By Sarah Al Nowais
We are almost halfway through the holy month of Ramadan! By now, you’ve either mastered the art of healthy eating and self-control during non-fasting hours or you’ve succumbed to the many temptations of traditional dishes, whether savory or sweet. After all, we only have a few hours a day to treat ourselves and then we fast for a good 16 hours so what’s the harm, right? Wrong. While treating ourselves every once in a while is not an issue at all, we have to be mindful about what we eat during non-fasting hours. There’s a short window of opportunity everyday to fuel our bodies in a way that gives us enough energy, strength and vitality to successfully undertake our daily tasks while fasting the long summer hours.
In this article, I will be sharing simple tips to help you reap the many benefits of fasting. Note that these tips are general guidelines to help you choose your foods and drinks wisely. What works for me, won’t necessarily work for you. We all have different bodies, different lifestyles and different needs. I may be sensitive to certain foods that make you thrive, and you may prefer having breakfast foods for Iftar while I prefer having them for Suhoor. Just listen to your body, and make your fast work for YOU!
- Start by re-hydrating your body and continue to do so throughout the non-fasting hours with the right drinks and foods.
During fasting hours, our body loses a lot of water, especially in this summer’s heat, which prevents it from performing its normal bodily functions. There’s a good reason why we start getting tired, dizzy and our brain starts to fog by the end of the fasting day.
How do we know we are dehydrated? When we feel thirsty, we are already dehydrated. However other common symptoms tend to appear during and after fasting hours as well. For instance, do you get headaches during the day or after having your first meal? I know I do and my first instinct is to sip on that cup of black coffee straight after iftar but that really isn’t the answer. Tea and coffee will actually further dehydrate you – herbals teas are however a good option-. Be also aware of salty, spicy and fried foods as those will leave you even more thirsty. Still hungry after your meal? Dehydration sends hunger signals to the brain, which is probably why many of us tend to overeat in the first place.
Note that keeping hydrated doesn’t mean you have to gulp down on water incessantly throughout non-fasting hours. It means eating the right foods and drinking the right drinks. Focus on foods with high water content such as fruit and vegetable, raw or cooked, whether in soups, salads or stews, and high in electrolytes such as dates, bananas and coconut water (better than many sports drinks which usually contain a lot of sugar).
I always like to start my iftar meal with soup. Not only do I find the warmth comforting after a long day of fasting, but its also hydrating, packs a nutrient punch (if choosing the right ingredients of course) and is easier on the digestive system – unlike those deep fried samosas! -. No one wants to spend the rest of the evening on the couch with stomach cramps and miss out on Ramadan rituals!
- Don’t overload your stomach. Take a little break before your main meal.
I know that by the time Maghrib prayer rolls in, we are all eager to dive head first into those deliciously prepared dishes. But it is important to slowly wake our digestive system up after being in hibernation mode all day. Start by re-hydrating yourself traditionally with water (or coconut water) and dates, or even have a warm cup of water with lemon to jumpstart your metabolism and get rid of all the toxins that have accumulated throughout the fasting period.
Many of us traditionally head to maghrib prayer after breaking our fast, which is a great way to give ourselves time before our iftar meal.
- Eat real foods.
This bring me back to the some of the foods mentioned above such as fruit and vegetables that are not only hydrating but nutrient-rich. It is real foods that will fuel your body and mind. I highly recommend an article that was published in Khaleej Times on What to eat and what to avoid.
We have to be strategic about our food and drink intake during Ramadan as we are preparing our body for a long period of fast, as well as replenishing it after that period is over. We really only have time for two main meals so we have to make them count! As we would outside Ramadan, it is important to eat balanced and include all food groups in our plate including, proteins (lean meats, beans), good carbohydrates (lots of vegetables and some wholegrains) and healthy fats (olive oil, coconut oil, avocado, nuts and seeds, etc.). Try to avoid sugary foods and drinks, and carbohydrate-rich foods (the processed kind, such as white rice, white bread, white sugar, etc.) which will raise your blood sugar level. Fasting is actually a great way to normalize insulin levels so take advantage of your day long effort and don’t reverse its benefits. Balancing out your meals and snacks will help prevent those insulin spikes and, keep your energy levels up and hunger at bay.
Sleep is overrated during Ramadan, or so sleep walkers seem to be the trend. Rituals and traditions make staying up late enjoyable but when that alarm goes off in the morning, we wish we had slept just a little earlier. Well, the bad news is when you don’t get enough sleep, levels of Leptin, which is the hormone that signals the feeling of fullness, drop and Ghrelin, the hormone that signals your appetite, increases, which is why we tend to make bad choices when we are tired and hungry. Those times are usually when we’ll opt for “quick fixes” that are high in sugar, carbs and saturated fats.
- While the food is great during the holy month, the goal and spirit of it is even greater.
Ramadan is a time for spiritual reflection and connection, a time for self improvement, a time for family and friends. Ramadan is the perfect time to turn inwards and focus on your spirituality, your many relationships, your physical health and career, as well as to give back to the community. Let those elements, rather than food alone, fuel you and believe me, you will have no desire for excess food. Primary foods, or nonfood sources of nourishment, are what really fuels us.
I hope this article helps. Be sure to follow me on Instagram and facebook @fitnutuae for meal ideas during Ramadan, and don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions or comments. I am happy to assist.
Have a blessed Ramadan.