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Raya sakan puts health at risk, warn experts


Experts warned one may risk developing certain illnesses due to overeating during open houses. — Bernama photo

KUALA LUMPUR (May 10): Hari Raya Aidilfitri is a day of victory for Muslims across the globe after a long period of abstinence during Ramadan. In Malaysia, Raya is a truly joyous occasion filled with festive cheer and merriment.

What’s unique is the long-standing tradition of ‘open houses’ that are held during Syawal. At these open houses, various traditional Malay dishes such as ketupat, lemang, and rendang are served for guests.

Aidilfitri in Malaysia is not just celebrated a day or for a week, but the entire month. During Raya, many tend to eat excessively or ‘Raya sakan’, as if to compensate for the month-long fasting during Ramadan and this is the kind of Raya that caution is thrown to the wind. Often, many let their health take a back seat during Syawal given the multitude of open house invitations to fulfill.

Hot weather, heat stroke

Amid the Raya frenzy, be mindful that Syawal is not the ‘ticket’ to satisfying all cravings for your favourite food, especially after a month of abstaining from food and drinks during Ramadan.

This year’s Hari Raya Aidilftri takes place during the monsoon transition period, with the prolonged hot weather in several states in the northern part of Peninsular Malaysia expected to last till August.

At the same time, reports quoted the Busan, South Korea-based Apec Climate Centre as saying that the El Nino is expected to take place in June, hence causing weather conditions in Malaysia and Indonesia to be drier and hotter from June to October.

The prolonged hot weather is also linked to heatstroke, with calls on the public, especially those who are celebrating Aidilfitri to take preventive measures in the light of recent death cases affecting children.

According to the Health Ministry, two cases were recently reported in Kelantan that have led to the deaths of two children due to severe dehydration and heatstroke.

According to a nutritionist of the Integrative Pharmacogenomics Institute (iPROMISE), Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM) Assoc Prof Dr Norazmir Md Nor, based on the current situation, it is important that the people stay hydrated.

“Drink a lot of water before and after making your open house visits.  Avoid caffeinated drinks as they can lead to dehydration. Wear bright and loose clothing as this allows you to have some air between the fabric and your skin. Avoid dark or black clothing as it absorbs more heat, making the clothes warmer to wear.

“Protect yourself by wearing a hat and use a sunblocking lotion on your skin that is exposed to the sun. If your body is showing signs of overheating, look for some shade or an air-conditioned place. Avoid getting exposed to the sun for a long period of time,” he told Bernama recently.

“Parents, who bring along their kids to open houses hosted by relatives during the current hot spell, should take extra precaution for the safety of their children.

“Prepare water, juice or your children’s favourite drinks more frequently even if they are not thirsty.

“Children are more exposed to dehydration compared to adults and hence, it is crucial that they drink a lot of water throughout the day.

“Parents should also ensure that their children wear light, loose-fitting clothing that will make them feel cool during the hot weather.

“Avoid going for Raya visits when the sun is more intense during midday, so the best time is to schedule it in the early morning or in the evening and don’t go outside when the weather is extremely hot especially from 10am to 4pm,” he added.

At the same time, parents should also be able to identify that their child is having a heatstroke and among the signs are sweating, cramps and dizziness.

“If your child is showing any of these signs, seek medical treatment immediately,” he said.  Dr Norazmir also said that the best self-care menu at an open house during the current heatwave includes watermelon, strawberry, grapes, and oranges because of the high water content which is very helpful in keeping the body system cool and hydrated from inside.

Vegetables such as cucumber, tomato, and salad are  naturally high in water and help retain moisture while drinking cool liquids such as lime juice, coconut drinks and iced tea can help reduce the temperature by cooling the body internally and ensuring that the body remains hydrated.

Irresistable Raya delicacies

Among popular Raya delectables during open houses are rendang, lemang, satay and various traditional delicacies that will tempt palates.

However be warned, one may risk developing certain illnesses due to overeating during these open houses.

On rendang, a signature dish during Raya, Dr Norazmir said the traditional menu is not the ideal food to eat when one is on a diet due to its high saturated fat content, noting that the fatty ingredients found in rendang can also contribute to extra inches on the waistline and heart complications, if one is not careful.

“Similarly, while lemang is tasty, its carbohydrate and calorie content is high. Too much lemang will cause your blood sugar level and body weight to increase and put your health in jeopardy.

