How to survive Ramadan without indigestion, heartburn and dehydration
By Maliha Rehman
Shoaib, a 30-year-old banker, has been resiliently fasting throughout Ramadan for the past 12 years of his life. However, also for the past 12 years, he has always suffered from indigestion while fasting.
“My stomach gets upset within a week of fasting,” he said. “I think it’s because I am on an empty stomach all day long and then, suddenly at Iftar time, I eat too much. I have to take anti-diarrhea medicine daily for almost the whole month.” A typical Iftar at Shoaib’s home includes deep-friend pakoras, samosas, jalebis sandwiches and fruit chaat.
According to Dr Romaina Iqbal, an assistant professor at the Aga Khan University and Hospital with a major in nutrition, Shoaib’s indigestion is due to what he eats, not the timing of his meals. “In Ramadan, because we fast all day, we tend to think that we should eat a lot of fattening foods for Iftar. However, we need to continue following a regular, healthy diet. Fried foods are completely unnecessary. To get an energy boost, all we need to have are three to four dates or a glass of juice. It is because of excessive consumption of fried foods that so many people fall victim to indigestion and heartburn during Ramadan.”
Dr Iqbal’s advice rings true for 40-year-old Farid, a businessman, who until last year, suffered heartburn during Ramadan. “About 20 minutes after Iftar I would experience heartburn and palpitations,” he recalled. “For the next hour or so, I would be in a state of unrest, pacing back and forth in order to somehow digest my food. Taking an anti-acidity pill would help but I disliked the fact that I was taking medicines everyday for an entire month.”
After watching a nutritional program on television, Farid decided to completely change what he ate for Iftar. “Hitherto, I could not imagine Iftar without pakoras. Now, a typical Iftar at my house includes dates, sandwiches, fruit chaat and whatever regular meal we have for dinner during non-Ramadan days. I do miss eating fried foods but at least I don’t spend the entire month in discomfort.”
Yet another common problem faced during Ramada is dehydration – particularly this year with excruciatingly hot days. “By mid-day, my throat is parched,” complained Aleena, a 20-year-old college student. “Even on normal days my blood pressure is usually low. While fasting I feel as if I could faint any time. I have already broken my fast once this year. I was in college and I felt as if I would collapse if I didn’t quickly drink some liquid.”
Even though there is no surety that dehydration won’t occur during a fast, certain measures can be made to try to prevent it. “A person should normally drink 10 to 12 glasses of water,” advised Dr Iqbal. “But in Ramadan, especially if the weather is hot, water intake should be increased to at least 15 glasses. Excessive coffee or tea drinking should be curbed since this leads to frequent urination that, in turn, enhances thirst. Consumption of vegetables and citrus fruits should be increased since these provide us with the necessary energy and minerals. In Ramadan, as in normal days, a healthy person’s diet should include fruits, vegetables, meat, foods from the bread or cereal group and at least two cups of milk a day.”