Planning a healthy diet during the month of Ramadan (during which Muslims fast from dawn to dusk) is really essential to keep fit, active and focused. This is not a post specifically for Muslims: fasting is increasingly recognised in the West for its positive impact on the body and mind, and it is in fact part of many religions and traditional cultures. Fasting is immensely rewarding, both on a spiritual and a health level: it gives you an opportunity to emphasize with the poor, to focus on building your relationship to the Divine, to get rid of bad habits and put your efforts into what really matters, while your body gets a break. This allows it to detox and regenerate itself, as energy usually used for digestion is redirected towards cleansing and renewing cells and tissues. It can also be a tiring month, with late nights of prayers and early morning breakfast, while you are expected to carry out your normal duties during the day. If you work, if you have a young family, if you are a carer, you won’t get extra time to rest! It is therefore absolutely essential to be smart with your diet and with your water intake.
What to eat if you are fasting?
The main issues are to stay hydrated, and to get enough nutrients during the ‘eating’ hours. That means that you should avoid food that will not give your body what it needs: sweets, fried and oily food, too much carbs…We often tend to break our fasts with deep fried sweets and junk food, and then feel quite bloated and tired. After fasting the whole day, it is really important to not ‘shock’ your body with sugary jalabis and fried chicken! The sunnah actually gives us really good tips: ideally, you break your fast with dates (which are assimilated by the body very fast) and a glass of water or milk. Eat slowly and focus on your food; be mindful not to overeat. It is really important to get your 5 fruits and veg per day, to avoid digestive issues or constipation: that means plenty of soups, salad, and fresh fruits!
Your ideal plate should be divided into three: 1/3 of proteins part, 1/3 of complex carbs and oils and 1/3 of vegetables (potatoes don’t count!).
Don’t forget to drink!
Keeping hydrated can be a big issue during Ramadan, especially during the hottest month, and we frequently forget to drink enough water. Remember: coffee and tea don’t count as ‘water’, not matter how many cups you drink! In fact, they are both mild diuretics, so will encourage your body to get rid of excess sodium through urine. Interestingly, herbal teas don’t contain caffeine, so they are a much better option. Between dusk and dawn, you should ideally drink 6 to 8 glasses of water, but not too much at once! Avoid drinking too much around food, but rather spread your water intake throughout the evening and night. By all means, have a good cup of tea if you fancy it, but a camomille or lavender tea will allow you to relax while increasing your fluids. I love my coffee as much as anyone, but it is really best avoided in the evening, so Ramadan can be a good time to wean yourself off it. Fizzy drinks and sugary juices are best avoided all together, particularly for children.
Suhoor/ Sehri meals
Having a light dawn meal is a really important Ramadan tradition and it prepares you for the day to come, although you shouldn’t force yourself to eat if you are not very hungry. The sunnah is to eat as late as possible before dawn, and it is said that the best suhoor is simply fresh dates. I know some families have a full meat in the early hours, and I really wouldn’t recommend that because ideally you would need to eat at least 2 hours before going to bed. It might make you feel bloated and more tired than usual, as your body will be busy digesting and breaking down your meal. The best options are food such as porridge, granola with yoghurt and fruits, or talbinah, a traditional kind of gruel made with barley flour. These are nutritious meals and will keep you going throughout the day, as they are ‘complex’ carbs.
Here is a round-up of some of my favourite Ramadan recipes.
- my Moroccan Harira soup, containing everything you need in terms of proteins, fibers and vitamins.
- A simple Turkish lentil soup, with red lentils, carrots and red pepper
- A heathy green soup with foraged nettles: strange but delicious and packed with nutrients!
- A comforting bissara soup, with dry fava beans.
Notice a lot of these soups contain pulses? That’s because they are good sources of proteins if you want to reduce your meat intake. I would usually serve soup with with a drizzle of olive oil and a slice of fresh bread, a boiled egg and a little side salad, or crudités and hummus, to make sure I have a variety of vitamins, as well as proteins, carbs and healthy fat.For those who prefer a sweet iftar: A fruit salad with fresh mint leaves, or smoothie bowl: basically a thick smoothie topped with fresh fruits and nuts.
I also like breaking my fast with a cold, nutritious smoothie. The sugar from the fruit is quickly and easily absorbed by the body, providing instant relief after a long day of fasting.
- My date and banana smoothie, an absolute Ramadan favourite!
- A cooling Mango lassi
- A refreshing avocado smoothie
If you fancy some sweets, try fat bombs or healthy energy balls. They are very easy to make and will keep you going during night prayers!