With only two weeks left in Ramadan, it’s important to make the most of the remaining fasting days, and work to really implement the positive changes Ramadan inspires so that that we can maintain them beyond this month.
For some people, it can take a week or so to fully adjust to the new routine, which leaves many feeling exhausted in the beginning of fasting. Some people may also find themselves not eating as healthy as they would have liked, or not having enough time to devote to Allah due to juggling between work, family, and preparations for iftar, dessert, and suhoor.
Whatever the reason, if your Ramadan did not start off the way you may have wanted it to, it’s okay. It’s only more reason to focus now on healthier habits so that we can not only make fasting easier on ourselves, but so that we can truly reap all of the benefits this month is meant to offer.
Ramadan is a bootcamp of sorts for our souls, minds, and bodies. It reminds us of what is important, and what we should be concentrating on by making it a full-time job for our bodies, and immersing us in special kinds of ibadah like taraweeh and tahajjud. These practices are often preferably done with the community, but since we have had to spend Ramadan this year at home, we are only able to be with our immediate families for iftar and taraweeh.
Although it seems like a loss, it can be an amazing opportunity to really hone in on our individual ibadah, as well as on our family’s. With no opportunity to socialize or commute to the masjid, we have extra time to talk to Allah, read Quran, and take better care of our souls, minds, and bodies, Inshallah.
In light of these unique circumstances, we thought it might be the perfect time to talk about the types of nutrition that our bodies can benefit from during this special month. Although we’ll be mainly concentrating on suhoor, since it’s the meal that will carry you through your day, we also give guidelines to what foods to choose from for your iftar as well.
This year, the days are slightly shorter than they have been for the last few years, at least for us in North America. Nevertheless, the fasts are still quite long. We are fasting between fifteen and sixteen hours each day, which leaves us with an eight to nine-hour window to pack in all of the nutrients we need for the day. Interestingly enough, this is just like the 16/8 intermittent fasting method.
If we choose wisely, we can finish this month off strongly and make it our best Ramadan yet by avoiding the many pitfalls that too often accompany iftar celebrations, such as overeating, and poor food choices.
An iftar that consists of sugar and deep-fried foods can lead to exhaustion during the day, and leave Muslims feeling famished by maghrib. In addition to overeating, they may put physical activity on hold, and as a result, feel less energized to meet their spiritual and health goals.
This can lead some to gain weight. However, weight change varies from individual-to-individual based on activity level and eating habits, so some people tend to lose weight during Ramadan as well.
The Prophet (saw) recommended several practices surrounding food and iftar that, if followed, can help us focus on renewing our ibadah, and thinking of our lifestyle in a more holistic way.
One such recommendation is to fill only one third of our stomachs with food, leaving one third for liquids, and one third for air, so that we can breathe, hydrate, and digest better.
One other practice of our Messenger (saw) is to break our fast with fresh dates (dry ones if fresh ones aren’t available), and/or water. Dates are a potassium-rich food that help with hydration, and restore the electrolyte balance in our bodies.
Giving ourselves a short break between breaking our fast, and eating the main meal in order to pray, gives the body a chance to absorb some nutrients that are readily available in the dates. This suppresses the feeling of extreme hunger. According to Al-Bukhari, the Prophet (saw)’s wisdom is evidenced in his recommendation to break fast quickly, and then pray.
In addition, the iftar meal should include at least two cups of liquids: one cup of water or milk to drink with your dates, and one cup of soup or water to have with your iftar meal after maghrib prayer.
Additionally, consuming foods rich in complex carbohydrates such as beans, lentils, whole wheat breads, brown rice, and high-protein foods like chicken, fish, meat, eggs, and vegetables, will restore your energy levels after fasting.
Does this mean you have to stop eating all of your favorite ethnic and traditional foods? Not necessarily. Food has the potential to bring people together, and it’s important to enjoy our cultural and traditional foods with family as well.
Simply adding a salad (with lots of different vegetables) to chicken and rice dishes, or adding veggies to curry dishes, can greatly improve our fast. Traditional foods can be cooked or baked using whole grain flour, and choosing healthier alternatives, like brown rice for example, will help optimize fiber intake. A few adjustments can go a long way.
