Islamabad, Asharq Al-Awsat—Pakistani families are becoming increasingly health conscious during the month of Ramadan and have began to avoid oily and fatty foods amid growing awareness of expanding waistlines and coronary illnesses.
Growing numbers of cases of heart disease and obesity in Pakistan has prompted families in urban areas to adopt austerity measures in planning for the holy month, says Dr Aliya Ahmed, an Islamabad-based physician and nutritionist.
These concerns are strongly reflected in eating and shopping habits in the days leading up to Ramadan, when families stockpile food for the holy month.
Ayesha Naveed, who is a kindergarten teacher in Lahore, told Asharq Al-Awsat that she had two things in mind in deciding to do most of her shopping before the start of the holy month: first she feared that the cost of essential food items would undergo a further price hike as demand increased and secondly she wanted to avoid the hassle of going to the market during the day while fasting.
However, this year such concerns have become secondary: “My foremost concerns is undoubtedly the health of my family. We have decided to avoid oily and fatty food during the Iftar,” Mrs. Naveed told Asharq Al-Awsat.
Traditionally, foods rich in fats and oils are a staple of Pakistani dining, particularly during the Islamic holy month. Iftar meals are usually high in fat content, often fried and made with refined flour. However Pakistani dietary habits are beginning to change, especially in the urban areas thanks to the increased awareness that oily and fatty foods are one of the primary causes of heart disease.
“I have purchased only a small pack of cooking oil for essential cooking…and my husband and I have decided to completely avoid traditional Pakistani foods that had been the staple of our diet during previous Ramadans,” said Mrs. Naveed.
This change in eating habits has brought with it a positive impact on household budgets. “I have bought PKR 20,000 (USD 200) of groceries for the month of Ramadan, which is substantially less than my budget in previous years,” she said.
Perveen Farooq, a housewife from Islamabad, says her family began avoiding avoiding fatty and oily foods more than five years ago.
Her husband, Farooq Aslam, told Asharq Al-Awsat that they made this decision after the family realized that instead of becoming slimmer during Ramadan, family members were actually gaining weight despite fasting all day, primarily due to the rich content of their Iftar meal.
“This year we have decided to focus on consuming fruits and liquid during Iftar,” says Mrs. Farooq.
She told Asharq Al-Awsat: “We have consulted our family doctor, and he told us that both the elderly and children need to drink a lot of liquids during and after Iftar to avoid being affected by the hot summer during the fast.”
This medical advice is reflected in the family’s Ramadan purchases: “The main item that we have purchased is soft drinks,” she said.
However, price fluctuations in some foods threaten to wipe out any savings that families make by changing their diets.
“I don’t feel any positive impact on my budget” says Mrs. Farooq. “This is because the second most important item on our menu during Iftar is fruit, which is becoming more and more expensive with each passing day,” she added.
In Rawalpindi, Islamabad, and other Pakistani cities fruit is being sold at exorbitant prices since supplies from the fruit producing areas of Swat have been repeatedly interrupted by successive military operations in Swat valley.
“I have decided to purchase fruit on a day-to-day basis…I think we will have to restrict our daily purchase of fruit to PKR 500 [USD 5.00],” said Mrs. Farooq.