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How to manage diabetes during Ramzan: some useful tips

Ramzan is a month for abstinence and control of one’s physical and spiritual desire. If properly managed, it can prove to be medically beneficial for health. However, if you have diabetes, fasting involves special planning. That’s because you don’t want to risk lowering your blood sugar too much, which can seriously affect your health. In patients with type 1 diabetes, hyperglycemia (high blood sugar levels) and hypoglycemia (low blood sugar levels) happen frequently, whereas in patients with type 2 diabetes they’re less likely to happen.

Here are several tips for diabetics to fast safely and healthily during Ramzan…

Consult your doctor: If you suffer from diabetes, you should ask your doctor whether it is safe for you to fast at all. If you are living with type 2 diabetes, generally it is safe to fast during Ramzan, provided that you talk to your doctor about your plans and prepare yourself well.

Your doctor might ask you to get all tests done to check your current vital stats. You will also be advised to change the timings and dosage of your diabetic medications. It is wise to get your body used to the new regime before you start fasting. Never skip or adjust your medicine without consulting your doctor first. Individuals who take insulin need to get an adjustment of the insulin dosage while fasting. It is crucial that if you are a type 1 diabetes patient and intend to fast, that you are closely supervised.

Continue to check your blood sugar while fasting: Since there is a 14 to 15-hour gap between meals in Ramzan, it is advisable for diabetics to frequently check their blood sugar levels to be safe. Frequent monitoring reduces the risk of both hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia [high blood sugar] and helps control blood sugar levels. Some people with diabetes may think that checking their blood sugar during fasting hours breaks the fast, but that’s not the case. You should check your blood sugar at least four times a day. Late morning, late afternoon, late evening and early hours i.e. the suhoor time. In fact, regularly monitoring your blood glucose during fasting is key to avoiding health emergencies.

Never skip your sehri: As a diabetic, you should always ensure that you eat a proper sehri. Skipping sehri would wreak havoc with your blood sugar levels. At sehri you should eat starchy carbohydrates that release energy slowly, such as multigrain bread, oat-based cereals, basmati rice together with beans, pulses, lentils, fruit and vegetables.

Other foods that will keep your blood glucose levels more stable throughout the fast include pitta bread, chapati and semolina.

Break your fast sensibly: As a diabetic, you should eat simple sugar such as dates first. Dates are an excellent source of nutrition. However, they also have a very high glycaemic index and calorie value. Avoid overindulging if you suffer from diabetes. We suggest not more than two dates at a time (you can always have some more later).

It is also important to not break the fast with a very large, excessive meal as there is a potential risk of post-meal hyperglycaemia. Distribute energy intake from food over two to three smaller meals during the non-fasting interval. This may help you avoid this spike in blood sugar.

Also, eat slowly when breaking your fast. This will help you avoid indigestion, as well as help your blood sugar levels come into balance more easily.

The main iftar meal should be a balance of complex carbohydrates, protein and good fat. Avoid deep fried food, and sugar-rich desserts and beverages. Look for healthy swaps: swap deep-fried savouries with baked treats, and sugar-rich desserts with your favourite fruit. Too much coffee or tea could also make you dehydrated.

Drink plenty of fluid during non-fasting hours:Break your fast with sugar-free drinks to properly rehydrate and to keep you safe from dehydration. You need to make up for the fluid loss by drinking lot of water and unsweetened beverages during the non-fasting hours. A minimum 2-litre of water is a must.

Do not add sugar to your food: Refrain from eating a lot of sugary snacks or sweets as it is traditionally done. Always take unsweetened, freshly prepared fruit juices. The packaged one has a lot of sugar, empty calories and preservatives. Sugar-free tea, coffee and curd are an ideal choice. If you want to you can add artificial sweeteners once in a while.

Change your exercise routine: As far as possible, do some amount of moderate exercise after breaking the fast. Take a half-an-hour walk after your iftar meal and before the evening prayers.

Immediate action when you feel unwell: If during the fast you feel sick, dehydrated, dizzy, nausea, blurry vision, headache, vomiting, and fatigue you should immediately end your fast and take in water and snacks. Remember, you may be inviting medical complications.

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