Food, Health

How are you planning to survive Ramadan?

As the holy month of Ramadan moves backwards through the solar calendar, it is only a few weeks away, and with the heat of the summer and with the long days and very short nights in some places around the world, I get a sense that some of you are feeling a bit apprehensive. Are you one of them?

Overeating can not only harm the body but also interferes with a person’s spiritual growth during the month.

Ramadan is a month where we as believers learn to exercise self-control. Ramadan is not only about abstaining from food and drink, but we need to control our other senses too. Fasting is pointless if all you do is go hungry in the day and over-indulge in the evening. It should act as a catalyst to improve who you are and how you live your life.

Fasting in Ramadan can improve a person’s health both spiritually and physically if the correct diet is followed. The governing factors are how you behave whilst you are fasting and what you consume when you open your fast. Overeating can not only harm the body but also interferes with a person’s spiritual growth during the month.

In order to show self-control we need to ensure that our diet is appropriate and we don’t over eat both at Iftar time (time of breaking fast) and Suhoor time (the light meal generally eaten before Fajr). By over-eating we are going against the spirit of Ramadan.

“The Children of Adam fill no vessel worse then their stomach. Sufficient for him is a few morsels to keep his back straight. If he must eat more, then a third should be for his food, a third for his drink and a third left for air”

Prophet Muhammad (Sunnah al-Tirmidhi)

A few weeks before the new moon has been sighted, it’s quite customary to start stocking up for Ramadan. All the major supermarkets have their “Ramadan Kareem” signs displayed and are providing special offers for basic staple foods that they believe we need. Mothers and wives have probably already started making delicious foods and are filling their freezers so that their family have plenty of choice. This all means we end up consuming more in this month than in any other month of the year.

Even though we will be fasting approximately 18-19 hours, we won’t need 3 square meals. Our bodies have an amazing inbuilt regulatory mechanism that reduces our metabolic rate and our body naturally stores its fat reserves, so there really isn’t any reason to over-eat.

You just don’t need it.

If you follow the simple principle of ‘calories in vs calories out’ to maintain your weight for the rest of the year, why do we use a different formula in Ramadan? Instead we increase our calories as we feel sorry for ourselves and at the same time we slow down our movements so this will naturally lead to weight gain, rather than the more desirable effect of weight loss.

So what can we do to have a healthier Ramadan and not starve?

Before we jump into what to eat and what to avoid let’s look at the Quran and see what it tells us about eating, as Islam is a code of life and not something we just practice on special days. The tenets of Islam are derived from the Quran and the authentic traditions of Prophet Mohammed (pbuh). A large part of living our lives according to our Creator’s instructions is implementing a suitable diet.

He tells us in the Holy Quran:

“Eat of the good things We have provided for you” (Quran 2:172)

“Eat of what is lawful and wholesome on the earth” (Quran 2:168)

Healthy eating not only affects our physical wellbeing but plays a large role on our spiritual well-being. Healthy eating satisfies our hunger and gives our spiritual side a boost. Ayat 168 quoted above from Surah Bakarah goes on to say “…and do not follow the footsteps of Satan. Indeed he is to you a clear enemy”. So we are told to eat foods that are lawful and wholesome and not to follow in Satan’s footstep.

Who would have thought that eating would lead to something as grave as being a follower of Satan?

If we become obsessed with food during Ramadan or we over-indulge, we become physically weak and we get distracted from the primary purpose of serving God. But this doesn’t mean we should only focus on the spiritual aspect. If we neglect our health and feeding our body with nutritious food, illness or injury will occur which will result in us missing our fasts and being unable to carry out our obligations.

I still don’t understand why during the 11 months of the year we eat in a certain way and why in Ramadan all the fried food comes out. So many of us look forward to losing a few pounds, but instead we get disappointed that it doesn’t work that way!

What to eat to break your fast

Your nutrition should be heavily based on eating ‘real’ food that isn’t heavily processed or deep fried.

The most traditional thing we have is dates. They may be small but they are packed full of energy and a chemical that is excellent for brain function, so keep up this tradition. I normally take a greens drink. Not only is it hydrating but my system is being flooded with nutrients, which my body is calling out for. My body doesn’t need calories it needs nutrients.

When you sit down to break your fast think about the nutrients that your body needs. So ideally you should consume a good source of protein, carbohydrates and healthy fats.

Protein – a good source would be animal protein such as chicken, lamb, beef or fish

Carbohydrates – rice, potatoes or other root vegetables and a good source of mixed vegetables. Aim for 2-3 different types of vegetables to ensure you get a good range. You may feel that eating vegetables is like eating empty calories and they won’t sustain you, but they are full of vitamins and minerals and that’s exactly what your body needs.

Fats – olive oil drizzled on your salad, fresh olives, avocados all these are excellent sources to support our hormones, nervous system, brain function, skin, hair and nails. Another good source is oily fish such as mackerel, salmon or tuna, although many people don’t like to eat fish in Ramadan as it makes them thirsty.

The focus should be on fresh foods that are natural and prepared in a healthy manner. There is always the temptation of sweets, fried foods and sugary drinks. These are ok in moderation, but once you start it is difficult to stop. I suggest you leave these for Eid.

What to eat at Suhoor (early morning meal)

As there is so little time between breaking one fast and starting another, the dilemma exists whether it’s worth the disruption to your sleep, in order to have an early breakfast. You can follow these strategies:

  1. Don’t eat. Have some fluids, the greens drink I suggested earlier would be ideal.
  2. Have a greens drink and a small meal high in protein and fats with some slow releasing carbohydrates. Examples- porridge with some chia seeds and fruit; bananas with peanut butter and seeds, homemade granola with Greek yoghurt. Or even some eggs.

green drink healthy ramadhan

Eating something very sugary could cause blood sugar levels to rise then fall quickly leading to lethargy and increased appetite.

That’s it. Pretty simple.

Your nutrition should be heavily based on eating ‘real’ food that isn’t heavily processed or deep fried.

This Ramadan like the previous two I am running a Holistic Ramadan program. The focus this year is all around what we can learn from Quran and hadith on foods and eating habits that we can put into practice in Ramadan and maintain for the rest of the year. So if you want to be healthy, instead of going on yet another diet why don’t you focus on the teachings of our Prophet and Inshallah it will improve both your spiritual and physical health

Check out my website here.

My name is Soraya Janmohamed, a Muslim Personal Trainer from North West London who is passionate about making a difference to Muslim Women and their families. I know personally how hard it can be to make changes in your life with work, children and home commitments.

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