Muslim boys
Muslim boysReuters

The blessed month of Ramadan is here and most Muslims will follow a nearly 15-hour intensive fasting schedule each day for one month. However, the scorching heat and starving for long hours is no deterrent for Muslims who believe that this month serves them an opportunity to serve God.

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, which is marked by the sight of the crescent moon by the moon-sighting committees in each country.

For I.7 billion Muslims across the world, Ramadan is the holiest month of the year where the rewards of prayers, charity and other good deeds are multiplied.

The holy book of Quran is believed to have been revealed to Prophet Muhammad on the 27th night of Ramadan, which makes this month all the more special.

Reading and reflecting upon the meaning of Quran, spending days fasting and nights praying are essential activities taken up by Muslims during Ramadan.

Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam besides faith in one God, prayers, charity and Hajj pilgrimage. All adult healthy Muslims are mandated to observe dawn to dusk fasting, and required to abstain from drinking water, eating food and sexual relations. However, children, people who have serious illnesses, old people who are unwell, those who are travelling, pregnant and menstruating women are exempt from the fast, according to the Islamic ruling.

Those who are unable to fast due to important engagements like sportspersons and other professionals are supposed to feed the hungry as a good deed in place of fasting.

In India, the rising temperatures and long fasting hours may particularly be very challenging. But fasting has its own benefits both spiritually and physically. Health experts believe that if one fasts in a healthy way, he or she can reap many benefits.

Experts particularly warn that overeating during pre-dawn meal (Suhoor) or at the time of breaking the fast (Iftaar) usually leads to weight gain at the end of month and makes one sluggish.

Nutritionists recommend that the Ramadan meals should not differ much from normal meals and that the stress should be laid on eating carbohydrate, protein and fibre-rich foods and avoidance of heavily processed foods and caffeine.

A normal healthy person should be fine if he eats a balanced diet and fasts for 30 days, experts said.

Razeen Mahroof, an anaesthetist from the Oxford University wrote in a blog post on National Health Service(NHS), England that approaching the fast with discipline, or an opportunity to lose weight and be healthier could be wasted if people only concentrate on eating during non-fasting hours.

"The underlying message behind Ramadan is self-discipline and self-control.This shouldn't fall apart at the end of the day," he said.

He added that vegetables, fruits, dairy products, milk, meat, fish and chicken, which have complex carbohydrates, should be part of the Ramadan diet.

For Suhoor meal, consider eating cereals (oats, highly recommended), pitta bread, salad, fresh fruit juices, which would gradually release energy throughout the day.

The importance of dates during Ramadan is highlighted because dates provide quick bursts of energy and are crucial for maintaining normal blood sugar levels.

Coffee, foods loaded with sugar such as cakes, biscuits and pastries are a big "no" for those who fast, as they may lead to dehydration. Last but not the least, drinking water is of paramount importance and one should break the fast ideally with water and dates.

Foods to avoid

  • deep-fried foods – such as pakoras, samosas and fried dumplings
  • high-sugar and high-fat foods – including sweets such as gulab jamun, rasgulla and balushahi
  • high-fat cooked foods – such as parathas, oily curries and greasy pastries

Healthy alternatives

  • baked samosas and boiled dumplings
  • chapatis made without oil
  • baked or grilled meat and chicken
  • homemade pastry using just a single layer
  • milk-based sweets and puddings, such as rasmalai and barfee

Cooking methods to avoid

  • deep frying
  • frying
  • excessive use of oil
  • Healthy cooking methods
  • shallow frying (usually there is little difference in taste)
  • grilling or baking is healthier and helps retain the taste and original flavour of the food, especially with chicken and fish

(Credits: NHS).

And while you engage in fasting and feasting, click here for Ramadan calendar that will help you keep a track of the Suhoor, Iftar timings.