A healthy way to break Ramadan fast

Eid al-Fitr ushers in end of Ramadan

By MARITZA MOULITE, CNN

(CNN) - For the world's 1.8 billion Muslims, Thursday and Friday mark the conclusion of Ramadan, a 30-day period that requires participants to abstain from eating and drinking between sunrise and sunset.

The end of Ramadan is ushered in by Eid al-Fitr, a one- to three-day celebration abounding with culinary treats including sweet dishes like baklava and sheer khurma as well as more savory roti john and beef rendang.

Though some people may be tempted to overeat, experts suggest taking it slow to avoid bloating and other gastrointestinal issues.

Slow and steady

"I recommend you definitely slowly transition into your regular eating pattern," said Rahaf Al Bochi, a registered dietician and media spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in the United States. "Your stomach is going to be smaller, so you're not going to be able to eat as much right away. You want to slowly honor your hunger and fullness and eat smaller portions throughout the day."

Al Bochi, who is also owner of Olive Tree Nutrition in Atlanta, advises that starting Eid al-Fitr by drinking water and eating a date, like the Prophet Muhammad did when breaking a fast, will provide fiber, natural sugar, potassium, magnesium and the boost of energy the body needs after fasting.

Nour Zibdeh, a nutritionist in northern Virginia, typically eats almonds with her dates for an extra dose of protein to break her fast.

Zibdeh likens Eid to indulgent holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving and thinks it is unrealistic to adhere to a strict diet.

"If there's a special dessert that is traditionally served and you emotionally associate it with the holiday, have it," Zibdeh said. "But you don't have to have every single thing that is in front of you. Moderation is going to be really key, listening to your body and trying to stay in tune with your body."

Drinking water is vital in preventing dehydration after an extended period of fasting, particularly as some observers would have gone up to 17 hours without quenching their thirst each day.

Experts also highlight the importance of diversifying food intake to get the proper nutrients.

"Fruits and vegetables, those are going to provide you with minerals you've missed out on," said Courtney Ferreira, a clinical nutritionist at the University of Maryland Medical Center. Taking vitamins is unnecessary if people return to a healthy diet after Eid, she said.

Social eating

Another healthy eating strategy is planning to have meals at social gatherings where food will inevitably be served and taking breaks in between, Zibdeh said. Taking three- to four-hour breaks between meals will aid the digestive system in pushing any bacteria or waste from the top of the gastrointestinal tract to the bottom.

"I'm invited to a brunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and I know my friend is going to be serving Pakistani-style brunch. ... I would personally wake up in the morning, have a cup of coffee, maybe one date, have prayer," Zibdeh said. "I'm not going to have breakfast at home because I'm anticipating this meal and I want to enjoy it with my friends. I have another party at 6 p.m., and I will make sure I drink water, make sure I take the kids out, but I probably won't have another meal until the evening."

Going to the grocery store and meal planning can help keep you from reaching for more convenient but unhealthy foods, said Nazima Qureshi, a Toronto-based dietitian. Qureshi also does not place any restrictions on Eid and bakes cheesecakes infused with traditional flavors like baklava and gulab jamun to share with family and friends.

After that first day of Eid, however, many nutrition experts consider the end of Ramadan to be a chance to start over and make better dietary decisions.

"A lot of people are surprised to see they've gained weight, but that's because they've been eating a lot during the non-fasting hours," Qureshi said. "If you haven't been watching what you eat, you might find yourself feeling very sluggish and tired. It's a good time to reset and get back into focus."

But instead of feeling bad or beating yourself up, use this as a starting point, Qureshi said. "Coming out of Ramadan is a great time to set goals and resolutions to have a healthier lifestyle."

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