A to Z of how fasting affects your body

A healthy breakfast (suhoor) with enough fibre to prevent constipation consists of fried egg (in coconut oil or olive oil) with veggies, tomatoes and wholewheat toast

It is important to know what is happening to your body.

The first week of Ramadaan is always challenging for some people, because the body is adjusting to new eating times as well as trying to process the traditional, sometimes unhealthy meals when breaking your fast.

I spoke to Tasneem Johnson, a registered dietitian, about what happens to your body while fasting.

She said after a few hours of fasting your body begins to sense that it’s being fed less regularly. It then switches to using body stores of fat and carbohydrates to keep functioning and staying healthy. This means that if you are overweight, fasting can help you to lose weight by reducing the amount of fat stored in your body. Fasting, she said, can also:

* Reduce the amount of bad cholesterol and increase the amount of good cholesterol in the blood.

* Decrease the amount of triglycerides in the blood.

* Increase the red blood cell, white blood cell and platelet count in the blood.

* Reduce inflammation in the body.

These changes can reduce your risk for chronic diseases of lifestyle (like diabetes, hypertension and heart disease). However, it can also improve your health if you have a chronic disease of lifestyle, making it easier for you to manage your condition.

While fasting can be good, it also has a negative effect on those with nutritional deficiencies, or chronic conditions that are poorly controlled. Nutritional deficiencies can worsen if you fast during Ramadaan, and fasting with a poorly controlled chronic condition could have dangerous side-effects.

When I asked what helps for constipation while fasting, and why you get constipated, Ms Johnson said you may not be getting enough fibre and water in your daily diet.

Fibre works with water to soften the stool and move it along your bowel. You can prevent constipation by making sure that you eat high-fibre foods at each meal and in the right quantities. Fruits and vegetables (especially those that you eat with the skins still on), beans, peas, legumes, high-fibre bread, brown rice and brown pasta are all good sources of fibre.

Remember that fibre works with water, so be sure to have water at every meal too. It’s recommended to have between four and eight glasses of water a day. You may drink less water during Ramadaan, but you should still have at least four cups a day.

The ideal breakfast (suhoor) in Ramadaan:

* High fibre cereal with low fat milk and a fruit.

* High fibre toast with scrambled egg and tomatoes.

* High fibre muesli with low fat yoghurt and a fruit.

* A fruit or vegetable smoothie made with fresh fruit/ vegetables, yoghurt or milk.

The ideal supper (iftaar) in Ramadaan:

During Ramadaan, focus on getting enough lean protein, low GI foods, and foods rich in vitamins and minerals (like fruits and vegetables) at iftaar.

These will replenish your body’s stores, and provide your body with everything it needs to stay healthy during the evening and for the next day of fasting.

Iftaar meals should not be high in fat since fat provides lots of calories but very few nutrients.

* Exercise tip: Use a skipping rope and skip between 500 to 1 000 skips broken up into 50s. You can do half before suhoor and the rest two hours after iftaar.