By Isaac J. Martin and Samar Ezzat
Cairo, Apr 4 (EFE).- Mai al-Nahla, an Egyptian nutritionist witnessing first-hand the increasing rates of overweight and obesity across the Middle East, says the widespread practice of eating too much added sugar during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan can harm people’s health.
“If you eat three meals that are low in calories after breaking the fast, you could even lose weight,” al-Nahla tells Efe at her clinic in the Cairo neighborhood of Maadi. “Breaking the fast in the wrong way is the problem.”
High sugar consumption after abstaining from food and drink from dawn to dusk results in blood sugar spikes, which, in turn, raise insulin and increase sugar cravings, according to the expert.
“Putting a large dose of sugar in the blood upsets the hormonal balance that occurred during the fast. The best way to break the fast is by eating dates, which provide the body with potassium, magnesium and the sugar it needs,” she explains.
Although dates are abundant in the holy month, popular traditional desserts soaked in syrup such as kunafa and qatayef, along with other, greasy foods, dominate dinner tables during Ramadan.
“People suffering digestive issues increases during Ramadan because some break their fast with big amounts of food that is bad for their health, not just junk food but sometimes it is homemade with too much grease and salt,” Mina al-Naggar, another nutritionist, points out.
The repeated pattern of symptoms among his patients include “inflammation, bloating, constipation, indigestion and breathing difficulties,” says al-Naggar, a member of the European Society for Clinical Nutrition and Metabolism.
Experts agree that fasting during Ramadan is similar to other nutritional strategies that so many people follow, such as intermittent fasting, so there are benefits if it is approached correctly.
According to the Global Obesity Observatory, multiple Arab countries are among the world’s top 20 obese countries, with Kuwait leading the way with 47.08% among adult women and 34.28% among adult men.
DAVID VS GOLIATH
Nutritionist Fatma Kamal has a pre-Ramadan feeding program, which guides clients on how best to navigate meals during the holy month.
Pastries, desserts, fried food, too much red meat, and beans before going to bed, as well as soft drinks, must be avoided, according to Kamal.
But advertisements on Egyptian TV, online, and billboards promote spending the month with the family, either eating sweets and desserts or ordering junk food from restaurants.
Lebanese nutritionist Ghena Sandid tells Efe that there are also healthy campaigns sponsored by universities and health organizations, such as the ones promoted by her Lighterstyle clinic.
But she laments that these campaigns are not in the spotlight “since the big budgets come from companies” that make soft drinks and fast food.
Al-Nahla and her colleagues have started campaigns on Facebook and Instagram to provide advice, and say the issue has been “getting better in the last three years.”
“This takes time and effort, and it has to become a norm,” she concludes. EFE