People with anemia are generally able to observe fasting during Ramadan as long as they are careful and control their diet appropriately, says Hamad Medical Corporation’s (HMC) Nutrition Specialist, Ms. Hanadi Falah Quffa, from the Department of Clinical Nutrition, Al Wakra Hospital.
“Anemia is a condition associated with low red blood cells, or hemoglobin, in the blood. Our body needs oxygen as a fuel, so if we are anemic, our blood has difficulty delivering oxygen to all the organs within the body. With low oxygen, we can feel weak and light-headed. Menstruating women are more at risk of having anemia, but other issues such as genetic predisposition, illness or low iron levels in the diet can also cause anemia,” explained Ms. Qufa.
She noted that fasting can exacerbate the symptoms of anemia and dehydration as well as low blood sugar, which affect how well our bodies and brains function, and can lead to feelings of weakness. It is therefore important to stay very well hydrated and drink plenty of fluids - mostly water - during Ramadan, when eating and drinking is permitted. Caffeinated drinks such as tea and coffee can act as diuretics, which promote fluid loss, so it is best to reduce or even avoid the consumption of these during Ramadan.
“Some people who regularly drink caffeinated products can suffer from headaches, which may be worsened by anemia and low blood pressure,” said Ms. Qufa.
She also explained that people should avoid simple sugars where possible as these are digested quickly by the body because there are typically fewer nutrients for them to break down. Simple sugars such as glucose, fructose and galactose sugars can be found in both natural and processed foods. Excess sugar in your bloodstream means more insulin is needed to process these, which will eventually lead to increased body fat.
“To reduce the incidents of rapid fluctuations in blood sugar, ensure you eat a meal before the fast begins (Suhoor) with protein, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates. Some of the most important iron rich foods include seafood, chicken and red meat as well as eggs. Whole grains, iron fortified breakfast cereals, legumes, green and leafy vegetables, tomatoes, broccoli, dried fruits and dates, peanut butter, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds are healthy vegetarian alternatives that are also rich in iron,” explained Ms. Qufa.
To help promote iron absorption in the body she said people should eat foods rich with vitamin C such as citrus fruits, tomatoes, guavas and strawberries, while there are several foods which inhibit the body’s ability to absorb iron, such as tea and coffee after breakfast or calcium-rich foods, such as dairy products together with iron-rich food.