Before delving into the dos & don’ts of Ramadan diet habits, let us first ground ourselves in the different categories of food content we come across.
1. Complex carbohydrates: starchy foods which release energy slowly throughout the day, as they take longer to digest and absorb into our bloodstream. This helps to keep us active through the day. These include potatoes, wheat, rice, couscous, grains, oats, cereals, fruits, and many vegetables. Wholemeal or wholegrain variations are the best, as they contain a good amount of fibre too. These foods are a key foundation to a balanced diet. Simple sugars: high sugar content foods which rapidly absorb into your bloodstream. They can be used to release instant energy when we are exercising or active. However, when taken in excess they remain mostly unused and are subsequently stored as fats in the body. High amounts of sugar in the blood can cause us to become less sensitive to the insulin our body produces, thus increasing our diabetes risk. Simple sugars are also absorbed by bacteria in the mouth which release substances harmful to teeth. Examples include: sweets (chocolate, Indian sweets), cakes, desserts, concentrated fruit juices, energy drinks, many ‘low-fat’ varieties which compensate on taste by adding plenty of sugar!
2. Protein: these form the building blocks of our body, involved with growth and repair. Studies have also linked dietary proteins to increased satiety, keeping hunger at bay. Examples include meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products, nuts, beans, seeds.
3. Fats: in small amounts, they are important to many bodily functions and are a source of energy. An excess of saturated fats however increase harmful cholesterol levels, contributing to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. Obesity is also associated with some cancers and diabetes. Examples include: animal fats (oils, red meat, poultry skin), full fat milk, cream, cheese, butter, ghee, cakes. Unsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, on the other hand help lower harmful cholesterol when taken in moderation. They include: oily fish, olive oil, vegetable oils, avocados, peanuts.
4. Fibre: important in maintaining a healthy digestive system. They add bulk to our food and help us feel less hungry for longer. They are found in vegetables, fruit, Wholemeal grains, cereals. Where possible, eat vegetables and fruit with their skin, more fibre to your diet!
6. Vitamins and minerals: we need these in small amounts to keep healthy and they serve a huge number of functions in our body. Easily found in a combination of fruits, vegetables and meat/poultry.
The tips for a healthy, and productive Ramadan are as follow:
1. Eat Suhur
The Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, highly recommend eating this pre-dawn meal before a day of fasting. While you may want to pass to catch some more sleep, remember that you can always take a catnap while you’re fasting, but you won’t be able to eat or drink. To make it easier, set out utensils and dry food on the table before going to bed so you can quickly eat and go back to sleep or continue your acts of ibaadah. The prophet (PBUH) was reported to have said “Tasaharu, fa ina fii sahuri barakatan” Eat sahoor, For there is blessing in every sahoor.
2. Limit fat intake
That’s right, limit it, don’t cut it out. Otherwise, you’ll have to get rid of what’s considered “traditional” Iftar food in most Muslim cultures. If you’re not sure what kind of food is being referred to, think fried, greasy and/or super sweet. Bringing it to Yoruba culture, Foods like egusi soup, fried plantain and or beef, excess oil (groundnut oil especially) in the usual moimoi, and other recipes can be replaced with, ewedu sprinkled with little egusi if need be, boiled plantain and meat, fish, e.t.c.
3. Follow the Prophet’s golden rule of one-third
This especially needs to be said in Ramadan. We should strive to have no more than one-third food, one-third liquid and one-third air in our stomachs when eating.
4. Encourage dip-dunking
Fruits and vegetables get left to the wayside during regular days, let alone at Iftar time. But you can whip out those carrot sticks if you’ve got some tasty dips to eat them with. In simple terms, you can juice your fruits and veggies into fresh fruit juice, or make smoothie from them. That way, you get enough nutrients you need, without having to chew the fruits anyway
5. Walk after Iftar
Before you fall over from exhaustion after Iftar and dinner, take a short walk around the block or just around your building. The change of environment and exposure to fresh air may just wake you up in time for other activities such as tarawih. However, Physical exercise immediately after iftār may not be a good idea, as our blood flow is being directed to our digestive system at that time. So, give a little time between iftar and your walk.
