Healthier diet urged for Ramadaan fasting

(An edited version of this article was published in Weekend Argus, a weekly regional newspaper in the Western Cape province, South Africa, on 29 June 2014.)

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

While fasting during Ramadaan has health benefits, doctors warn the first evening meal that Cape Town’s Muslims have could be less sugary and oily.

Ramadaan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar and started this weekend. Muslims worldwide who fast stay without food and drink from dawn to sunset for 30 days.

Doctors have pointed out that fasting is part of a healthy lifestyle as it lowers cholesterol, hypertension and high blood pressure.

But in the evening, in Cape Town at least, koeksisters, samoosas and a host of other oily savouries and sugary delights are devoured.

Dr Junaid Akoojee, who practices in Surrey Estate, says Muslims should consider a healthier diet in Ramadaan.

“The challenge is that these foods are part of the local culture. We need to cut down on the oily and sweet things, especially because of diabetes,” says Akoojee.

“It’s also not supposed to be a feast in the evening. That’s missing the point. There are people around you who need food. Many people prepare a feast and there’s so much food left over. You can’t eat that much in the evening.”

Akoojee says the high sugar intake is a “quick fix and it doesn’t sustain your body”.

He recently teamed up with the Muslim Judicial Council to host educational talks, about healthy diets and diabetes during Ramadaan, at mosques and also on Muslim community radio station Voice of the Cape.

The focus was on “healthy living for the family” against the challenge that “lifestyle changes are the hardest to implement,” says Akoojee.

“We advised people to get up early in the morning and not rush their meal. It’s better to have enough time to eat. Have proteins, like eggs and oats, to sustain your body for longer during the day. Also have enough fluids,” says Akoojee.

The most important to remember in the morning and at night especially is: “Eat in moderation.”

“We should be eating sufficiently to sustain ourselves but don’t go overboard. Healthy eating would also encourage more natural foods.”

Akoojee is currently completing his doctorate studies in diabetes via Cardiff University in the UK. His public talks also focused on advice to diabetics who want to fast during Ramadaan.

People with illnesses are exempt from fasting, but Akoojee says most Muslims want to participate in the spiritual aspect of fasting even when doctors advise them against it.

Others exempt from fasting are those who are traveling as well as women who are menstruating, pregnant or nursing.

Akoojee says: “Despite medical advice warning that they are unable to fast, many diabetics still fast because they want to follow the religious teachings. The best we can try to do is make it safe for them to fast.”

“Diabetics must consult their doctor and work out a Ramadaan programme. They must of course listen to their doctor and not fast if it is harmful to their health. Well-controlled diabetes is not a problem though.

“The most important thing is education so that the patient understands the disease. Dietary advice can help them.”

Locals are meanwhile also looking at healthier eating plans during Ramadaan.
Mitchell’s Plain resident Fatiema Baradien Khan, who has four children who will be fasting, says their day will “start with juice, milk and wholewheat toast”.

“I want my children to start the day off right with whole. I’m going to add muesli, yogurt and fruit to their morning meal. We adults love coffee but we’re going to try going decaf this month,” she says.

“A good balanced start will keep you going throughout the day and you crave less sweet or oily snacks at night.”

Amiena Davids from Observatory says her intention is to “purify and strengthen my body, mind and the soul”.

“The Qur’an (Islam’s sacred scripture) states we should eat of the good and wholesome things but indulge in excess. I want to base my diet on fresh, natural foods. For me, a balanced food and fluid intake is important between fasts as hydration is vital,” says Davids.

“I’m going to try to avoid fried and spicy foods as it could cause heartburn or indigestion.”

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About Yazeed Kamaldien

Self-employed journalist and photographer from South Africa.

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