Ramadan fasters could be taking in as many as two days’ worth of calories when they sit down to break their fast at iftar, health experts have said.
Doctors warned many will typically take in between 3,000 and 4,000 calories in an evening, after fasting for more than 12 hours.
The recommended average daily calorie intake is 2,000 for women and 2,500 for men.
Dr Rita Tobias, an endocrinologist at the Dubai Weight Care Clinic, said: “People who are not bothered about watching their diet can easily take in up to 3,000-4,000 calories after they break their fast.
“In my clinic, where the purpose of them coming is to control their diabetes and their weight, a third of patients choose not even to come before Ramadan.”
Tobias said many people get lured into over-indulgence by tempting offers, in what she described as increasing commercialization of the Holy Month.
Dr Zuhair Yousif, a cardiologist at Mediclinic City Hospital, said: “If you are attending a tent for 30 days and eating excessive carbohydrates and saturated fats, you are probably going to have doubled your bad cholesterol by the end of Ramadan.”
And you could be “doubling your chances of heart disease”.
Among the types of food served up are rich cheese qatyef pastries – a single piece of which has about 350 calories. At least.
Families and friends gather around for iftar and suhour meals that are in many cases rich, fatty and high in carbohydrates. And many fall into the trap of over-eating.
Avoiding over-indulgence is made more difficult as Ramadan is increasingly becoming commercialised – with many restaurants and hotels cashing in on the festive season through tempting offers and Ramadan tents.
“I personally put on around 5kg during Ramadan,” said Hamsa Haddad, a 40-year-old Syrian sales executive. “It is the only time I eat sweets every day and I also eat at around midnight. “I eat much more and I also do not go to bed before 3am.”
Haddad said she also spends more on outings – as at least twice a week she goes to eat at a Ramadan tent.
“You hear a lot about them and it is always something new so you want to try it out,” Haddad said.
However, Abir Al Habash, 47, a Syrian housewife, said that she is saddened over what Ramadan has become. “Ramadan has been reduced to food, tents and abaya fashion,” she said.
“The concepts of modesty and compassion which Ramadan should represent are no longer there.”
Dr Adil Obeid, a nephrologist – the study of the kidneys and its diseases – at Sobeh’s Vascular and Medical Centre, said the commercialisation of Ramadan and its negative impact needs to be addressed.
“Ramadan spiritually is very clear – it is about being modest in everything,” he said. “[But] people sleep late, eat more, smoke more, take more carbohydrates – so we have a big challenge in trying to fight the commercialised part of Ramadan.”
However, Obeid added that the media is playing a negative role in changing the concept of Ramadan.
“The tents in five-star hotels do not tell us the whole story but this is the reflection we get from the media,” he said.
Dr Zuhair Yousif, a cardiologist at Mediclinic City Hospital, said fasting could help you lower blood pressure and bad cholesterol.
“But in fact what we see from the actual life experience is how Ramadan has turned into probably the opposite to the expected positive benefits,” said Yousif. “People tend to eat the wrong food a lot of the time during the iftar and suhour.”
The cardiologist said more education is needed on how people should approach dieting during Ramadan.
“It is important that we intensify the health education in various specialties to highlight the risks that maybe are associated with the negative lifestyle impact on Ramadan,” Yousif said.