How quickly time flies – Ramadan is just around the corner! As we focus on bettering ourselves as Muslims and reflecting on our relationship with God, looking after our health during the month is also important. Let’s start with a few questions we may need to ask ourselves to work through what to focus on (no guilt-tripping intended!);
What are some habits that I want to change from last Ramadan?
How will I maintain a healthy diet week on week?
How will I maintain a balance between fasting, eating well AND a busy schedule?
What tools can help me achieve my goals during Ramadan?
There are many resources out there, which ones can help me?
1 – Starting with the right mindset
Fasting is a spiritual action, a bootcamp for the mind, body and soul to reach an improved if not transformed connection with Allah (swt).
‘O you who have believed, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may become righteous..’
Surah Al Baqarah (2:183)
Being mindful of the way we eat during the month and giving our body its right over us is a part of the process. We don’t need elaborate meals with several different kinds of main courses and then some! The aim is to be nourished, and maintain it through the month.
2 – Don’t miss suhoor!
It can be tempting to skip the pre-dawn meal, however the Prophet said: “Take Suhoor, for in Suhoor there is blessing.” ( Sunan an-Nasa’i 2149). Having water and something to eat will help with energy levels throughout the day. Here are a few ideas for suhoor;
Dates and Milk. Dates are high in natural sugars and various vitamins and minerals, and it is sunnah!
Oat porridge with honey and dried fruit. Oats are rich in fibre including beta-glucan which slows digestion and increases satiety (feeling full).
Smoothie bowls. If you have a blitzer, try adding you a few pieces of fruit and lay the mixture in a bowl along with granola, honey and chai seeds. It is a quick way of adding different fruit to your diet for the day!
Poached eggs and wholemeal bread. Eggs (be sure to get the free-range, good quality kind) are rich in protein and vitamin A.
3 – Remember to hydrate yourself
During suhoor (pre-dawn meal) and when breaking our fast, let’s remember to drink water! Not just tea, coffee and juices full of sugar (although these do count as some water intake) – but just good ol’ water! We should be drinking 2 litres per day, which works out as 6-8 cups. A good tip is having a jug or water bottle filled and in the fridge, ready for consumption at suhoor and Iftar.
4 – Meal planning
This will look different for everyone – some of us are students or working full-time during Ramadan, others will be staying at home with child-care responsibilities. For all of us, spending an hour or so before each week of fasting can save a lot of time and help incorporate some healthier options.
When planning, the downloadable EatWell Guide gives a overview of what a nutritious daily diet should look like and in what portions. It may seem obvious but being super busy may mean we overlook some essentials!
Think about transforming the fridge so it serves better in Ramadan. Investing in containers to store pre-cooked meals and pre-made salads for a few days can help. Think about organising it into suhoor options, soups, meals, and also fruit and veg. Don’t forget the fruit and veg!
Lastly when meal planning, let’s think about cutting down processed or genetically-modified food. Look for organic, locally produced options. If I had more time I would try and grow some herbs and veg on my own.
Did you know that about a third of all domestic waste is packaging? A shift towards buying food and drink in recyclable packaging, buying a few things in bulk and re-using carrier bags does make a difference. We are care-takers stewards of the earth, the Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “The world is beautiful and verdant, and verily God, the exalted, has made you His stewards in it, and He sees how you acquit yourselves” (Saheeh Muslim). Being mindful of our consumption and how it impacts on our environment is definitely something to consider!
5 – A few things to incorporate this Ramadan
Fish. Oily fish (salmon, herring, sardines) are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which contributes to improving heart health.
Soups. Soups and stews help replace the fluids lost during the day and can be packed with a lot of goodness if done well – vegetables, lentils, fresh herbs etc!
Brown rice. Brown rice contains more fibre, vitamins and minerals in comparison to white rice. More fibre keeps the body fully for longer. White rice is made up of only the almost nutritionally void part of the grain. However, white rice is almost a staple food for many and whilst it is more processed it might not need cutting out completely.
Nuts. High in protein, fibre and essential fats. Hazelnuts, almonds and chestnuts have low saturated fat content while cashews and Brazil nuts have a high saturated fat level.
6 – Avoid heavy meals
Fried food. We’ve all had fried samosas or chicken during Ramadan, but the internet is filled with healthier versions of different food we know and love, let’s take the time to do some research for the benefit of our health. Try grilling or roasting everything you are used to frying or cut the foods that can only be fried down significantly.
Food high in saturated fat. Butter, ghee, pastries, cakes and biscuits all have a lot of saturated fat associated with ‘bad’ cholesterol which increases the risk of heart disease. Incorporate sparingly and think about swapping butter for reduced-fat spreads for example.
Salt. A high-salt diet is associated with a raised blood pressure which in turn impacts the risk of heart disease. Let’s cook with less salt, choose reduced-salt products and incorporate flavour alternatives such as garlic, herbs and fresh vegetables.
Sugar. A lot of traditional desserts are soaked in syrup (baklava, gulab jamun, kunafe..) and we eat them out of habit with tea and coffee which can also be sweetened. An occasional treat is lovely, but in small occasional portions!
7 – The rule of thirds
Miqdam bin Madikarib said: “I heard the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) say: ‘A human being fills no worse vessel than his stomach. It is sufficient for a human being to eat a few mouthfuls to keep his spine straight. But if he must (fill it), then one third of food, one third for drink and one third for air.’”
We are fortunate to be guaranteed food and fasting with our fridges and freezers filled, alhamdulilah. Ramadan can be a time where we buy so much food especially when hosting Iftars and family gatherings. Let’s try and be mindful of of waste. If a lot of food is left after Iftar, leftovers can make for great new meals with a little time and creativity!
Making small changes will go a long way and help contribute to our health over time. Ramadan is the perfect opportunity to reflect on what we are putting into our bodies. I hope these tips help, do remember to do some research and seek individual advice especially if you are pregnant or breast-feeding.
I wish you all a blessed and productive Ramadan 2019, in sha Allah!