Helping children to fast healthily in Ramadan
Dr Sparsh Pasi, Specialist Pediatrician at Mediclinic Al Sufouh
During the Holy Month of Ramadan, helping children to fast healthily is important, as many young children want to mimic their parents’ behaviour by participating in meaningful Ramadan traditions. While this provides a great opportunity for families to come together to share rituals and break their fast, for children, in particular, it can sometimes cause fatigue and dehydration — especially with the summer heat.
Dr Sparsh Pasi, Specialist Pediatrician at Mediclinic Al Sufouh says: “The reality is that for children, faulty eating habits during Ramadan can even lead to dietary gaps, which may result in nutrient deficiencies that may hamper their growth and development. That said, children can fast during Ramadan as long as their parents closely monitor their eating habits. If the child has an underlying medical condition, however, I would advise parents to consult a physician before allowing their child to fast.”
Proper nutrition in helping children to fast healthily during Ramadan
There are many ways to ensure children enjoy a healthy fasting experience. It all boils down to proper nutrition and healthy eating. Children should always break their fast with dates and either water, milk or juice. Dates are a great source of dietary fibre; they contain calcium, sulphur, iron, potassium, phosphorous, manganese, copper and magnesium. It is also important that children drink plenty of water, at least eight full glasses, as well as milk, yogurt and freshly-squeezed juices between Iftar and Suhoor.
Children should abstain from carbonated drinks as they may lead to bloating and indigestion, continues Dr Pasi. Nourishing beverages, however, help to sustain a child’s fast the following day and more importantly, fill nutritional gaps, when included as part of a healthy Iftar meal.
It is imperative that, during Iftar, children consume hydrating fruit, such as watermelon, berries, oranges, coconut, grapes, mango and pineapple. In effect, topping up your child’s water intake with healthy fruit will help them feel refreshed and enhance their energy levels.
Another great tip is to make sure your children break their fast with soup. Lentil soup in particular is full of healthy, hydrating ingredients, rich in fluids, facilitates digestion and is a great source of nutrients. Children must eat plenty of salads when breaking their fast during Ramadan. Salads are full of vitamins, minerals and fibres; they also prevent constipation and help to hydrate the body. Lastly, a well-balanced Suhoor meal, which includes fibre-rich foods such as whole-wheat cereals, fruit and vegetables, is key. The Suhoor meal should provide children with enough nutrients and energy to sustain their fast throughout the day.
Some advice for helping children to fast healthily this Ramadan:
- Stay hydrated
- Keep junk food and fried food out of the diet during Ramadan
- Eat complex carbohydrates and proteins
- Avoid sugary foods
- Enjoy the goodness of yoghurt and fibre
Choose whole grains, which provide the body with energy and fibre. Enjoy grilled or baked lean meat, skinless chicken and fish to get a good portion of healthy protein. In general, avoid fried and processed foods that are high in fat or sugar. Enjoy your meal and eat slowly to avoid overeating.
Healthy Ramadan Fasting
- Don’t skip Suhoor (pre-dawn meal). As the saying goes, ‘Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.’
- Don’t overeat during Iftar (evening meal to break the fast).
- Avoid eating fried foods, salty foods and high-sugar foods.
- Drink as much water as possible.
Managing your eating habits
If you eat and drink properly between Suhoor and Iftar, you will give your body what it needs in order to cope with fasting. The right carbohydrates will give you energy. Ensure that they are high in water and fibre and low in sugar. Make salads and soups. Carbohydrates don’t just mean rice, bread and pasta: add high-value carbs to your soups, such as sweet potatoes, beets, squash and broccoli or add green leafy vegetables to your salads.
With an unusual sleeping pattern, fish is the best source of protein, as it is light, highly nutritional and full of good fats. If you do want to consume red meat, ensure you are leaving four to six hours before you sleep, as you may encounter digestive problems if you don’t.
Water is an important part of helping children to fast healthily during Ramadan
Hydration is possibly the most critical thing during Ramadan. Drinking enough water is vital, particularly as Ramadan now falls in the hotter months. If you eat too much, you are not drinking enough water. Your body needs two to three cups of water at any one time. If you drink in excess, water will turn to urine and not be absorbed. People have problems with digestion and constipation while fasting and it is because of dehydration.
So just how much water does your body need? Multiply your body weight in kilos by 0.03×1.4 and the number you are left with is the number in litres that your body needs.
Message to Parents
It’s best to start your children’s fasting no earlier than nine years old with the optimum age to begin fasting being between nine and 14 years for boys and girls. Parents must monitor their children throughout Ramadan, keeping them active, but also keeping an eye on energy levels and fatigue.
Parents play a vital role in a child’s fasting journey. Lead by example and ensure your children maintain healthy habits during Iftar and Suhoor. You can make it easier for them by giving them healthy, wholesome food. Try not to “reward” your children at Iftar with high in fat, sugary foods; you must keep their diet similar to that of a non-fasting day. Also make sure your children wake up for Suhoor; a healthy balanced breakfast will give them enough energy for the day ahead.
By Dr Sparsh Pasi, Specialist Pediatrician, Mediclinic Al Sufouh