Ramadan: Staying safe and healthy amidst pandemic

By Pratama Naufal Nanda

SEMARANG – The holy month of Ramadan which started on Tuesday (13 April) will be the second time for Muslims to carry out their fasting obligations amid the COVID-19 outbreak. Of course, this epidemic or pandemic has become a challenge for Muslims. Questions arise among the public when everyone is urged to maintain health and increase endurance, however, are Muslims still able to maintain their immunity by fasting?

It is evident that most people think that by not eating or drinking their health will be affected, especially during the present health crisis. In fact, a nutritionist from Gadjah Mada University (UGM), R. Dwi Budiningsari, SP., M.Kes., Ph.D., stated that fasting is beneficial for the immune  system. On the other hand, there has been no study that states that fasting has the risk of increasing COVID-19 infection, according to the official UGM website.

By properly observing fasting we can improve damaged cell tissue. The reason is, fasting for 30 days can stimulate the production of new white blood cells (leukocytes). This underlies the regeneration of the entire immune system. Conditions with a regenerated immune system will further strengthen the body in warding off various bacterial and viral infections and other diseases.

Immunity is greatly influenced by the quality and quantity of nutritional intake. People who are undernourished will be very susceptible to COVID-19 infection. However, people who are well nourished and have fulfilled their energy needs have the potential to destroy the coronavirus. 

In general, there are three functions of nutritional intake that are used by the human body – firstly, by being a source of energy as the main priority used by the body; secondly, is the regulatory function to regulate the body to become healthy and fit, including immune function; thirdly, the growth function as the last priority and will take place if the first and second functions have been fulfilled. 

Fasting also has various benefits for the health of the body which are increasing immunity, helping to detoxify the body, helping to remove various toxins stored in the body such as additives in food such as preservatives and food colouring, and can reduce body fat mass. Excess fat in the body can damage the balance of the human immune system. The reason is that excess fat will trigger cell production which causes inflammation of the body’s organs, which can lead to vascular disease and other health problems.

Carrying out fasting during a pandemic means we have to take extra care of our health. In several cases, it was found that people did not really understand how fasting, which was recommended by the Prophet, has made them become excessive in responding to issues. For instance, people sometimes ignore the importance of nutritional intake in food at suhoor or pre-dawn meal and are too over excited at iftar or breaking the fast. Of course, it has become a common mistake that occurs in society. Then, what is the best decision made to select the menu at suhoor and iftar

A menu full of nutrients must be part of your diet at dawn and breaking the fast. One of the recommended dietary patterns is the “Fill My Plate” guide. It is a campaign by the Indonesian Ministry of Health regarding a one-meal serving reference that has been echoed since 2017 as a General Guidelines for Balanced Nutrition.

“The contents of Fill My Plate are still used during fasting, pre-dawn meals and breaking the fast,” said clinical nutrition specialist Luciana B. Sutanto SpGK during the Live Instagram by the title ‘Happy at Home with Hometown’ (10/4/21).

There are several recommendations that can be applied to maintain a healthy and balanced diet according to the portion of contents “Fill My Plate”, which are recommended at suhoor to consume complex carbohydrates and fibre which take a long time to be digested and converted into energy as well as include brown rice, potatoes, whole wheat bread, whole grains, beans, oats and sweet potatoes. Therefore, the energy generated will last longer and also feel full longer. 

The next recommendation is to consume green vegetables, broccoli, carrots, and others which are rich in fibre, vitamins and minerals. Meanwhile, protein can be fulfilled from animal and vegetable sources such as fish, eggs, chicken, meat, tempeh, and tofu. Furthermore, eating fruits, such as watermelon, papaya, melon, oranges, dragon fruit and others is necessary. 

Moreover, the other important thing is to maintain 2 litres of water, equivalent to 8-9 glasses a day, from opening to dawn. Limiting sugar consumption to no more than 50 grams a day or the equivalent of 4 tablespoons is also a major concern. This is because it can affect immune cells to fight disease. 

The last thing is to avoid consuming foods with high trans fat content and reduce foods or drinks that contain simple carbohydrates, such as foods or drinks that are too sweet.

When breaking the fast, it is advisable not to eat too much food. The portion of food when breaking the fast should be about 10-25 percent of the daily needs, followed by dinner after sunset prayer around 25-35 percent, and night snacks around 10-25 percent. Meanwhile, during suhoor approximately 20-35 percent of the daily needs.

In addition, maintaining stamina while fasting is also highly recommended to avoid various viruses. Some of the ways that can be achieved are adequate rest and exercise.

During fasting, Muslims are also advised to continue to do physical activity by exercising. Through the right portion of exercise, the body feels fresher, fitter and of course the immune system is maintained during fasting. Sports can be done with household activities, aerobic exercise, yoga, jogging, and so on. You can do it after suhoor, before breaking the fast, or after breaking the fast to keep your body healthy and fit.

The essential thing to remember is to get enough rest for at least 8 hours per day. Scheduling sleep regularly is important because our sleep schedule during fasting changes drastically. 

When we are fasting, there is usually a shift in sleep time, this is due to the activity of getting up earlier than usual to meet the needs of suhoor. Hence, advancing the time to sleep from the usual time is what makes for a better quality rest. It is highly recommended to do so that there is no lack of sleep. The reason is, the lack of sleep conditions will interfere with concentration and will weaken the immune system.

Fasting during a pandemic is indeed very hard to do considering there are several important points in maintaining health, starting from taking into account the nutrition of food at suhoor and iftar till paying attention to activities that can maintain body immunity.

Nevertheless, fasting has many benefits for the body such as increasing the body’s immunity so that it can avoid the risk of contracting various viruses including COVID-19. In addition, it is suggested for the public to comply with the health protocol for preventing COVID-19; specifically by maintaining cleanliness through diligently washing hands with soap, maintaining distance, avoiding crowds, and wearing masks when leaving the house.***

(This article is written as part of the individual assignment series for Feature Writing class)

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