Ramadan is the 9th month in the Islamic calendar during which healthy Muslims across the globe fast, abstaining from food and fluids, between sunlight hours. The fast is not simply about denying your body sustenance; Muslims are encouraged to reflect and work on their spiritual and personal growth. For me, Ramadan is always a time when I try to detach myself away from activities that might normally distract me from my personal goals. I try to spend more time focusing on my relationship with God as well as family and friends.
With Ramadan starting around 15th May this year (depending on moon sightings), the fasts can be up to 18 hours in length in the UK. Many will eat suhoor, the meal before sunrise, around 3am and will break their fasts at 9pm. This is a considerably long time to be without food or water. Some studies looking at the effect of Ramadan on health have found weight loss and a reduction in BMI is seen in those fasting throughout the month. A reduction in cholesterol and increase in high density lipids, the “good” fats, is another benefit of fasting that has been recognised in some. However, dehydration is something that has also be noted, with many failing to drink enough during the short period in which food and water consumption is allowed.
How to be healthy in Ramadan is a question I have been asked often as both a doctor and personal trainer. This year, I will be posting a daily recipe on my YouTube channel to help you find the best nutritious, easy meal ideas this Ramadan. I find that Ramadan is one of the best times to become health conscious and eliminate potential harmful health behaviours, such as a smoking and eating excessive amounts of junk food, because you simply are not able to do so. Leading a healthier lifestyle during Ramadan will help maintain physical well being, which in turn allows those who wish to take part in religious activities to boost their spiritual development to have enough energy to do so.
1. Drink plenty
Ensure you are drinking plenty of water in the hours when you can eat. If you struggle with plain water, try adding in some lemon or other fruit of your choice to naturally change the taste. Avoid supermarket bought flavoured water as these can sometimes have added sugars or sweeteners. Take a bottle of water with you during the night prayers to help you stay on track with drinking.
2. Eat balanced meals
The best way to get all the nutrition you need from your meals is to eat a balanced diet throughout Ramadan. Carbohydrates, proteins and healthy fats are all needed, just like they are at every other point of the year. Opt for complex carbohydrates, such as oats, rice, wholegrain products and vegetables, as these will slowly release energy throughout the day. Protein can be found from beans, eggs, legumes, fish and meat; try to incorporate these into your meals to help you get your daily allowance. Including a good amount of vegetables and fruits will also help you consume the vitamins and minerals you need.
3. Have the suhoor meal
The suhoor or pre-dawn meal is the last time you can eat prior to the long fast commencing. Try to make it a habit to eat something at this time as otherwise you run the risk of unnecessarily elongating the fast. Having a slice of toast with an omelette, a bowl of protein oats or perhaps a smoothie made with oats, fruit and nuts are some simple yet nutritious examples of what you can easily put together to eat.
4. Eat hydrating foods
Another way to keep hydrated is to consume foods that have a high water content. Watermelon, strawberries, grapefruit and pineapple are examples of fruits with 80-90% water content. Putting a fruit bowl together with some nuts and Greek yogurt can make a great healthy dessert for those with a sweet tooth, while helping to keep you as hydrated as possible. Mixing up a smoothie is another great way to add fruits into your diet.
5. Avoid takeaways
It can very convenient to grab a takeaway when you are fasting however a lot of these types of foods can be high in salt, fried and unlikely to give you the nutritious meals you need. Excessive salt consumption will also cause further dehydration, leaving you feeling drained and tired in the day.
Disclaimer: The content of this post is not intended to be for medical advice. Please consult with your doctor regarding fasting or consuming any particular foods before doing so.