The main advice for the millions of Muslims who are beginning the Ramadan fasting period on Monday? Moderation when breaking the fast each night.
For the month of Ramadan — considered by most to be from June 6 to July 5 this year — Muslims eat just two meals a day: suhoor, the meal before sunrise, and iftar, the meal at sunset.
This year, for countries in the Northern Hemisphere, Ramadan coincides with the summer solstice — the longest day of the year — leading to the longest average fasting hours in the holiday's 33-year lunar-based cycle, according to the news magazine The Week. Some Muslims will be fasting for up to 17 hours a day.
No feasting while non-fasting
Because of this, Dr. Razeen Mahroof, an anesthetist from Oxford, cautioned against eating too much during the non-fasting hours, according to NHS Choices, Britain's health website.
"The underlying message behind Ramadan is self-discipline and self-control," Mahroof told the health website. "This shouldn’t fall apart at the end of the day."
He said the pre-dawn meal should include foods that are filling yet provide energy for many hours, such as carbohydrates.
"Suhoor should be light and include slow-digesting food, like pita bread, salad, cereal [especially oats] or toast, so that you have a constant release of energy,” Mahroof said.
NHS Choices, as well as other websites, offer meal plans for those adhering to Ramadan fasting. But all suggest foods to avoid, especially during the night meal, include those high in fat and sugar as well as fried foods.
Sleep and hydration
Senior nutritionist Lovely Ranganath told Gulf News that sleeping and hydrating are also secrets to staying healthy during the month.
"Waking up for suhoor becomes difficult as the digestion of fried foods interferes with our sleep cycle," Ranganath told Gulf News. "The body needs to put in more effort to break down the fats, which is a long process."
She said not hydrating can cause not only dehydration but bloating of the stomach.
There are more than 1.6 billion Muslims in the world. Indonesia is the world's most populous Muslim country — 196 million of its 206 million residents are Muslim. There are more than 3.3 million Muslims in the United States.
Many Muslims break their fast each night by eating a date and taking a sip of water, a tradition started nearly 1,400 years ago by the Prophet Muhammad.