“Besides that, satay, which is mainly meat, should not be taken in excess as it is high in fat, especially saturated fat from the blended vegetable oil and fatty meat parts used for its preparation,” he said, adding that fatty or greasy foods may lead to problem with digestion.

Traditional delicacies which mainly use ingredients such as sugar, flour and coconut milk are high in sugar and calorie content and eating them in excess can lead to increased blood sugar level and weight gain as well as several health issues.

Besides that, several other diseases that are attributed to food contamination due to the presence of bacteria such as Salmonella and E. coli occur during festive seasons as a result of contamination during food preparation and storage.

“Not only that, during this period, diseases that are spread through respiratory infection such as cold, are easily transmissible due to the absence of social distancing.

“During Raya, many people would travel inter-state for several hours to their hometowns and travel-related illnesses such as diarrhoea and malaria are easily spread during their journey to other areas or different states,” he added.

Dr Norazmir said, ‘sakan beraya’ can expose one to  stress-related illnesses such as headache, migraine and digestion problems due to festive season stress and anxiety including, travelling, organising events and managing family responsibility.

Hence, he said, the public should take preventive steps such as adopting personal hygiene practices, maintaining healthy diet and managing stress level to reduce the risks of infection during festive seasons.

All at risk

Healthy individuals are also at risk of being infected with certain illnesses if they let their guard down during Hari Raya.

Commenting on the issue, a lecturer of the Faculty of Medicine, Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia (USIM), Assoc Prof Dr Norsham Juliana Nordin said maintaining a healthy eating habit can be quite challenging especially during festive seasons as over-indulgence can expose one to chronic diseases, often referred to as non-communicable diseases (NCD).

“Non-communicable diseases, also known as non-infectious diseases usually emerge in the middle age after long exposure to unhealthy lifestyle including imbalanced diet.   Hari Raya Aidilfitri which is usually celebrated throughout the entire month of Syawal through various gatherings or open houses can have a prolonged impact on our health.

“A simple example is the high sugar consumption. Just imagine when we visit five houses for Raya and at every house, we will be having sweet drinks, eat Raya cookies with high sugar content and various other desserts.

“Without us realising, we have exceeded the recommended daily intake of sugar, that is nine teaspoons of sugar for a male adult and six teaspoons for a female adult,” she added.

She said a NCD is generally linked to an individual’s eating habits and the condition will worsen during festive seasons due to overeating.

“Two problems emerge during festive seasons – increased blood sugar level that leads to diabetes and high cholesterol that can cause various other conditions such as heart complications and high blood pressure or hypertension,” she added.

As such, every individual is advised to be careful about what he or she eats by not eating large portions, she said, noting that eating small portions allow them to have a taste of the food varieties served.

“While the old adage ‘you are what you eat’ refers to health, it can also be indicative of one’s personality. You are not eating sensibly by piling your plate high with one type of food but rather, you should have various types of food in small quantities in your plate.

“For individuals who have been diagnosed with diabetes, they should strengthen their resolve by not consuming food or beverages that have high sugar content,” she added.

Health tips

To ensure that your body stays healthy during Raya, Dr Norsham Juliana said, several key tips can be adopted by the public such as getting used to saying ‘No’ to sweet drinks throughout the day.

“For individuals who are used to sugary (soft) drinks, make it a practice to have it on alternate days, subsequently limiting your intake of drinks containing added sugar. Make it a point to take plain water or sugar-free drinks before meal and give yourself five to 10 minutes after the drink before your meal,” she shared.

She said that to stay healthy, one should take food in small quantity that is by limiting to one or two items only from the same type.

“Eat fruits first before proceeding with other dishes. Eat and chew your food slowly and don’t rush into finishing up your food. As host for the Aidilfitri, we should serve healthy food for our guests.

“Vegetables, salad and fruits are a must at these events. Cut down on sugar, oil, coconut and use low fat beef and chicken in your cooking,” she said.

Amid our busy Raya schedule, we should find time to exercise, at least 20 minutes each day.

“It will have a positive impact on our own self. Let us all strive towards making Hari Raya Aidilfitri in Malaysia a rich cultural tradition that is committed to a healthy lifestyle.

“Let us cherish the Raya moments by staying healthy and don’t let the joyous occasion be the cause of prolonged chronic illnesses,” she added. — Bernama