If you’ve read up about me and other articles on my blog, you’ll realise that I’m big on eating the right foods for health. I mean, why spend money on medications and supplements, doctor visits and hospital bills, when we can just feed ourselves the right foods? I believe that every day is an opportunity to get the nutrients we need in our bodies so it runs well, stays healthy, and does not fall to disease.
This should not be different during Ramadan.
During the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, eating is limited to the mere hours before sunrise and after sunset. Common struggles that many people face include extreme hunger and thirst that last throughout the day, intensifies, and manifests as cravings and uncontrolled eating once fast is broken. As the days wear on during the month of Ramadan, fatigue, lethargy, and exhaustion may set in, preventing you from carrying on with daily life and doing the things you love with the same energy and enthusiasm.
However, starting the day off with the right foods can reduce these sensations and help keep you full for longer. What’s more, by preventing extreme hunger, and physical and mental exhaustion during the day, it reduces your risk of developing cravings and overeating once fast is broken!
Read on if you want to know what to eat for a gratifying and healthful Ramadan, one where you nourish both your soul and your body.
Let’s get down some goals we want to achieve during Ramadan:
1. At Suhoor (pre-dawn meal), eat foods that help you stay full throughout the day.
2. At Iftar (post-dusk meal), choose healthy foods to prevent overeating and weight gain.
3. Obtain the nutrients we need daily for health.
We will achieve the 1st and 2nd goal in the following two sections of this blog post, with the 3rd goal incorporated into both sections in an overarching manner.
1. Foods to eat at Suhoor to stay full the whole day
As this meal has to last you the whole day, the idea is to eat enough to stay moderately full throughout the day. Because you’re generally only having two meals a day during Ramadan, this is the time where you should be getting about half your daily requirements.
At Suhoor, we definitely want these 4 components in our diet:
1. Complex carbohydrates that release sugar into your bloodstream gradually and provide long-lasting energy.
2. Protein that is used to maintain muscle mass and a strong immune system, while giving you a sense of fullness.
3. Fibre that slows down the rate of food digestion in your stomach and helps you stay full for longer.
4. Fluids that help you meet your fluid requirements for the day and prevent dehydration as the day progresses. This is especially important if you’re out in the sun or doing physically demanding work in the day.
Of course, as I mentioned earlier, the foods that serve these purposes should also help you obtain the nutrients you need for good health.
Now that you know you need these 4 components, what are some foods that contain all these and will help you stay full throughout the day during the month of Ramadan? I know sleep is sometimes more important than food, especially during this period. So, I guarantee that these are not going to take you more than 30 minutes to prepare if you’ve got the systems up in place. If they do, you can easily prepare them the night before (make a few portions at a go if you must!) and you can easily have them once you wake up the next morning.
For dishes that contain complex carbohydrates, protein, and fibre to keep you full in the day during Ramadan, check out these recipes:
Now, make sure you have the right amounts and types of fluid to help you stay hydrated throughout the day.
- An average person needs anything from approximately between 1.5 to 2.5L of fluids a day, depending on gender and weight. It would be wise to obtain about a third to half of that in the morning before fasting. That translates to at least 2-3 cups of liquid, and up to 5 cups in the morning.
- Water would be the best option for hydration. However, drinks such as calcium-fortified cow’s or soy milk give you added energy, protein, and calcium on top of hydration. So, if you still have the appetite for it, feel free to include that as part of your fluid intake in the morning.
- Try to avoid diuretics such as coffee and tea, as they increase urination and fluid loss. If you need to have your morning dose of caffeine, make sure it’s diluted coffee or tea.
- Try to avoid foods that are extremely salty or spicy at Suhoor as that may increase the thirst you feel during the day.
- You know your body best. The above recipes provide you with energy equivalent to a standard meal at lunch and dinner while providing you the balance you need to stay full. However, if you have higher energy requirements (e.g. increased physical activity, larger build, or male), you may need more than that. In which case, you may add a snack or two to that meal until you feel satiated. If you want more specific recommendations, feel free to make an appointment with me for a personalised assessment.
