By Dr. Deema Saeed, MEAL & Research, HSF
Ramadan, Passover, and Easter are religious holidays that are observed by people from different cultures and parts of the world. This year, 2023, all 3 holidays happened to coincide, leading to more groups of people around the globe feeling celebratory at the same time!
Moreover, there are a variety of traditional foods that people eat during these holidays. Here are some examples:
During Ramadan, Muslims fast from dawn to sunset for a month, and the evening meal (iftar) is a significant part of the day. Dates and water are often the first things consumed to break the fast, followed by a variety of foods, depending on the region. In the Middle East, for example, it is common to eat soup, salads, and meat dishes like shawarma, while in South Asia, people often enjoy samosas, biryani, and sweet dishes like jalebi and gulab jamun.
Ramadan is generally associated with higher sugar consumption (exposure may be less frequent so not a massive tooth decay risk), but the sudden rise in blood sugar levels is a diabetes risk, and the eating the wrong foods for sahoor (the meal before sunrise) can contribute to heartburn, cholesterol, and other NCDs, and inadequate vegetable/fruit/water consumption especially in hot countries can lead to dehydration and kidney health issues).
Passover is a Jewish holiday that commemorates the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. During this holiday, certain foods, such as leavened bread, are forbidden, and matzo (unleavened bread) is a staple. Other traditional Passover foods include gefilte fish, matzo ball soup, brisket, and potato kugel.
Easter is a Christian holiday that celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The foods associated with Easter vary depending on the region and culture. In many Western countries, Easter meals often include ham or lamb, potatoes, and vegetables. In some parts of Europe, Easter bread and pastries like hot cross buns are also popular. In Latin America, people often celebrate with sweet bread called pan dulce and dishes like empanadas and mole poblano.
It is therefore important to identify health risks associated with each holiday early on, to give yourself and your family enough time to plan your prevention, provide healthier alternatives and consult your health professionals if needed.
Health Risks Associated with Holidays:
While fasting can have spiritual benefits, it can also pose health risks for some individuals. Some of the health risks associated with Ramadan:
1. Dehydration: Fasting during Ramadan can increase the risk of dehydration, especially in hot and dry climates. It is important to drink enough water and other fluids during non-fasting hours to avoid dehydration.
2. Low blood sugar: Fasting can cause a drop in blood sugar levels, especially if a person has diabetes. It is important for individuals with diabetes to talk to their healthcare provider before fasting to develop a plan for managing their blood sugar levels during Ramadan.
3. Headaches: Some people may experience headaches due to changes in caffeine intake, sleep patterns, and dehydration during Ramadan.
4. Nutritional deficiencies: Fasting for long hours can lead to a decreased intake of essential nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, and fiber. It is important to eat a balanced and nutrient-dense diet during non-fasting hours to prevent nutritional deficiencies.
5. Weight gain: Some people may gain weight during Ramadan due to overeating during non-fasting hours, which can lead to negative health consequences such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes.
– It is important to consult with a healthcare provider before starting or continuing fasting during Ramadan, especially for those with pre-existing medical conditions. They can provide guidance on how to maintain good health during the fast, such as adjusting medication schedules, choosing healthy foods during non-fasting hours, and staying hydrated.
Although not generally known for high sugar consumption, here are some of the health risks associated with Passover:
1. Food allergies: Many traditional Passover foods contain common allergens such as eggs, nuts, and wheat. Individuals with food allergies need to be cautious when consuming traditional Passover foods and may need to seek alternatives.
2. Constipation: Matzo, a staple food during Passover, is low in fiber, which can lead to constipation. It is important to increase fiber intake through other Passover-friendly foods such as fruits, vegetables, and legumes.
3. High fat and cholesterol intake: Traditional Passover foods such as brisket and matzo balls can be high in fat and cholesterol, which can increase the risk of heart disease. It is important to consume these foods in moderation and choose lower-fat options when possible.
4. Blood sugar fluctuations: Matzo and other Passover-friendly foods are often high in simple carbohydrates, which can lead to rapid blood sugar spikes and crashes, especially in individuals with diabetes. It is important for individuals with diabetes to monitor their blood sugar levels carefully and adjust their medication and dietary intake accordingly.
5. Food poisoning: Traditional Passover foods such as gefilte fish and charoset often contain raw or undercooked ingredients, which can increase the risk of foodborne illness. It is important to follow safe food handling practices when preparing and consuming Passover foods.
-Overall, it is important to maintain a balanced and varied diet during Passover and to make wise food choices that are mindful of one’s overall health. Consulting with a healthcare provider or registered dietitian can help individuals with pre-existing medical conditions to develop a plan for managing their health during the holiday.
Easter is generally associated with higher sugar consumption, which is a common risk factor for multiple health issues. Here are some of the health risks associated with Easter:
1. Overconsumption of sugar and calories: Easter is often associated with chocolate and candy consumption, which can be high in sugar and calories. Overconsumption of these foods can lead to weight gain, tooth decay, and other health issues.
2. Food allergies: Many traditional Easter foods contain common allergens such as nuts, eggs, and dairy. Individuals with food allergies need to be cautious when consuming traditional Easter foods and may need to seek alternatives.
3. Food poisoning: Traditional Easter foods such as ham, lamb, and eggs need to be prepared and cooked properly to reduce the risk of foodborne illness.
4. Alcohol consumption: Alcohol is often consumed during Easter celebrations, and excessive drinking can lead to dehydration, impaired judgment, and other health issues.
5. Stress and anxiety: Easter celebrations can be stressful for some individuals, especially those who are hosting or attending large gatherings. Stress and anxiety can have negative effects on mental and physical health.
– It is important to maintain a balanced and varied diet during Easter and to make wise food choices that are mindful of one’s overall health. Moderation is key when it comes to traditional Easter foods, chocolate and candy, and alcohol consumption. Safe food handling practices should be followed when preparing and consuming Easter foods, and individuals with pre-existing medical conditions should consult with a healthcare provider to develop a plan for managing their health during the holiday.