Nutrition & Health

3 Tips: Nutritionist’s Guide to a Healthier Ramadan

What is Ramadan?

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and it is a time where Muslims globally fast during daylight hours for an entire month. Since the Islamic calendar is lunar, every year Ramadan falls about a week and a half earlier than the year before.

Muslims who participate during this holy month abstain from eating or drinking anything during daylight hours. There are two meals that fasting Muslims take part in daily. First there is “suhoor”, which is the meal eaten just before dawn, and then there is “iftar” which is the meal eaten right after sunset. The end of Ramadan is celebrated with “Eid al-fitr”, the Celebration of Breaking the Fast.

Adjusting to the Fast

Adjusting to Ramadan may be difficult. You may initially experience headaches, fatigue, tiredness, and even slight dehydration. These things are normal. Our bodies are adjusting to the lack of nutrients and calories that we would normally consume. During fasting our bodies begin using stored carbohydrates and fat for energy when all the calories from our food are used up. Our kidneys also work to conserve as much water as possible. Keeping this in mind it is important to note the significance of breaking fast on foods that are wholesome and nutrient dense.

Healthy Tips for Fasting

1. Fluid Intake

When you are dehydrated your salt/water ratio becomes imbalanced and your body will store as much fluid as it can until the balance is restored. That is why it is important to consume adequate amounts of water when breaking the fast. Lack of appropriate quantities of water can cause severe dehydration, dizziness, and fainting. How much water should you normally consume in a day? To put it in perspective, eight 8-ounce glasses, or four 16-ounce bottles, or 2 liters, or half a gallon of water should be consumed daily. This also varies depending on your height, weight, gender, and activity level.

Drinking enough water could be difficult to accomplish when fasting but aim to drink as much as you can along with eating foods that are fluid-rich. Eating fluid-rich foods can help increase water content in the body. Fluid-rich foods include cucumber, iceberg lettuce, celery, radishes, tomatoes, green peppers, cauliflower, watermelon, spinach, star fruit, strawberries, broccoli, grapefruit, baby carrots, and cantaloupe and more! Focus on having a wide array of fluid-rich fruits and vegetables for both diversity in taste and nutrients. Eating soups that are water based are a great way to get in necessary fluids as well.

2. Fiber-Rich Foods

It can be easy to overeat during Ramadan. Overeating can lead to discomfort, bloating, and weight gain, regardless of the fact that we are not consuming foods for a long period of time. There are ways to curb your appetite by eating fiber-rich foods.

Fiber comes in two forms; insoluble and soluble. Both forms contribute to allowing you to feel fuller for longer periods of time, allowing you to not overeat by consuming more calories. Fiber-rich foods keep you feeling full while at the same time are oftentimes highly nutrient-dense. Eating fiber-rich foods can help decrease appetite, improve digestive health, and improve blood sugar levels. Fiber-rich foods include split chickpeas, lentils, black beans, lima beans, artichokes, peas, broccoli, brussel sprouts, blueberries, blackberries, avocados, pears, oats, farro, quinoa, flax seeds, chia seeds, nuts, and whole-grain foods. These are just a few of the many fiber-rich foods we can consume during suhoor or iftar, and even incorporate in our overall diet.

3. Complex Carbohydrates

Fasting can reduce our overall energy levels, which makes sense since our bodies are using stored energy sources to get us through our days rather than energy, or calories, from foods we would normally be consuming. A great way to pick up our energy levels and combat severe energy drops are by eating more complex carbs in place of simple carbs.

Simple carbs are broken down quickly by the body to be used as energy. Many fruits are sources of simple sugars which are still important and nutrient dense. Complex carbs however, are broken down at a much slower rate thus releasing energy slowly throughout longer periods of time. This prevents sugar highs and energy crashes. Fiber is known as a complex carb and many complex carbohydrate rich foods contain lots of fiber. Complex carbohydrate rich foods provide us with necessary and efficient energy throughout the day which includes, whole grain bread, quinoa, brown rice, sweet potatoes and other tubers, lentils, beans, squash, oats, beets, eggplants, and leafy green vegetables. Diversifying your carb intake and focusing on nutrient dense carbs, is a great way to ensure steady energy levels throughout long days of fasting.

What to Take Away

To Muslims, Ramadan is not solely centered around food. It is a time of great healing and reflection. The Quran, the Islamic holy book, discusses fasting by saying, “Oh you who have believed, fasting has been decreed upon you as it was decreed upon those before you so that hopefully you will become righteous (attain protection)”, 2:183. This verse can be interpreted as being righteous by being humble, kind, generous etc. Or it can be seen as righteousness through protection from committing sins and disappointing ourselves and God. Fasting enables us to physically feel the pain of not eating. It is a test between our will and our body.

Ramadan allows us to focus disciplining ourselves in hopes that these changes we make during this one month can extend to the rest of our years. It is a month to reflect on being the best version of yourself. Ramadan is not only about replenishing our bodies, but more importantly about replenishing our hearts and souls too.

By: Alaa Al-Shujairi, Nutritionist
BS in Nutritional Sciences and Dietetics

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