Muslims fast from sunsrise to sunset once a year for a 30 day long run. Recently “the west” seems to have woken up to the powers of fasting on health and its very trendy to practice Intermittent Fasting. Well, if you are a Muslim reading this you’ll be proud to know we’ve been quietly getting on with it all along! Guidance comes from a greater source than western science!! Unfortunately though, as some Muslims have become more affluent, less active and busier, the benefits of the fasting period are significantly reduced due to overindulgence.
During the summer months in the northern hemisphere the fasts can be 18-20 hours long. No different from an 18:6 Intermittant fast! The guidance for diet in Ramadan is no different from a generally healthy diet any other time of the year but the key is to start planning well before Ramadan commences. You can find some tips on planning here
However,some tips specifically to reduce the risk of complications during fasting can be found below. The most common complications of fasting are
- Hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar)
Please consult a doctor or healthcare professional if you have any chronic conditions 4-8 weeks BEFORE Ramadan begins for more specific advice.
The advice below is a general guildline for most healthy adults. Ramadan is not the time to make huge and radical changes to your diet. The sleep disruprution in itself makes it challenging enough so any changes should be more like tweaks to make your usual diet healthier. Again, to re-emphisise, this process of tweaking should start a good 4-6 weeks before ramadan begins. Whatever diet you have the “rules” below will help make it a healthier Ramadan for you.
|Rule 1: Water, water everywhere….
HYDRATE to ward off headaches, constipation and prevent overeating and weight gain.Drink around 3.5% of your weight inkg in water during the eating window, spread out evenly. If you dont like water, infuse with fresh fruits like stawberries for a lovely light flavour.
The traditional iftaari (break-fast) of dates and water is in fact pretty much perfect way of hydrating with the dates providing the electrolytes needed to revive and energise the body.
You can “eat your water” too with hydrating foods: watermelon, cucumber, grapes, lettuce, tomatoes, spinach, peppers,celery, melon etc which are high in nutrients and low in calories!Always try to pick raw, local and seasonal fruits. Organic if your pocket can afford it.
Avoid diuretics like tea, coffee and fizzy drinks which increase dehydration and mineral loss. Salty foods, pickles, sauces and condiments can further dehydrate you making your thirst worse and your fast harder.
|Rule 2: Veg Out
In order to get a good supply of nutrients we need to eat enough non-starchy vegetables, at around 450g a day! In Ramadan that can be hard with only 2 meals quite close to each other. However, try and incorporate vegetables in your Suhoor, eg, Omelette with spinach, peas and red pepper or Scrambled eggs with roasted veg Or whatever veg you like. Fill at least 50% of your plate with lots of steamed or lightly boiled vegetables to reduce vitamin and mineral deficiencies and prevent constipation and weight gain
Again, choose organic if possible and local too.
|Rule 3: Protein Priority
Ensure you have protein with each meal, to maintain muscle mass and keep you feeling full for longer: meat, fish, eggs, cottage cheese, cheese, green vegetables, kidney beans, lentils, nuts and seeds, full fat milk and yoghurt. Protein is essential to provide nutrients to keep us strong and healthy. Neglect this at your peril!
Choose the best meat you can afford: organic, pasture-fed, local, from the butchers not from the supermarket, unprocessed. Cook it yourself. However if you cannot do or afford this then buy the best you can. We often obsess about halal but as Muslims it is vital that we source our meat ethically. Animal welfare is extremely important so buy the best you can, but perhaps less often to make it affordable.
|Rule 4:Have a “healthy-fat diet”
Vegetable oil, sunflower oil, in fact any seed oil should be totally avoided for your health at ALL times. These oils are highly unstable when heated and produce toxic byproducts. Do yourself and your heart and brain a favour and eliminate them as much as possible from your diet.
Cook with ghee, butter, extra virgin olive oil (its safe to cook with), coconut oil, tallow,duck fat. Basicallly oils and fats high in saturated fats or mono-unsaturated fats are better to cook with.
Other good fats to incorporate are nuts, avocado, fish, eggs, meat,cheese .
Avoid deep fried foods, ready meals, processed baked goods, takeaways and hydrogenated fats.
|Rule5: Good Carb, Bad Carb
If you are low carb, great! Having a Low Carb High Fat diet actually makes fasting easier as you are less likely to experience cravings and rollercoaster blood sugar levels.
If you do not want to limit your carbs to less than 100g a day (thats a moderate carb diet) then be careful of your carb choices.
Swap refined and heavily processed foods (bread, pasta, white rice, potatoes) with slow releasing complex carbohydrates like brown or basmati rice, lentils, semolina, millet, bran,sweet potatoes, porridge oats, chickpeas, beans, vegetables, nuts. etc which keep blood sugar levels more stable for longer and reduce the risk of hypoglycaemia.
Have cakes, sweet foods, biscuits, white flour products for a special treat only and rarely too. High fibre foods (oats, fruit,nuts,seeds,beans, lentils and veg, bran,) will help to reduce likelihood of constipation.
|Rule 6:Avoid the Iftaar Binge!
Eat light! Dates and water give a hydrating, nutritional burst of energy, then a healthy moderate meal 15/20mins later will reduce likelihood of indigestion, bloating and heartburn and weight gain
Try not to be wasteful. Just prepare what you need. Try not to be focussing on complicated, elaborate meals. Stick to simple meals that are nourishing and easy to prepare.
You can make a real difference to your experience of fasting by good portion control and avoiding sugar-laden, high-seed oil, processed foods as much as possible. Try to be the first to leave the table to avoid temptation to overeat.
Inshallah, I hope this will give you a good basis to make informed choices about your Ramadan meals. The basic message is EAT REAL FOOD, simple and nutritious, natural and well sourced.
I have listed some of my favourite meals to give you some more inspiration.
Boiled eggs, halloumi sticks and green veg
2-3 egg Omlette with spinach, red onion,red pepper and peas
Scrambled eggs, avocado , grilled paprika and garlic veg
Cheesy omlette with mushrooms and turkey rashers.
Full fat greek yoghurt and berries, pistachio nuts, almond flakes, seeds. Teaspoon almond butter.
Porridge , salty of course (I’m scottish!)
Fried eggs, sausages, mushrooms
paratha and fried egg or yoghurt
Stir fry chicken/lamb/beef and veg
Salmon and brocolli/sprouts and cauliflower
Chicken or lamb curry with a small portion of brown rice or wholemeal roti
Soup – there are so many choices!
Channa masala / Kidney bean curry/ veg lasagna/ mixed veg curry/ dhal . small portion of your fav carbs (rice/roti/poato)
Any meat/fish with a big veg salad
Extra resources A very informative resource written by Communities in Action and funded by the DOH, with many tips and lots or information can be found here. Health Professionals can print off or direct patients to it.
A detailed post on physical activity in Ramadan can be found here