Ramadan is a time of spirituality, reflection, worship, and community. It is also a time when many enjoy special Ramadan meals and treats. Although enjoying food is part of any celebration, many people put nutrition to the wayside during Ramadan and engage in not so healthy eating practices. These include eating lots of fried foods, sweets, and overeating to the point of being stuffed. Unfortunately, this defeats the purpose of fasting for Ramadan. Eating well is important for nourishing our body and providing us with the strength to fast the long days of Ramadan. Below are some tips to follow for a healthy and nourishing Ramadan.
Meal Planning and Prepping before Ramadan
The first step to healthy eating during Ramadan is to plan out your meals for most of Ramadan before Ramadan starts. This step will save a lot of time, mental energy, and stress during Ramadan. If you feel that planning each meal for the whole month is too much, I would suggest that you have at least a rough idea of what you’ll be cooking during the first 10 days of Ramadan. Then, you could simply repeat the meal cycle. You can hang up your meal plan in the kitchen so that everyone in your family knows what’s on the menu. Make sure that you involve your family during this process so that all members are happy. You can download a ramadan sample meal planner and meal plan here.
After you plan out your meals, try to prepare a few food items and stock up your pantry in advance. Examples include
- cutting up and marinating chicken, then freezing it
- cooking some grains like quinoa and brown rice, then freezing it
- making smoothie bag mixes
- stocking up on canned beans, diced tomatoes, pastas, oats, rice, quinoa, tuna
When you organize your meals, recipes and kitchen you will:
- save time
- have less stress
- use less mental energy
- save money and trips to the grocery store
- reduce food waste
- have a happy family
Healthy Eating Tips During Ramadan
Now that Ramadan is here follow these eating strategies so that you get the most out of fasting for Ramadan.
Wake up for suhur (breakfast)
Think of suhur as your breakfast. I see so many people skipping suhur although it’s an essential meal! Benefits of suhur include:
- gives you the energy to fast
- will help you get the nutrients your body needs
- will help hydrate you in preparation for the day’s fast
- will help prevent muscle breakdown that may happen as a result of insufficient calories
Now that you know the importance of eating suhur, here are two tips.
The first is to make sure to eat your suhur as close as possible to fajr time (pre-dawn). The days of Ramadan are already very long and that last thing you want is to add more hours to your day’s fast. This will likely result in less energy and more fatigue than if you ate as close as possible to suhur time.
The second tip is to make sure your meal incudes protein, healthy fats, whole grains, and fruits or vegetables. These nutrients will help keep you full for longer, will hydrate your body, will help with bowel regularity, and will help ensure you’re receiving the nutrients your body needs. Fruits and vegetables such as cucumbers and watermelon are very hydrating. Here are some example of suhur ideas. Also check out this blog post for a list of suhur ideas.
- 2 eggs with toast, avocado, tomato
- greek yogurt with muesli, berries, hemp seeds and nuts
- oatmeal bowl with nuts, milk, and banana
- grilled cheese sandwich with fruit and nuts
Break your fast with dates
When iftar sets (sunset) and it’s time to break your fast, follow the guidance of our Prophet by breaking your fast with dates and water. Dates have natural sugar which will give you a burst of energy that you need after a long day’s fast. Dates also contain potassium and magnesium, important nutrients for blood pressure regulation. You can read more about date nutrition here.
Water will hydrate you and quench your thirst more than any other drink. Try to limit fruit juices or soda. If you’re making a smoothie at home, try to include some protein or healthy fats with the smoothie such as chia or flaxseeds to balance out the natural sugars.
Pray before your meal
Next, perform the required Maghreb (sunset) prayer before eating your meal. This 5-10 minute time period is crucial to allow your body to anticipate the arrival of more food and begin the digestion process. Remember, you just fasted at least 12-16 hours depending on your time zone. Eating all foods at once will likely increase your risk for indigestion and upset stomach.
Follow the Healthy Iftar Meal Plate
At iftar (sunset meal), follow the principles of the healthy plate method. This means imagining that there is a line that divides your 9 “ plate in half and then in quarters.
- ½ of your plate is for vegetables
- ¼ plate for whole grains, rice, potato, corn
- ¼ plate for protein such as meat, chicken, beans
If you’re eating a mixed dish such as a stew or tacos, these same principles still apply. Half of your meal should contain raw or cooked vegetables or salad. Vegetables contain fiber which will keep you full, slow down the rise of blood sugars and help with bowels. Vegetables also contain important nutrients and antioxidants. Remember to eat only until you are comfortable and not to the point of being stuffed!
For dessert, choose a piece of fruit most of the time. If you choose more traditional type desserts, remember to consume them in moderation and eat them with mindfulness and intention. If there’s a way to make a healthier version of the same dessert, then this could be an option as well. For example, you could bake rather than fry, use less syrup, or use a lower fat dairy than cream. A piece of dark chocolate or yogurt parfait may also do just the trick!
Eat with mindfulness and intention
Remember the purpose of fasting for Ramadan. It is not to overindulge on food but rather to get closer to the creator and yourself. Overeating to the point of stuffing yourself will likely result in indigestion, fatigue, and drowsiness. An important tip when eating at iftar is to eat mindfully. This means to intentionally slow down when eating, chewing your foods well, taking a few pauses between bites, savoring every bite, and eating without distractions. Allocate around 20 minutes to eat the foods on your healthy plate.
Hydrate your body
Drink water throughout the evening. If you go to taraweeh prayers (the evening prayers) carry a water bottle with you and sip on it in between the prayers. Add a slice of cucumber, lemon or mint to change up the flavor. Also, make sure to include those hydrating fruits and vegetables such as cucumber, watermelon, strawberries, and zucchini at your meals.
After taraweeh prayer, choose a healthy snack such as a piece of fruit, yogurt, nuts, or whole grain crackers. Limit processed foods, cookies, candy and chips. Although there’s a place and time for these foods, it is best to limit these foods during the late evening hours.
Other Healthy Habits During Ramadan
We know that getting enough sleep is a challenge during Ramadan. Sunset is late in the summer and by the time you break your fast and go to the evening prayers, you only have 4-5 hours before it’s time to wake up for suhur (pre-dawn meal). Try to get in a nap in the early morning hours or after work so that you get in total 6-8 hours of sleep. Sleep deprivation can affect hormones that regulate appetite and satiety. When you’re tired, you feel more hungry because your body makes more ghrelin, the hormone that makes you feel hungry, and less leptin, a hormone that signals when you’re full. Sleep deprivation may also slow down metabolism.
There is no doubt that physical activity has many benefits to health. Unfortunately many people during Ramadan stop doing any form of exercise. Exercise during Ramadan is encouraged and may be done safely during the following times: 1) right before iftar 2) after iftar 3) before dawn. Make sure to drink plenty of water after any physical activity. Exercise will boost your energy levels, improve mental health and mood, and reduce risk for chronic diseases. Aim for at least 10 minutes a day of walking and slowly increase that amount.
Following these tips will help you have a nourished Ramadan. If you would like more support on how to organize your meals for Ramadan or would like some accountability to eating well during this month, then contact me here to join my Ramadan coaching program. I’m taking only a few clients so contact me to see if this is right for you.
Contact me to inquire about Ramadan coaching program- it’s not too late!