when you start fasting you will feel very thirsty. Then throughout the whole day you’ll feel exhausted. And try to avoid too much spicy food and canned food, right before you fast.
So how much should you drink at sahur?
At least two glasses, and then spread the rest out [as you break fast]. In one day you should have six to eight glasses, but spread it out.
How can you combat gastric pain while fasting?
People with gastric problems have to be very careful while fasting. They have to eat during sahur, that’s very important, or their gastric problems will worsen. Also they should seek advice from their doctor first to see if they are fit for fasting. And then they need to take their food at regular times, outside the fasting period – have small frequent meals and cut down on the spicy food and cut down on acidic food like lemon, oranges. In addition to that also, people who have gastric problems should cut down on fried food. Oily food tends to slow down the digestion, so it takes a longer time to be digested. Take simple foods.
What foods from the Ramadhan bazaars would you recommend?
Ayam percik, ikan bakar – anything which is low in fat. Anything which is not fried, and low in sugar content. Kuih kukus – that’s good. You can also find beehoon soup or soto ayam which is considered healthy.
And which foods should be avoided?
It depends on the portion. People will always tend to have some unhealthy food but as long as it’s in moderation it’s fine. Just don’t take excessive amounts of fried and sugary foods.
Ms Lim is the chief dietitian at Gleneagles Hospital Kuala Lumpur, 286 Jalan Ampang, KL (03 4141 3000/www.gleneagleskl.com.my).