2. Foods to eat at Iftar to stay healthy and prevent weight gain
At this point, you’re probably extremely thirsty and hungry. To address your body’s needs the right way, follow these steps to quickly replenish your body and remove any hunger, without overeating.
Break fast with some dates. Apart from the religious reasons you would be familiar with, there could be scientific reasons behind the tradition of breaking fast with dates! Dates are high in sugar and provide a quick burst of energy, quickly replenishing your low sugar levels. It is also a good source of other vitamins and minerals. Two or three dates should provide some relief. They also constitute a fruit portion!
Did you know that our body confuses thirst with hunger? That’s why the sensation of hunger that you feel is made worse by the severe thirst you’re feeling. By drinking water first, you address the thirst and get it out the way, so your body can deal with your hunger appropriately. Have two to three glasses of water after your dates to quickly rehydrate yourself.
Have some soup before your main meal. It may be a light chicken soup, a comforting dhal soup, or a clear vegetable broth flavoured with spices. Soup is often a liquid filled with salt and potassium (especially vegetable and bean soups). This helps restore the electrolytes in your body to rehydrate you. By doing that, apart from satisfying your taste buds with a savoury hit, it physiologically eases your body into the larger meal to come.
4. Meal (rice and side dishes)
At this stage, you would have had dates, water, and soup, which would have helped turn your hunger down to a more manageable level. This is when you can start scooping food onto your plate. The tendency is to pile the plate up with anything and everything that is available to you. But I urge you to hold back just a bit and simply plate your usual portions.
Don’t think of the entire day where you have not had any food. Think instead of how you’ve overcome the day with discipline and commitment to achieve greater religious clarity. Think about how you’ve nourished yourself with the right liquids and dates since breaking fast.
Now scoop yourself a plate of food as you would normally have. If you’re unsure of what a good portion is, have a look at this link for a guide of what food should look like on your plate. When you sit down to eat, give thanks to the food on your plate and respect the availability of food to you by savouring it and eating it mindfully. This helps pace the speed at which you eat to prevent overeating. At the same time, you take the time to fully appreciate the food before you, which is in line with the idea of reflection during Ramadan.
You might have read my other articles stating that we need two fruits a day. This is your chance to get your second serve, on top of the dates that you had earlier. Click here to find out what makes a serving of fruit.
6. Light snack
This is an option. If you’re full at this stage, listen to how your body feels and skip it by all means. However, if you still feel slightly hungry after Terawih prayers, go for a glass of milk, soy milk, or a small tub of yoghurt to get that little bit more calcium. On the other hand, if you’re feeling tempted by the cookies, cakes, or kuehs lying around the house, limit yourself to just one piece on some days to satisfy your cravings. Afterall, they’re available any time, really. You don’t have to have them all at one go. Think about it.
After Iftar, Teriwah prayers, and a bit more time to yourself, it’s time for bed and an early rise the next morning to feed yourself the best foods for a good start to another Ramadan day. I hope this has been helpful. If you feel some of these tips are useful in helping you stay full and healthy during Ramadan, share this article with friends and family to spread the love! Otherwise, if there are other struggles you or the people around you face that I haven’t addressed, do let me know in the comments so I that can work on them.
Ramadan happens only once a year, and each year, I hear about the struggles people face with food and their weight. The struggles may be during Ramadan itself, or after (when weight shoots up from overeating). Perhaps the key is to move away from thinking about Ramadan as a time of food deprivation, to a time of where you improve your management of food and health. A time where you learn to practise control and bring these skills beyond Ramadan into your daily life all year round. Think how nice it will be, to be in full control of your body and your health.
These recommendations are for the general population. If you have a medical condition and are unsure if your dietary needs are different, especially during Ramadan, feel free to make an appointment with me for more personalised recommendations.