Saturday,22 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1251, (18 - 24 June 2015)
Saturday,22 September, 2018
Issue 1251, (18 - 24 June 2015)

Ahram Weekly

At the water’s edge

Coping with thirst during a midsummer Ramadan can be difficult, but there are ways to soak the water up during meals, writes Gamal Nkrumah

Al-Ahram Weekly

“Water is the driving force of all nature”
Leonardo da Vinci

Does fasting modulate a person’s susceptibility to dehydration? The holy month of Ramadan falls this year at midsummer, and weather forecasters predict that this particular June and July will be among the most scorching ever recorded.

Fasting during Ramadan is one of the five “pillars” of Islam and is required of all adult Muslims with the exception of travellers, women who are menstruating, nursing or pregnant, and anyone suffering from an illness.The very word Ramadan is derived from the root “ramad,” meaning heated by the sun. The idea is that fasting burns away the sins of believers. Muslims in Egypt enjoy one meal, known as suhour, just before sunrise and another, iftar, just after sunset.

In some Muslim countries, believers break their fast with a light hors d’oeuvre of dates and milk. In Saudi Arabia, for instance, this is traditionally consumed during iftar as a starter before the main meal is enjoyed later.

Copious amounts of water and special juices like sweetened hibiscus, tamarind and qamareddin, a delicious apricot-based concoction, are drunk after sunset during Ramadan. Invariably, a soup of sorts is gulped down before the main meal. When Ramadan falls in the summer, Muslims usually consume large quantities of liquids immediately after iftar.Reviews of contemporary studies indicate that the Holy Qur’an and the tenets of Islam are correct as far as recommending that those suffering from chronic illnesses are exempt from fasting in Ramadan are concerned. The human body is made up of 75 per cent water, but dehydration, particularly in a hot climate, is a constant threat to health.

During Ramadan those who fast are prohibited from drinking water, or any other liquid for that matter, during daylight hours. The amount of drinking water a person requires varies with physical activity, age and health conditions as the main determinants of how much one should drink per day. Those working in hot climates need to drink at least 16 litres of water per day.

A dry mouth, headaches, dizziness or vertigo, and hunger pangs are often associated with dehydration, and lethargy and an increased heart rate are signs that the water intake is not sufficient. Medical practitioners and homeopaths maintain that those suffering from health conditions should drink water during the day, especially to avoid dehydration in summer.

Caffeine-rich beverages are to be avoided at all costs during Ramadan. “Caffeine is a diuretic and accelerates the purging of water out of the body. It is far better to drink a relaxing and caffeine-free anise, chamomile, peppermint or hibiscus drink without added sugar than to drink green tea, which has a high caffeine content, after breaking the fast,” Dahlia Hammouda, a nutritionist therapist, told Al-Ahram Weekly.

“During this Ramadan Muslims will fast for 16 hours a day in Egypt. That means we have only six hours left to replenish our bodies with water. Depending on your sex, weight and height, you need on average about six glasses of water within those six hours if you are a woman, and up to 12 glasses of water if you are a heavily built man,” Hammouda explained.

“A healthy individual will not suffer from dehydration for the first week of Ramadan. However, by the second week, and especially the third week of the month, even many able-bodied individuals may begin to exhibit signs of dehydration if they do not take the necessary precautions.

“Unfortunately, Egyptian culinary habits in Ramadan are not particularly healthy. We tend to favour sugary delights, and this is the worst habit anyone who is fasting might adopt. Sugar literally takes away the benefits of drinking water, exacerbating the symptoms of dehydration. Watered-down orange juice or watermelon juice are fine, but anything sweeter is not,” Hammouda said.

Certain herbal teas are known to be mildly toxic, but most are safe and can be used to address high fat levels in the bloodstream. Ramadan is a good month to start cleansing the body of excess fat and impurities. On the face of it, fasting for 16 hours a day in the heat of a summer Ramadan could be trying to say the least.

But where there is a will, there is a way. Herbal teas can also be used as a cooling agent when the body is overheated. Fasting can have beneficial impacts on certain illnesses, such as certain types of cancer and epileptic seizures.

So what about the notion that eating yoghurt or sour cream drinks can help quench the thirst during hot weather? “The Turks are very clever in this regard. Their diet is meat-based, and they are carnivores,” said Hammouda.

“As a result, the Turks have taken to the habit of consuming yoghurt for sohour in order to aid the digestion. They have had this tradition for centuries. The probiotic, or healthy, bacteria in yoghurt that facilitate the fermentation of lactose to lactic acid also aid digestion. We Egyptians could learn a thing or two from the refinements of traditional Turkish cuisine during Ramadan.”

There are also studies that indicate that the regular consumption of dairy products, including yoghurt, may reduce the risk of hypertension. So yoghurt, in conjunction with water and nonsugary sweet drinks, may help quench one’s thirst this swelteringly hot Ramadan.

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