Patients with diabetes can go about fasting safely during Ramadan by understanding their risks, managing their condition and carefully following doctor’s recommendations.
Diabetes is a chronic health condition that affects how the body turns food into energy. Most food is broken down into sugar (glucose) and released into the bloodstream. When blood sugar goes up, it triggers insulin production — unless a person has diabetes. For those with diabetes, the body either doesn’t make enough insulin or it can’t use the insulin that it makes efficiently.
There are three main types of diabetes: Type 1, Type 2 and Gestational (diabetes while pregnant). Type 1 diabetes is caused by an autoimmune reaction that stops the body from making insulin, while with Type 2 diabetes the body doesn’t use insulin well and can’t keep blood sugar at normal levels. Currently, there is no cure for Type 1 diabetes but Type 2 can be prevented, delayed and all but reversed with healthy lifestyle changes such as losing weight, limiting sugar and eating healthy food.
According to Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, it is estimated that 50 million people with diabetes practice daily fasting during the holy month of Ramadan and Aisha Suhail Yaqub is one of them. She was diagnosed with pre-diabetes in 2020.
“I was hospitalized due to Covid-19 and I gained 20 kilograms that year because all I did was eat and rest,” she says. “I was cooped up at home and unable to go out due to lockdowns. I started feeling quite ill and fainted one day. I had tingly sensations in my toes. Later, the doctor told me that it was due to high sugar levels. That’s when I found out about my pre-diabetes and started taking Glucophage.”
“Pre-diabetes is basically when blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough yet to be diagnosed as Type 2 Diabetes, which I’m trying to avoid getting right now,” she says.
In order to keep full blown diabetes at bay, Aisha has made lifestyle changes such giving up fast food, limiting desserts to special occasions and incorporating exercise with daily walks and gym sessions. During Ramadan, Aisha has been even focused on nutrition.
“I plan on incorporating ingredients like dates and oats into my diet during Ramadan that will keep me going during my fasts and will help me feel full,” she says. “Ingredients like dates and oats are nutritious and healthy for you, as well as feel quite filling. Instead of having the traditional things for suhoor to keep my fast, I will be having things such as date smoothies.
“People tend to have fried foods during Ramadan and eat out a lot — go to different suhoors and iftars. I don’t plan on eating any fried foods during this Ramadan. I plan on fasting and mostly eating at home. I plan on doing a lot of cooking, making my favorite dishes in healthy ways, with less oil etc. All the nutritious goodness but without the guilt of the calories. Since I am a professional chef by training, I can make a lot of the dishes available in restaurants at home, so I never feel like I am missing out.”
Maintaining health and wellness is essential for everyone during Ramadan, especially those with a chronic illness such as diabetes. Before fasting, it is high recommended that those affected seek the guidance of a medical professional. The team at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi suggests the following guidelines:
- Never leave home without medication, glucose treatment and some sort of diabetes identification like a medical bracelet.
- Carry some dates, sugar, juice or anything that can raise your glucose level in case you experience hypoglycemia and need to break your fast.
- Keep testing your blood glucose regularly — it will not break your fast.
- Always carry a bottle of water with you, in case you feel dehydrated. It is safer to end your fast than to collapse or faint due to dehydration, one of the symptoms of hyperglycemia.
- Do not stop your insulin but do alter your dose and times as advised by your doctor.