6. Take a short afternoon nap
Experts say you don’t need more than a 15-minute siesta to really refresh you. During lunch hour, find a quiet spot, set the alarm on your watch/cell phone and nap. Planning rest time will allow us to make the most of our time in Ramaḍān. Even sleep can be rewarded if intended to recuperate in preparation for more ʿibādah!
7. Have a light and simple (iftar) meal
You don’t need to break your fast with a huge feast -Ramadan is not about over indulgence. The iftar meal isn’t supposed to make up those hours you spent without food. The meal should be simple and should not differ too much from our everyday meal.
Break your fast with dates which contain natural sugars, a quick energy source your body needs after fasting. Start with simple, light foods such as dates, water, fruits, Ogi,(akamu) before moving on to your main meal.
8. Base your meals on complex carbohydrates and fibre rich foods
The suhoor and iftar meal varies between different cultures but try to make sure that the foods you eat are based on complex carbohydrates and high fibre foods. These foods will help to release energy slowly during the long hours of fasting and hopefully make you feel fuller for longer. Complex carbohydrate foods and fibre rich foods are as listed above. During iftar,, endeavour to have a well-balanced meal containing all of the food groups mentioned above.
9. Avoid processed foods
Although processed foods can be convenient, they usually contain high levels of fat, salt and sugar, everything we need to be limiting in our diet. So avoid snacking on junk foods such as chips, sweets, chocolate during Ramadan.
Food to avoid
• Deep fried foods such as samosas, fried dumplings, fried chicken
• High sugar and high fat foods/drinks such as cakes, biscuits, chocolates, sweetened fizzy drinks, syrup drinks and sweets.
• High fat cooked food such as pastries.
Cut down on your sugar intake. Many packaged foods and drinks contain high amounts of sugar. Swap your sugary breakfast cereal for plain porridge or whole-wheat cereals with no added sugar. Swap sweets or chocolates with fruit or dried fruit such as dates. If you can’t resist, then eat a small portion.
10. Cut down on salt
If you are used to adding salt during cooking, try to gradually reduce the amount you add and use herbs and spices instead to flavour foods. Most of our salt intake comes from processed foods so remember to check the labels when out shopping and choose lower salt versions. Avoid salty snacks as pickles, salted nuts, Tinko, Eran oniyo, e.t.c.
11. Avoid caffeine
Caffeine is found in tea, coffee, chocolate and cola drinks and causes you to lose water in the day faster. Try to avoid drinking tea or coffee during Ramadan. If you are a regular drinker, try to reduce your intake by cutting out caffeinated drinks such as coke, teem, Pepsi, etc. at suhoor time.
12. Drink plenty of water
This is the obvious one that is sometimes forgotten. It is important to drink plenty of water to help with rehydration after the long day of fasting. Try to drink as many glasses of water as you can throughout the night and at suhoor time. Isotonic drinks or natural juice drinks when breaking the fast are a goyod source of minerals, salts, and vitamins. After iftār, stay well hydrated by taking regular sips of water every half hour, or a cup full or more every hour.
13. Get cooking – use healthy cooking methods
It is best you make your meals by cooking from scratch. It’s also a great way to share food dishes in Ramadan with your friends, family and neighbours. (To get enough reward). To make your meals healthier, adapt your cooking methods by grilling, baking or steaming which helps to retain the flavour of foods especially for fish and meats.
14. Plan your meals
When it comes to eating well, meal planning is one of the easiest things you can do to set yourself up for success. Plan your meals ahead of time and avoid shopping on an empty stomach – which can result in you buying the energy dense foods that are high in fat, salt and sugar.
15. Oral Hygeine
The ḥadīth regarding the breath of the fasting person does not justify poor dental hygiene. Brushing, flossing before tarawīḥ is advised, for the sake of fellow worshippers too! Excessive sugary snacks and drinks are also harmful for teeth.
16. General Health
If you are taking any regular medication, have any health conditions, are pregnant or breastfeeding, it is very important to consult with your first before planning your fasts. Please make sure you encourage family members to do the same.
May Allah make us reach Ramadan in good health (Aamin)
Compiled by: Nrs Qasim A.T (Registered Nurse)
Credit: Saadia Noorani and Kawther Hashem (Registered Nutritionist)