Updated: Jun 9, 2021
This week Muslims around the world are observing and celebrating the start of Ramadan which is the holy month of fasting. Most Muslims fast between dawn to dusk and it is common to have two main meals; Suhoor (just before sunrise) to fuel their body and be ready for the long hours of fasting then Iftar (directly after sunset) to nourish and hydrate their body.
Ramadan is the time to practice being humble and a time for prayers and good deeds. Gathering around the Suhoor and Iftar table with family and friends whilst enjoying meals and those Ramadan special desserts is one of the common practices of celebrating Ramadan. Even though this year Ramadan will be different in terms of meeting family and friends due to Covid-19 restrictions, there will be no doubt that enjoying foods is one of the main elements in celebrating Ramadan.
Our Nutritionist, Nourhan, would love to share with you her 7 healthy tips to encourage you to fast safely, whilst enjoying healthy eating and practising the spiritual feelings of Ramadan.
Top tip No 1: Stay hydrated
Keeping hydrated is one of the most important elements for healthy fasting. Usually, during the primary week of fasting, you may experience some headaches which might be due to dehydration or cutting down your coffee. Aim to drink water and fluids throughout the time between Iftar and Suhoor. It is very important to drink frequently across the non-fasting period and make sure not to drink a lot of water at one time as it is likely you will lose that excess fluid without any benefit. Choose fluids that don't contain sugar to avoid extra calories and keep your blood sugar levels stable.
Eating hydrating foods during Iftar and Suhoor is another fantastic way to keep your body hydrated. Try adding 3-4 portions of vegetables to your Iftar and Suhoor dishes. Also, soups during Iftar and eating fruits with yogurt during Suhoor or as a sweet snack between Iftar and Suhoor is a great way for hydration. Coffee and tea are included in the national recommendations for fluid intake as long as they are unsweetened so aim to limit your sugary drinks such as sweetened coffee, tea, and fizzy drinks during Suhoor to limit the impact on dental health.
Top tip no 2: Keep your Iftar balanced
Having a variety of food groups during Iftar is very crucial to nourishing your body and will also help compensate for the stress and dehydration of fasting. Make sure to eat a range of the below foods in your Iftar:
Dates and milk: Start your Iftar with dates and milk or water to boost your energy and sugar levels and also to hydrate your body after a long gap of no fluid and food.
Wholegrains (complex carbohydrates): It is vital to provide your body with the energy it needs after long hours of fasting. Think about including one portion of basmati or brown rice, couscous, barley or lentils.
Lean protein: It is very important to feed your muscles and keep you healthy. Make sure to eat one or two portions of various sources of protein such as lean meat, fish, beans, pulses, lentils, chickpea or tofu.
Vegetables: It is recommended to have two or three portions of vegetables on Iftar meals to provide your body with most of the vitamins, minerals and fibre it needs to stay nourished and healthy.
Healthy fat: your body needs some unsaturated fats and that can come from avocados, nuts and cooking or dressing your salads with olive oil.
Be mindful while enjoying Ramadan’s dessert
Usually, a typical celebration of Ramadan will involve having a treat of Ramadan’s special desserts (Cottage cream and nuts stuffed Qatayef and/or Nutella or double cream stuffed Kunafa) after Iftar. We appreciate that Ramadan would not be typical without satisfying our appetite and enjoying these desserts with our family after Iftar. It is however very important to mind the portion of the desserts you are having to avoid eating a lot of sugary foods. This will aim to keep your weight and body healthy. Instead, over some days try to replace the typical Ramadan’s desserts with a medium portion of fruit salad topped with refreshing spices or why not try having yoghurts topped with fruits and nuts. You can find a wonderful range of healthy sweet snack ideas in Ramadan’s meal guide article.
Top Tip No 3: Listen to your body
Fasting for a long period of time will make us feel very hungry, which can lead many of us to overeat during and after Iftar. Did you know it takes 20 minutes for our brains to realise we are full? Often what happens is we start eating very quickly because we are so hungry, our brain takes a while to catch up resulting in us feeling over full. This can cause indigestion, heartburn, bloating and immediate sleepiness. If we overcome food too often then it can cause us to gain weight and cause unstable blood glucose levels. Nourhan's top tip is to be mindful, eat slower and wait for 20 minutes after finishing your plate before reaching for more. A balanced plate with protein, carbohydrate, healthy fats and vegetables will also help you feel satisfied.
Prepare your body for fasting (Suhoor meal)
On this holy month, we fast on average around 14 to 18 hours. It is no secret that it is vital to fuel our body with the energy needed to carry out our daytime activities while fasting. It is advised to incorporate high-fibre or whole grains, vegetables, protein and a source of healthy fats in your Suhoor meal. It is crucial to eat a balanced meal rich in all those elements as these food sources are slow-digesting which will steadily release energy to keep your blood sugar levels and energy stable to keep you going. Examples of slow-release energy foods are Ful Medames (fava beans), chickpeas, bran, oats, wholegrain bread and nuts. Do not forget to drink at least 2 glasses of water and eat some fruit and vegetables such as cucumber, spinach, tomatoes, watermelon or oranges to keep your body hydrated.
It is normal to feel physically exhausted during the fasting period, however, try not to be completely inactive. Staying active is incredibly important for keeping your weight and body healthy and your metabolism stable during Ramadan. If you are usually doing your workout during the morning, try to do some light to medium intensity exercise (skipping or jogging) for about 30 to 50 mins before Iftar time so that Iftar is not far to refuel your body. Simply go for a 15 mins walks or doing some stretches before Iftar is another practical way to stay active and keep your energy levels up during Ramadan. Be careful and avoid doing high-intensity exercises while fasting as that may damage your body and you may feel very tired and drained out. Practising high-intensity exercise before Iftar could lead to low blood pressure, dizziness due to low sugar levels in your blood. If you feel that it is hard to stay active while fasting, make sure to schedule your workout after having your Iftar by 2 to 3 hours or just before Suhoor time as your body is properly nourished and hydrated.
Experiment with what is best for you
Every person or family is unique in their own sleep, eating and physical activities routine. Depending on your lifestyle try to fit the above healthy tips and diet. If you find adapting to fasting is hard and wish to have personalised guidance to ease your body and to keep your energy levels stable during the fasting hours or if you wish to lose weight during Ramadan, please book Nourhan’s expertise to help you keep a healthy metabolism and energy levels in Ramadan.
In the meantime, check Nourhan’s Ramadan’s guide plan for some tips and inspirations to break your fasting and nourish your body in a healthy way.
Are there any foods I need to avoid?
After long fasting hours, it’s natural to want to treat yourself with eating indulgent food. However, it is worth mentioning that it is important to try to limit fried, sugary foods and fizzy drinks. Aim to limit salty foods like processed meat, olives, salty snacks especially on the Suhoor meal to avoid feeling thirsty during your fasting hours. Fats or sugar-rich foods can result in slowing down your metabolism, which as a result can cause weight gain, and also can lead to digestive discomfort.
Celebrate and be healthy!
Ramadan is not only a religious and spiritual month but also it is a time for celebration with families and friends gathering around the dining table to break their fasts and enjoying Ramadan’s desserts. While considering the above simple modifications you will be able to also enjoy a positively and healthily Ramadan by avoiding overeating on Iftar and limiting fried and indulgent meals to keep your body, weight and metabolism healthy and avoid any digestive discomfort. Nourhan specialises in family nutrition and personalised healthy eating advice. She is passionate about bringing her experience working in the food industry together with her nutrition knowledge to support individuals to meet their weight and health goals. Please visit Nourhan's profile to request Nourhan's expertise.