Suhoor is the last meal of the day (according to Islamic calendar dates), and therefore, the most important since what you eat at this time will affect the rest of your day. For suhoor, dietitians recommend eating foods that are high in complex carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats.
Foods like oatmeal, beans, and whole grain breads break down more slowly, and therefore, provide more energy. These fiber-rich foods are digested slowly and will help keep us full for a longer period of time. Healthy fats also allow for delayed stomach emptying which helps deter hunger for longer as well.
Some suhoor options can include fava beans with eggs or whole grain toast with cheese or jam. Another example of a suhoor meal is oatmeal with Greek yogurt, nuts, seeds, berries, and fruit. We share a recipe for overnight oat pudding at the end of this article for you to try.
These delicious foods will help keep us energized for the next morning and afternoon. For healthy suhoor recipes that follow these nutritional guidelines, head on over to www.katshappyhealthylife.com.
Dietitians recommend preparing your suhoor before bed so that you can sleep an extra hour in the early morning before waking up to eat. This means you can avoid standing in the kitchen preparing meals in the wee hours of the morning, and should give you a few extra minutes to pray tahajjud, too.
Suhoor is filled with baraka (blessings), according to a saying by the Prophet Muhammad (saw). Our beloved Prophet (saw) also said that, “The best suhoor is dates,” and not to skip it, “even if one of you only takes a sip of water,” for Allah and His angels send blessings on those who eat suhoor.”
In fact, the Prophet (saw)’s insistence on suhoor has led scholars to consider it mustaheb (highly recommended, or one degree below fard). It is also considered mustahab to delay suhoor until just before fajr, so the snack you have before going to sleep is not really suhoor.
Among the blessings of suhoor, is the fact that we are awake in the last third of the night, when Allah (swt) is at the lowest level of the heavens, and awaits for our prayers and duas so that He can quickly answer them. Another benefit is that we are unlikely to sleep through fajr, which adds to the day’s blessings.
Between iftar and suhoor meals, dietitians recommend eating two small snacks: one right after taraweeh, and one before sleeping. These should include foods that are easily digestible, yet packed with the nutrients our body needs. Such snacks include:
- Protein rich foods like egg whites, fish, skinless chicken, and whey protein (such as what you would use in a protein shake).
- Complex carbohydrates such as whole grain breads, oats, and beans are recommended as part of the nighttime snack. Other healthy carbohydrates include fruits and berries, which are high in fiber.
- Good fats such as avocados, olive oil, and nuts are ideal for slow gastric emptying.
These snacks don’t have to be large. In fact, a simple cup of Greek yogurt with some berries would be ideal for the first snack. Another great snack is homemade granola bars which are filled with healthy fats from natural nut butters and fiber from the oats. Check out a recipe, here.
Ramadan is a chance to break away from unwholesome habits such as overeating, eating unhealthy foods, not praying on time, and rushing through meals and prayers. It offers us a month-long opportunity to practice healthy eating habits, and to treat our souls and bodies with the respect they deserve.
It’s our hope that, with these guidelines, you’ll be able to improve your energy levels, so that you can take full advantage of the rest of this blessed month!
If you would like to try your hand at an overnight suhoor dish that follows these guidelines, including giving you some extra time in the morning, here is a quick, healthy, and delicious recipe you can try tonight, Inshallah.
Overnight Chia Seed & Oat Pudding
½ cup rolled oats
1 cup of plain Greek yogurt
¼ cup of milk
2 tablespoons of chia seeds
¼ cup of fresh or frozen raspberries or strawberries
Optional: Additional fruits, chopped dates, frozen mango, or drizzle with honey
Place all ingredients, excluding nuts and raspberries, in a glass cup or mason jar. Mix well. Cover and place in the fridge overnight. When you wake up for suhoor, top overnight oats with raspberries and chopped nuts. Enjoy!
This article was written by Hanaa Walzer using the Recommendations for Ramadan released by Dietitians of Canada in 2020.
It was also written in close consultation with Registered Dietitian and Nutritionist, Katherine Hillier, who checked all nutritional information in this article.
For more recipes and to work with Katherine, visit her website, Kat’s Happy, Healthy Life, or her Instagram page: @KatsHappyHealthyLife.