The holy month of Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic Calendar and a time when many Muslims across the world during daylight hours fast for 29-30 days. The Islamic calendar is lunar and so Ramadan falls at a slightly earlier time in the year each new year. Muslims taking part in Ramadan do not eat or drink anything during daylight hours, eating one meal (the ‘suhoor’ or ‘sehri’) just before dawn and another (‘the iftar’) after sunset.
The end of Ramadan is marked by ‘Eid-ul-fitr’, the festival of breaking of the fast. A special celebratory meal is eaten during the festival, the first daytime meal of the month. While fasting is obligatory for all Muslims (not children), there are exemptions for those who are ill or who’s health could be affected by fasting for example, pregnant or breastfeeding women and people with diabetes.
How does fasting affect the body?
During fasting, meal schedules, fluid intake, and sleep and wake times are altered. This causes physiological, biochemical and metabolic changes in the body. The adaptability to these changes depends on the types and quantity of foods and drinks that are consumed during the month. Initially individuals may experience headaches, dizziness, and nausea because they are sleeping less and taking in less caffeine. In the second week the body is used to the changes and the digestive system can rest. The size of the stomach changes and the amount of food a person can eat at each meal also decreases.
During Ramadan, as at any other time, a person should eat a balanced diet. A balanced meal approach consisting of lean proteins, whole grain starches, vegetables, fruits, and heart healthy fats will allow individuals to experience a reduction in body weight, body fat, blood pressure and anxiety levels. A reduction in inflammation and blood lipid levels is good for heart health. A balanced diet is a healthy, non-pharmacological way of minimising risk factors such as indigestion, dehydration and constipation but still improving health.
Why is it Important to consider what foods and drinks you start and break
you fast with?
The Ramadan cornerstone is to practise mindfulness, discipline, and control. It is a great time to reset and learn better nutrition habits. The eating and drinking window in the day is small. Eating slowly, and reading hunger and fullness cues, are important to prevent discomfort. Meals can also be broken up into two smaller evening meals instead of one big meal.
Huge meals that are high in fat and sugar can lead to health issues such as high blood pressure, indigestion, nausea, and constipation or aggravate existing problems. Focus on healthier cooking methods such as grilling, baking, air frying or stewing instead of deep fat frying and oily meals. Oily
meals cause indigestion, sluggishness, fatigue, and weight gain. Hydrating well will prevent headaches, urinary tract infections and dizziness. Focus on fluids that are low in sugar, avoid fizzy drinks and caffeine, and opt for water or smaller portions of fruit juice.
What to eat and drink at Iftar and Suhoor?
Drink plenty of fluids, choose foods to make sure you are well hydrated for the day ahead and go for starchy foods for energy, choose high fiber or whole grain varieties where possible as they can help you feeling fuller and can aid in digestion and prevent bouts of constipation. Below are some examples for Suhoor:
High fiber breakfast cereals - – these provide plenty of fibre and are often fortified with vitamins and minerals, providing extra nutrients. Because they are consumed with milk, you also get fluid and nutrients like calcium, iodine, and b vitamins from the milk.•
Yogurt – this can be a good food to include at suhoor as it provides nutrients like protein, calcium, iodine and B vitamins and contains fluid.•
You could combine it with cereal and fruit as in the examples above.
Oats - these are wholegrains, and you could choose porridge, which will also provide fluids as it’s made with milk or water, muesli with milk or yogurt or overnight oats. You could experiment with fresh or dried fruit, nuts or seeds as toppings•
Have wholegrains in the form of wheat or jowar chapatis. Or include millets like bajra, nachni, couscous, quinoa, etc.•
Include good forms of protein like dairy products, dals, beans, egg, or soy products•
Breads – go for wholegrain options as these provide more fibre, for example wholemeal toast or chapattis. Avoid combining bread with salty foods like hard cheese, or preserved meats. You could try nut butters (without added salt), soft cheese, or banana. As bread is fairly dry, make sure you drink plenty of water or other fluids alongside or you could have fluid-rich foods such as a lentil soup, which is a traditional food at suhoor in some countries.•
When first breaking the fast go for plenty of fluids, low fat, fluid-rich foods and foods containing some natural sugars for energy (avoid consuming a lot of foods or drinks with added sugars). Below are some examples:
Drinks – water, coconut water, lemon water, jaggery water, black raisin water, buttermilk, milk, fruit juices, smoothies, – water provides hydration without any extra calories or added sugars. Drinks based on milk and fruit provide some natural sugars and nutrients – these are also good to break the fast but avoid drinking a lot of drinks with added sugars after breaking the fast as these can provide too much sugars and calories.•
Dates –are a great way to break the fast as they provide natural sugars for energy, provide minerals like potassium, copper and manganese and are a source of fibre. You could also try other dried fruits such as apricots, figs, raisins, or prunes, which also provide fibre and nutrients.•
Fruit – a traditional way to break the fast in South Asian cultures, fruit provides natural sugars for energy, fluid and some vitamins and minerals.•
Soup – traditional in many Arab countries, is a light way to break the fast and provides fluid. Traditional soups are based on a meat broth and often contain pulses, like lentils and beans, and starchy foods like pasta or grains, providing nutrients and energy.•
After breaking the fast – meals vary between different cultures and traditions but try to make sure the foods you eat provide a balance of starchy foods, including wholegrains where you can, fruit and vegetables, dairy foods and protein-rich foods like meat, fish, eggs, and beans. After a long fast it’s natural to want to treat yourself but try to keep the amount of fatty and sugary foods and sugary drinks you have to a small amount.
Remember that you only have a relatively short time each day to eat and drink to provide your body with all the essential nutrients and fluids it needs to be healthy, so the quality of your diet is especially important during Ramadan.
Here, are some tips for eating well during Ramadan:
1. Stay hydrated.
Try drinking fluid several times throughout the night, even if you aren't feeling too thirsty—thirst is a signal that your body is ALREADY dehydrated. Choose fluids that don't contain caffeine,
because caffeinated drinks can be dehydrating. Remember, breaking your fast at iftar (the evening meal after sunset) with water not only is traditional, it ensures that you get the best source of hydration into
your body before becoming distracted with food.
2. Portion size is important. It takes the body about 20 minutes to register that it's had enough to eat. So don't go overboard with eating during iftar. Eating mindfully and listening for when your hunger is actually satisfied puts less stress on your body and gives you more energy than eating huge amounts at one time.
3. Keep moving.
Though fasting can be physically exhausting, try not to be completely sedentary. If you typically work out during the morning, see how your body feels if you switch exercise to the evening after breaking your fast. Strenuous exercise is not a good idea during the day because you can quickly become dehydrated. Think small— short easy walks (to classes or doing errands) or a few stretches can go a long way in keeping your energy up during the day.
4. Find what works for you.
Depending on your sleeping schedule, you may want to experiment with how often and when you eat to keep your energy up.
5. Trust how your body feels.
Every person is individual and may feel best with different ways of eating. If you are having trouble with fasting and these tips don't work for you, talk with a dietitian or other healthcare provider to get more specific advice based on your situation.