Healthy Eating in Ramadan – the 5 golden rules

The spiritual blessings of Ramadan are manifold but done right, the holy month of fasting comes with tangible physical benefits. Combining healthy food choices with fasting resets your metabolism and can help you shed a few pounds and lower your cholesterol.

 

Ramadan shouldn’t be the season of pakoras, parathas and all-you-can-eat buffet iftars. Those afternoon naps are certainly not going to help you burn off the nightly half-kilo of jalebis. Fasting is not a license to eat with abandon, and nor should it be according to Sunnah. The blessed Prophet said,

“The children of Adam fill no vessel worse than their stomach. Sufficient for him is a few morsels to keep his back straight. If he must eat more, then a third should be for his food, a third for his drink, and a third left for air.” (Sunan al-Tirmidhî)

 

It is Sunnah to open your fast with dates - and great for your health too. Dates give you a quick hit of energy and are packed with nutrients
It is Sunnah to open your fast with dates – and great for your health too. Dates give you a quick hit of energy and are packed with nutrients

No one said fasting is meant to be easy but eating right can help with some of the peripheral discomfort. Food choices can help with heartburn, constipation, the awful Ramadan caffeine headache, sugar crashes and the lethargy that fatty fried foods induce. There’s no need to sink into a food coma after every iftar or slosh to bed after drinking litres of fluid at sehri – only to spend the next two hours peeing it all out.

 

That post-ifar food coma ;)
That post-ifar food coma 😉

Healthy eating in Ramadan doesn’t have to mean boring, bland, unfamiliar “diet food”. Quinoa for Sehri or grilled salmon at iftari will make fasting seem like a penance instead of a blessing if those are not the sort of foods you’d eat anyway. It’s perfectly possible to incorporate your favourite Ramadan treats and the sort of food you would normally eat into a sensible, nutritious eating plan.

 

The 5 golden rules of healthy eating in Ramadan

 

  1. Hydration, Hyrdration, Hydration

hydration

Dehydration is the toughest part of fasting, especially in summer, but loading up on water on Sehri isn’t the best plan. Filling your stomach like a water balloon results in one of two things – throwing up or multiple visits to the loo. It’s far smarter to stagger your hydration through the night. Start with two glasses of water at Iftar, and follow with a glass every hour till bedtime. By the time you sleep, you will have had 6 glasses of water. Aim for a manageable two glasses at sehri and you’ve had 8 glasses in the day, which is usually sufficient. Do stay out of the sun though to minimize moisture loss through sweating. Remember tea and coffee are dehydrating and shouldn’t be counted in your fluid intake.

 

  1. Sugar is the mother of all evils

We all crave something sweet when we open our rozas but sugar results in highs and lows that leave you craving more, messing with your metabolism. Sugar gives you empty calories without nutritional benefits and is key in Ramadan over-eating.

Totally giving up sugar may be stretch but limiting it is essential. Stay away from those giant special-offer bottles of Coke or Pepsi, and load up on fruit before letting yourself touch any mithai or chocolate.

If you’re like me and Ramadan wouldn’t be the same without Rooh Afzah, gradually reduce the amount you use to limit the sugar hit. Use grapes in your fruit chaat for sweetness and stay away from the sugar jar. Switch your Gulab Jamun for Ras Malai, which has more milk and less sugar.

 

  1. All things in moderation

If you really must have parathas and pakoras, limit them to a once-a-week treat rather than a daily indulgence. Instead of pakoras at Iftar, try a healthy channa chaat with loads of veggies and spices or dahi vaday which are much less oily. Try baked samosas instead of fried ones or little grilled chicken shashliks instead of pakoras.

Grilled Chicken skewers are a healthy option
Grilled Chicken skewers are a healthy option

Keep choice to a minimum to help avoid over-eating. Accompany your dates with one snack item at iftar and then eat a simple evening meal, with one meat dish and one vegetable dish or salad accompanied by rice or roti.

You don't need Parathasat sehri every day unless you plan on doing manual labour
You don’t need Parathasat sehri every day unless you plan on doing manual labour

For Sehri, parathas are a poor choice in any case and likely to cause heartburn. Full of processed flour and fat, they lead to lethargy rather than providing a slow release of energy to keep you going through the day. Aim instead for complex carbs in your morning meal – wholemeal roti, bajray ki roti, daal or oatmeal (dalia). Eggs are great if cooked in very little oil but add more protein in the form of milk, yoghurt and nuts to your morning meal.

Sujji ki kheer with lemon zest - full of complex carbs and a great Sehri idea as long as you hold back on the sugar
Sujji ki kheer with lemon zest – full of complex carbs and a great Sehri idea as long as you hold back on the sugar

By all means, indulge in your Ramadan favourites but limit unhealthy food to bite-size portions that you savour rather than platefuls that you wolf down. And beware of the buffet Iftar as the Qur’an is categorical on waste:

“Eat and drink freely: but waste not by excess, for He does not like the wasters.” The Holy Quran, Chapter 7, verse 31

 

Don't overload your plate at buffet iftars - practice moderation
Don’t overload your plate at buffet iftars – practice moderation

 

  1. Fibre is your friend
Fibre-rich foods. All these foods are high in insoluble fibre, essential for keeping constipation at bay
Fibre-rich foods. All these foods are high in insoluble fibre, essential for keeping constipation at bay

With mealtimes askew and without that morning hit of caffeine, constipation becomes a major issue for many – with attendant gas making things even worse. Add fibre to your diet to keep your gut moving. Fresh fruit and veggies are ideal, especially pears, but sprinkle wheatbran on your cereal or eat a couple of dried prunes every night to up your fibre intake.

  1. Save the oil for your hair
A typical Ramazan scene with yummy treats but that oil's probably been re-fried to toxicity
A typical Ramazan scene with yummy treats but that oil’s probably been re-fried to toxicity

Good fats in moderation are an essential part of a balanced diet but we tend to have too much oil in our diets as a nation. Those super-size cans of oil that fill the advertising slots every Ramadan? All they do is fill the brands coffers and our hips and arteries! Decant your oil into small bottles and keep an eye on how much you use. Save fried food for special occasions and bake or grill your food when you can. Grilled kebabs, baked filo pastries and baked samosas are all delicious and use a lot less oil. As for the carts of samosas and pakoras on every street-corner, give them a miss – chances are the oil has been re-fried to toxicity.

Get your spice hit with Channa Chaat but skip the fried papri on top
Get your spice hit with Channa Chaat but skip the fried papri on top

Changing the way we eat in Ramadan takes small changes that have a huge impact. For example, we only serve pakoras once in a while in our house and try to keep our iftar meal as close to a usual evening meal as possible. Sehri is full of dairy, complex carbs and fruit. I’ve found over the years that, Masha’Allah, I lose weight every Ramadan. The only year I didn’t fast, I put on ten pounds over the course of the year, which compounded my belief that fasting resets your metabolism. Last year, I combined fasting with daily walks and bloodwork at the end of the month showed a 20% decrease in my blood cholesterol.

Baked Samosas are a guilt-free option
Baked Samosas are a guilt-free option

Not adding too many ‘special’ time-consuming foods to your meals in Ramadan has another benefit too. It frees up the people (usually women) preparing the food, giving them more time for ibadat and spiritual matters. And after all, that’s what Ramadan is really about. Ramadan Mubarak – May this Ramadan be full of blessings for us all.

 

ramadan-mubarak

This article by chief editor Salima Feerasta first appeared on images.dawn.com

Salima Feerasta
Salima Feerastahttps://karachista.com
Salima Feerasta is chief editor of Karachista.com and one of Pakistan's top fashion and lifestyle journalists.

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