The holy month of Ramadan has started marking a period of fasting and religious focus for millions of Muslims across the globe. The way in which you approach your diet during the fasting period should be similar to how you approach your diet outside of Ramadan. It’s important to ensure you are eating a healthy balanced diet, particularly as you have less time each day to provide your body with all the essential nutrients and fluids you need to be healthy.
Islamic law permits pregnant and breastfeeding women to opt out of fasting if they are concerned about their health or the health of their baby. Any missed fasting days can be made up at a later date. However, some pregnant women may still wish to fast and it’s advisable to discuss this with your midwife or GP before doing so. Children may start fasting when they reach puberty. Fasting for children under the age of eight isn’t advisable.
The NHS recommend that those observing the fast, should have at least two meals a day: the pre-dawn meal (Suhoor) and a meal at dusk (Iftar). Try to make sure you base these meals around the four main food groups:
- Starchy Foods such as bread, rice, pasta, potatoes and cereals.
- Fruits and vegetables
- Protein foods such as beef, chicken, fish, egg, lentils, pulses
- Milk and dairy foods such as cheese and yoghurt
Try to limit the amount of high fat and sugar foods you eat, as these will not provide you with important nutrients such as iron, calcium and other vitamins and minerals. Foods high in fat and sugar include: crisps, croissants, biscuits, sweets, cake. Eating these foods, even during Ramadan could result in weight gain as they have a very high energy content. Try to limit salty foods too, such as crisps, processed meat, salted popcorn etc., as salt can increase feelings of thirst.
Try to ensure that Suhoor, the pre-dawn meal, provides you with a wholesome, filling meal, to help you maintain energy for a number of hours. Good options would include wholemeal bread such as pitta and toast and cereals – particularly oats. Try adding milk, fruit and flaked nuts for extra nutrients. It’s also a good opportunity to hydrate yourself, water and unsweetened fruit juice being good options. Individuals who usually drink caffeinated drinks such as tea, coffee etc., may wish to reduce/ avoid these during Ramadan. Caffeine is a diuretic meaning water will be lost faster through urination.
It’s customary for Muslims to break the fast (Iftar) by eating dates, in accordance with the Prophetic traditions. Dates will provide you with a boost of energy, vitamins and minerals. At this time, drink plenty of water, as this will to help to rehydrate you and reduce the chances of overindulgence. Iftar meals are often a time of celebration amongst families and friends, where you come together to break your fast. Try not to go overboard when eating during Ramadan as consuming a lot of deep fried, creamy and sweet foods could cause you to gain weight during. NHS Choices advises us to exercise caution around some of the more rich dishes that are traditionally used to celebrate the fast. These include:
- Deep-fried foods – such as pakoras, samosas and fried dumplings
- High-sugar and high-fat foods – including sweets such as gulab jamun, rasgulla and balushahi
- High-fat cooked foods – such as parathas, oily curries and greasy pastries
Healthy Alternatives Include:
- Baked samosas and boiled dumplings
- Chapattis made without oil
- Baked or grilled meat and chicken
- Homemade pastry using just a single layer
- Milk-based sweets and puddings, such as rasmalai and barfee
It’s a good idea to also consider how food is cooked and prepared. Limit the amount of oil you use in cooking to help keep the fat content low. For example, try to limit oil to one teaspoon per person in cooking. Ghee, butter and lard are very high in saturated fat, so try swapping these for healthier vegetable oils such as rapeseed. Instead of frying foods, try grilling or baking them. This is a healthier way to cook and helps to retain the taste and flavour of food, especially chicken and fish.
Some people experience constipation during Ramadan due to changes to their eating habits. Try to incorporate some gentle light exercise during Ramadan, such as walking, as this may help to ease constipation. If you attend Taraweeh prayers in the evening, try walking all or part of the way there.
Ramadan is great time to make healthy changes to improve your diet, so why not try and keep it going after?!
Wishing you a Happy and Healthy Ramadan!