The holy month of Ramadhan is starting soon, and we’ll all be fasting long hours and bearing the summer heat as we go upon our daily routines. One of the many things that we focus on during the month of Ramadhan is what we are going to eat in the next 30 days – our diet. We often prepare long spreads of many different types of dishes, followed by desserts, tea, fruits, and it continues to the early hours of the morning until we start our fast again. But, with more and more people becoming aware of the importance of a healthy diet, especially in terms of energy levels during the day, a lot of people might ask: what foods are best to break our fast on? Or, how do we keep our energy levels up? How do I not over-eat? What type of diet is best?
It is important to keep in mind that each of our bodies is different and that no one size fits all. So listen to what your body needs and give it its much-needed detox. Here are some of my top nutrition tips to keep in mind during this month:
1. Don’t overeat at Iftar time
As easy as it is to grab everything on the dinner table, try and eat small portions over the few hours between Iftar and Suhoor time, rather than one big meal. Start with a few dates and some water, and then maybe some soup and salad, slowly followed by a well-balanced meal. The whole point of fasting is to give your over-working body a break, so easy on those burgers and chips! With your digestive system not working during the day, it is important to wake it up slowly at Iftar, rather than stuffing it all of a sudden. This month is all about self-control, so try and develop this habit during the 30 days. Some people might even want to try and have a bigger meal at suhoor, rather than at iftar.
2. Keep hydrated. Drink as much water as you can
Drink slowly and regularly during the 5-hour window so the body can retain as much of it as possible. Try making freshly blended juices or smoothies at home too if you like. A mix of watermelon, ice and water is a simple and delicious drink to whizz in your blender, and it will keep you cool and hydrated. You can also hydrate your body by eating fruits and vegetables with a high water content like oranges, pears, tomatoes, lettuce and cucumbers.
3. Eat something for suhoor
The Prophet recommended it, so it is sure to have benefits. If you only have time and space for 1 meal because you have work or school early next morning and have to get to bed, at least have fruits or vegetables and drink some water, two glasses preferably. If you are the type that sleeps and wakes up for suhoor, eat something that will keep you full for longer and releases energy slowly (See tip number 5). Dates are great to have during suhoor – they provide a lot of energy and can keep us going for a long time.
4. Avoid eating fried foods
I know that will be hard for some, especially getting rid of those spicy samosas! Fried foods don’t usually have high energy levels and will cause you to feel heavy and lazy. Some people don’t eat fried foods during the whole year – but as soon as the month of Ramadhan gets closer, all those foods are stacked again in our freezers! Why introduce an unhealthy habit during the month of Ramadhan, when it is a month of trying to get rid of bad habits? Replace fried foods with healthy fats like oily fish, avoids, olives, cheese, and nuts – it’s known to keep you fuller for longer. (Another tip, avoid salty nuts as they may make you thirsty.)
5. Choose food options that release energy slowly throughout the day and over a longer period of time
Wholegrain or whole-wheat options of carbohydrates are an example, or low GI foods. Swapping cornflakes with porridge, or replacing white bread with multi-grain or multi-seed bread are some examples of carbohydrates swaps that release energy slowly. Protein is also known to provide you with energy and reduce hunger. For all you carnivores, meat is not the only source of protein. Eggs, yoghurts, beans, chia seeds, soy, etc., are all sources of protein. (Word of advice please: don’t have a steak at 2 am because you feel you have to get your dose of protein). For suhoor, you could have multi-grain bread with eggs and beans, this will provide you with the carbohydrates and proteins that you need. (Also add fruits and vegetables in there too. UK recommendation is a minimum of 5 different portions of fruits and vegetable every day).
6. Fibre. Fibre. Fibre.
Especially for suhoor, fiber may be helpful, as it keeps you fuller for longer. Oats, lentils, and almost all fruits and vegetables including raspberries, apples, Brussel sprouts, and broccoli have fibre. So be imaginative with your soups, salads and your breakfasts! Be creative. Eating healthy doesn’t have to be boring or bland, you can easily get a variety of flavours, colours, nutrients by adding certain ingredients to your recipes or by trying out new ones completely.
7. For those of us who are worried about our morning caffeine fix…
Try and wean yourself off the caffeine slowly. Reduce the number of caffeinated drinks you have per day, and then per week. Another option could be to start fasting a few days before the month actually begins, so your body gets used to the new energy levels and no caffeine. Our bodies are very clever and will adapt quite quickly… but you need to give them a few days.
8. For the sweet tooths, portion control is key
Control the amount you are having. Most people think it’s easy to lose weight during the month, but some people actually gain weight due to lower activity levels and higher intake. It’s very easy to fall in the latter group. Our bodies use a lot of energy for digestion, so technically we have more energy to use when our body is not using it for digestion! Use that energy wisely. Have one piece of baklava for example, as opposed to the whole plate! Or, you might want to adapt some recipes at home by swapping flour with ground almonds, or sugar with natural sweetener. This way you can also increase the fibre content and use real unprocessed ingredients.
If you are on any medication or have any vitamin deficiencies, make sure that you keep up with taking your tablets and medication as to not make them worse.
Remember, the aim of this holy month isn’t about how much we can eat in a short amount time. It’s about reflecting on our habits and actions and reassessing them – trying to get rid of the unhealthy ones and developing better ones. So try and achieve some balance with your meals (water, fruits and vegetables, fibre, protein, healthy fats, whole grain carbohydrates). Aim to cook from scratch, use whole unprocessed ingredients and don’t eat out at restaurants and fast food places often.
This all may also help your spirituality levels, and you’d be surprised how fast our bodies adapt and get used to this new energy level. But we have to feed our bodies the right foods because a healthy body leads to a healthy mind which will help our worship during this holy month. It is also important to have the right support from family and friends. So if you do try and adopt some of these eating habits, then explain it to your friends and family. Get them on board too, and help motivate each other. Some people might consider weekly or daily meal plans or writing a shopping list, this will help you become more aware of your current habits and where you can improve. Set some simple goals as a family or as friends before the start of the month and see how many you can achieve together. A small change and a first step can go a long way in terms of achieving a long-term impact and seeing long-term benefits.
Written by Amina Taki