The holy month of Ramadan concludes after the new moon is sighted, with a celebration that includes special prayer, shared family meals, and socialising. Traditional Hari Raya dishes are often high in carbohydrates, sugar, and fat and while all of these could be considered as part of a normal balanced diet, they can be harmful for your health when consumed in large quantities.
In general, the food dishes and treats offered during the festivities have one thing in common – they all tend to contain ingredients that can contribute to rapid weight gain when consumed in excess.
Diets high in fat, sugar or carbohydrate
- Intake of unsaturated fats is good in moderation, particularly healthier fats such as those found in avocados, olive oil or canola oil. However, consuming large amounts of high-fat foods can lead to health problems. Increased intake of saturated fat may lead to high cholesterol levels, which in turn can lead to heart problems, high blood pressure, and increased risk of stroke.
- High-sugar diets are not healthy. Sugar causes a sudden spike in blood glucose levels followed by a crash in low blood glucose levels. This triggers a craving for more sugar to raise your blood glucose levels again, leaving you in a vicious cycle of highs and lows. Sugar is usually coupled with high-energy foods, leading to weight gain and obesity. Obesity is a root cause of many diseases such as heart problem, kidney damage, and of course diabetes, which impacts your body’s ability to regulate blood sugar levels.
- Carbohydrates are necessary as a daily fuel source. However, because they are rich in energy, when consumed in excess, along with a high-sugar diet, they result in rapid weight gain and can be detrimental to your health.
Moreover, eating large meals early in the morning and late at night with a long period of low activity levels in between can wreak havoc on your metabolism. You should also be careful not to overeat during Ramadan as consuming large quantities of food at one go or an unbalanced diet can lead to stomach upsets and intestinal disorders that may worsen existing health conditions.
How to avoid weight gain
Here are some simple steps you can take to limit weight gain and maintain your health during Hari Raya.
Adjust your recipes
Although you and your family may enjoy the traditional recipes handed down from previous generations, consider making minor adjustments to the ingredients to prioritise healthier choices. That way, you can still enjoy your favourite Hari Raya foods without the guilt.
Many Hari Raya dishes are made with coconut milk, which is high in fat and laden with calories. Use a lighter version of coconut milk, or substitute with low-fat milk instead. Choose unsaturated oils such as olive oil and corn oil instead of palm oil.
White rice can be easily substituted with brown rice to make meals more balanced. Many of the desserts served during the holiday season are brimming with sugar. Consider using soy or rice milk as an alternative to condensed milk.
Serve up platters of fresh fruit instead of dessert trays. Substitute sweet drinks such as soft drink and cordial for water.
Increase your exercise levels
While it can be tempting to spend the holidays visiting several open houses and eating at each one, or simply staying at home with family and relaxing, exercise is something you shouldn’t forget. If you know you are going to be eating a little more than normal, scheduling some additional exercise can help keep your waistline in check. If you don’t have a gym membership, don’t fret. Try going for walks with your family, visiting the local gardens or playing some sport outside. You’ll feel more energised and you can afford to eat a few extra treats in return.
Control your portion sizes
Consume larger portions of vegetables and lean meats, and keep the rice, fatty meats and sweet treats to a minimum. Limit yourself to a few bites at each house if you’re visiting several, rather than eating multiple plates of food.
Other ways to help manage overindulgence, is to use smaller plates and dividing the food into smaller portions, as this creates the illusion that the portions taken are large enough to satisfy our appetite.
Drink more water
Often we mistake thirst for hunger. Drinking more water can help you feel fuller for longer and stop you from overeating. Avoid drinking beverages high in sugar as they add to empty calories. An increased water intake will also help your general health, improving concentration and energy levels and clarifying and brightening your skin.
Remember, Hari Raya is a time of celebration, so don’t be too hard on yourself. However, with a few simple adjustments, you can enjoy the holiday season without the extra pounds.
Article reviewed by Alefia Vasanwala, principal dietitian at Mount Elizabeth Hospital
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