British Columbia

3 tips to fast safely during Ramadan

The holy month of Ramadan began today, with Muslims across B.C. joining millions of their brethren around the world by fasting from dawn until dusk and observing other religious rituals.

Dr. Akber Mithani says it's important to take precautions when fasting up to 19 hours a day

Ramada is the holiest month of the year in the Islamic faith. (CBC)

The holy month of Ramadan began today, with Muslims across B.C. joining millions of their brethren around the world by fasting from dawn until dusk and observing other religious rituals.

Ramadan is set on the lunar calendar, meaning the dates change from year to year. And this year, the month of Ramadan coincides once again with the summer solstice and the longest days of the year.

That means those observing Ramadan will have to fast for up to 19 hours a day. 

"What's important is that when an individual is fasting for that length of time, that they take appropriate precautions," said Dr. Akber Mithani, a general practitioner with Fraser Health. 

"It's important overall that they're prepared for this holy month of Ramadan in such a way that they're able to carry out the rituals in an appropriate way, but that they're physically able to also carry out the worship and the spirituality that goes with [it]."

Here are his tips for safe fasting during Ramadan. 

1. So long, samosas.

Stay clear of deep-fried and sugary foods, says Mithani, including sugary beverages and fruit juices.

"What you don't want the sugar levels to do is peak very precipitously initially," he said. "Then they tend to drop very precipitously, and that has a huge impact on the person's health." 

Instead, choose foods like complex carbohydrates, proteins and healthy fats to sustain you for the long-term. 

2. Smaller, more frequent meals

Not only is what you eat important, says Mithani, but also how often you do so.

Mithani says people fasting during Ramadan try to eat meals the same way they usually do, but it's better to change those habits while fasting for long periods. 

"They need to eat smaller amounts, but more frequently," he said. "And they need to make sure that they have an adequate supply of vegetables and fruits."

3. Medical issues? Consult a doctor

People with medical issues like high-blood pressure and diabetes can take part in Ramadan, but Mithani says they should consult with a physician first. 

Mithani said a family doctor may recommend different doses of medications, and altering them sometimes ahead of the fasting period to prepare. 

"For most of the people, they will be able to fast in a very safe and effective way and they'll be able to get the spiritual, social benefits of fasting in this holy month of Ramadan," Mithani said. 

High-risk patients with significant medical issues aren't required to fast, but Mithani says he consults with those who insist on doing so anyway to ensure their health isn't at risk.