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How to stay healthy as a family this Ramadan

Muneera and dad at GOSH
Muneera and dad at GOSH

A Q+A with Specialist Paediatric Dietician Sarah Khweir on her views on healthy eating during Ramadan.

“Eat like a rainbow!” Sarah Khweir tells us. “Make sure you get as much colour and variety into your diet and eat plenty of fruit and veg to ensure you have lots of vitamins and minerals in your diet.”

What is healthy eating:

Ms Sarah Khweir (Specialist Paediatric Dietician) explains that healthy eating is eating a balance of:

  • Fruit and vegetables to increase your vitamins, minerals and fibre intake. You should aim for 5 portions per day.
  • Carbohydrates at each meal to provide slow release energy. This could include cereal, bread, pitta, wrap, couscous, quinoa, rice, pastas, potatoes and sweet potatoes. Also try to choose wholegrain more often for children above 5 years old.
  • Protein, at least twice a day, for building and repairing tissues. This could include chicken, fish, meat and pulses like lentils, chickpeas and beans/egg/tofu. You can also try meat substitutes like soya or tofu. 
  • Milk and dairy for maintenance of strong bones and teeth. Aim to have 3 portions per day (e.g. 150ml milk, small pot yoghurt and a small matchbox of cheese).
  • Limiting high fat and highly sugar foods to occasional consumption.
  • Drinking water and milk and having these as the go-to drinks for children. Avoid fizzy drinks and sugary juices as these increase the risk of tooth decay. Offer a maximum of 150ml fruit juice per day.

Why is healthy eating important, especially for children?

There are increasing concerns regarding the increased prevalence of obesity in children which can lead to a cluster of conditions including high blood pressure, increased fat tissue around the waist and high cholesterol. These are collectively known as metabolic syndrome which has been shown to increase risk of type 2 diabetes, stroke and heart disease later in life. The earlier a child implements healthy eating into their lifestyle the better the outcome for their long-term health.  It can also be much more difficult to implement change once you are older and have been used to having your diet a certain way.

Are there any benefits to fasting during Ramadan?

Studies have shown the body uses fat tissue for energy in the fasting period, helping to preserve muscle mass. This is particularly good for overweight people as this could result in weight loss.  It is particularly important for overweight people to try not to revert to their usual eating practices after Ramadan as they will regain the fat tissue that they had previously lost.

How can parents implement healthy eating into their family’s food regime?

A little planning is all that is required. Doing a shop in the evening, either in supermarket or online when you have broken your fast and not hungry, means you are less likely to choose from more indulgent foods!  Try stocking up on frozen vegetables and always fill half the plate with mixed vegetables! Aim to add as little salt as possible, choosing from lemon, garlic, herbs and spices instead and use oil sparingly – ideally olive oil or rapeseed oil.

What makes it hard for families to try and eat healthily?

Constantly being on the go can make it hard for families to make healthy informed choices about what to eat.  Often, foods that are high in fat and sugar are in convenient packaging and can be easily picked up from the supermarket aisle.

I recommend going for the healthier foods are also readily available but may not seem the convenient option. A piece of fresh fruit requires no preparation and dried fruit in a packet is readily available now and also requires no preperation. Often vegetable sticks can be found in prepared packets so little effort is required with these either. 

What sort of food should be avoided as they are ‘unhealthy’ for families?

Try to avoid:

  • Fried foods such as fried chicken and chips 
  • Foods that are high in sugar and fat, such as cake, baklava or ghulab jamun
  • Greasy foods such as oily curries and pastries.

Here are Ms Sarah Khweir's top tips for healthy eating during Ramadan

  1. First and foremost, make sure you are keeping well hydrated! Aim to drink 6-8 cups of fluid within the time you are able to!
  2. Have lots of fruit and vegetables to ensure a good fibre intake as people are prone to constipation with a limited diet in Ramadan.
  3. Dried fruit including the popular dates are a great way of getting vitamins, minerals and fibre in!
  4. Try to include wholegrain varieties of food at Sahoor (sehri) such as porridge with apricots/raisins etc or wholegrain toast with peanut butter/cheese and fruit to provide a slow release of energy to keep you going throughout the day.
  5. At Iftar, try to incorporate a protein source (from examples mentioned above) as well carbohydrates and salad/vegetables.

Related content

To read more articles on Dietetics at Great Ormond Street Hospital or to see our full list of consults click on the below.

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