Doha: Moderate eating and a little extra planning are the keys to a safe and healthy Eid Al Fitr, especially for individuals with chronic medical conditions, said Raed Alalaween, a Senior Clinical Dietician at Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC).
He said foods high in sugar, fat, and salt are easy to overconsume and can wreak havoc on the body’s digestive system, leading to vomiting, diarrhea, cramps, and stomach pain, as well as unintentional weight gain. Alalaween said cases of food poisoning also tend to spike during the summer months, underscoring the need to be careful about storing, preparing and serving foods.
“Many of the foods traditionally eaten during Eid feasts are high in fat, salt, and sugar. It is a time of year when families eat a range of delicious foods that are not normally consumed throughout the year and this can lead to overindulgence. It is therefore important to focus on being healthy and practice discipline and self-control when eating,” said Alalaween.
He said that while weight gain, indigestion, heartburn, and abdominal bloating are the usual discomforts associated with overeating in a person in good general health, overindulging can have serious consequences for those with existing health problems.
“Overeating during Eid feasts is unfortunately very common. It can be challenging to say no to a gracious host; however, consuming large quantities of food and drink can have serious consequences for individuals who have chronic conditions such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, or diabetes,” said Alalaween.
For those who are following a special diet, Alalaween recommends bringing your own food when invited to a gathering. He says most hosts will appreciate an additional dish at their celebration.
He also notes that many traditional dishes can be prepared in a healthier way, with lower fat and calories, but with the same delicious flavor.
“Simple alterations to popular recipes can make a big difference in terms of the amount of fat and calories without negatively impacting the flavor,” said Alalaween.
He says that while Eid is an occasion to celebrate and enjoy a variety of dishes, moderation should always be the goal. He recommends limiting consumption of soda, sugary beverages, and highly processed carbohydrates such as chocolate, cakes, jams, and biscuits. He says this recommendation is particularly important for individuals with a chronic medical condition.
“Diet plays an important role in staying healthy, especially for people with diabetes. Blood sugar levels are more stable when a regular meal schedule is maintained. Five to six small meals and two to three snacks a day, rather than three large meals, can help to keep portion size and sugar levels in check. High-carbohydrate foods, such as grains, cereals, pasta, rice, and foods high in natural sugar like dates are not forbidden, but they should be eaten in moderation. Regular exercise is also important for individuals with diabetes as it helps keep glucose levels under control,” said Alalaween.
He said eating in moderation is also essential for individuals with a heart condition. He notes that large meals can adversely affect the heart as eating and digesting large quantities of food increases the heart rate and blood pressure, creating an extra burden on the heart.
He recommends individuals with a history of heart disease eat small portions during meals and limit fatty, salty, and sugary foods such as salted nuts, cheese, and smoked meats. He also recommends reducing the consumption of tea, coffee, and other caffeinated beverages.
For individuals with peptic ulcers, Alalaween said careful planning is required. He says while no single food causes ulcers, spicy food, citrus fruits, and foods high in fat, might make symptoms worse in some people. He recommends being mindful of food choices, eating several small meals a day, taking medication as directed, and maintaining a well-balanced diet.
As part of re-adjusting to a normal eating pattern, Alalaween recommends consuming smaller portions and eating more frequently.
He also recommends starting the day with a good breakfast and says it is important to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water.