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Experts Offer Tips For Healthier Ramadan

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Millions of Muslims across the city and around the world will be observing Ramadan, the annual month-long period of fast that's just days away. There are ways to make the month a healthy one. NY1's Shazia Khan filed the following report.

For Muslims, the month of Ramadan is a time for spiritual devotion, charitable works and self-control. With a few exceptions, anyone who is healthy and has reached puberty is required to abstain from food, drink and sex from pre-dawn to sunset.

This year, the month once again falls in the hot and long days of summer, making the fasting period about 16 hours.

Dr. Nehad Shabarek, an internist at Lincoln Hospital who observes Ramadan, says the month long fast offers more than spiritual benefits.

"It's actually a very healthy way to control your weight, control your blood pressure," he says. "Your gastrointestinal system will have a rest."

But the food makes all the difference. Sonali Upadhyaya, a registered dietician at Elmhurst Hospital, says the pre-dawn meal or suhoor should be a moderate, wholesome and balanced one, void of foods high in fat, sugar and salt.

"One should not make it as a feast," she says. "It should be as normal as every day's life meal and include foods from all food groups."

Upadhyaya says to choose complex carbohydrates rich in fiber, like whole grains, fruits and vegetables that provide sustained energy. And you may want to pass on that pre-dawn cup of coffee or tea.

"Caffeine has a diuretic effect, which means it makes you go to the bathroom and urinate a lot," Shabarek says. "That would make you dehydrated.

In keeping with tradition, health experts say dates are an excellent food choice to break one's fast. Rich in nutrients, they provide a burst of energy. Once the fast is broken, another wholesome and well-balanced meal is recommended. And again, don't over-do it.

"Overeating and binge eating has a lot of side effects, from simple heartburn reflux to dyspepsia to abdominal pain to diarrhea," Shabarek says. "So try to eat reasonably."

Don't go overboard with fluids as well. Dr. Shabarek says to drink two glasses of water pre-dawn and space out at least four more after the break of fast to avoid discomfort.

As for exercising, refrain for two to three hours after the evening meal. And be sure to consult with your doctor before you start the fast, especially if you're on medication.

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