For many of us, our whole lifestyle changes during the month of Ramadhan as we prepare ourselves spiritually, mentally and physically for concentrated worship. It is a demanding time and we have to make sure we get the best out of it by doing as much ‘ibadah as we can. This is a time to cleanse, not only our deen and iman, but our bodies as well, so we need to make sure that our diet supports our change in lifestyle. We can do this by giving the right fuel to our bodies to help us take advantage of every opportunity for reward in this blessed month.
Different cultures have different diets in Ramadhan. In this article I am going to look at two common diets in the Muslim world, the South Asian diet and the Middle Eastern diet, and highlight the differences, the pros and cons of each and how they can be improved. This will help us to see which foods help us and work with our bodies and which work against us.
Below are two menus, one South Asian and the other Middle Eastern, featuring foods traditionally eaten at suhoor and at iftar during Ramadhan:
SOUTH ASIAN DIET
Omelette with chappati/paratha/toast or rice with vegetable curry. Tea and biscuits.
Good or Bad?
Having an egg for suhoor is great, is provides energy, however, try not to fry your egg, instead use a non-stick pan, or dab on oil on instead with a kitchen towel. Try boiling or poaching your egg instead.
Switch to wholegrain rice, this will keep you fuller for longer and release energy slowly. Avoid parathas as they are high in fat. Add a fruit, like a banana, full of energy and potassium. Make sure you have water as well to keep hydrated.
Dates and water, fried finger foods (samosas, pakoras, bhajis, etc.)
Meat or vegetable curry with chapati, paratha or pitta bread. Falooda or Mango Lassi, sweet dessert or sweet finger foods. Tea and biscuits.
Good or Bad?
Dates and water are the best way to break your fast, it’s according to the sunnah for a reason, as it gives you an energy boost. Fried finger foods are full of fat and oil, provide no energy and no nutrients. They also promote weight gain.
Having a curry is fine; just make sure it doesn’t have excess oil and salt. Switch to wholegrain flour when making chappati and have wholemeal pitta bread.
There is too much sugar in this diet: the milky drink as well as the dessert tend to contain excess amounts of sugar which will only give a short burst of energy and the rest will be stored as fat, so avoid or limit. Don’t add ice cream to the falooda.
MIDDLE EASTERN DIET
Boiled egg, yoghurt, juice, tea.
Good or Bad?
A nice light suhoor is best, with plenty of fluids to keep you hydrated. Egg is great to have at suhoor as it will keep you full for longer.
Have wholegrain bread or breakfast cereal as this will be the main source of energy. Keep it light with some bread and low-fat cheese.
Dates and water, bread with yoghurt, hummus.
Soup, tikka or kebabs, pastries, salad, fruit, sweet pudding and apricot juice.
Good or Bad?
Dates and water helps to bring our low glucose levels back to normal.
Bread with yoghurt is a nice light starter for iftar. Add some vegetable sticks or toasted bread to have with the hummus.
Soup is great to have at iftar; it is both hydrating and filling, especially with a wholemeal bread roll. There is a whole range of soups you can make from vegetables to pulses, from meat to chicken.
If you skipped the pastries and sweet puddings this would be the perfect meal – just add some pitta bread and it will be a nice, healthy, balanced meal.
From looking at the above we can see that the South Asian diet contains more fat and sugar, what with the fried finger foods, sugary drinks and oily curries. With an abundance of fruit and vegetables on offer as well as simple foods like yoghurt and bread, the Middle Eastern diet seems to be more wholesome, more natural and well balanced. However, it too contains sweet, sugary foods.
On the other hand, both diets are usually homemade which is good, as one has complete control over how the food is made and what goes into it. However, this power should be used to our advantage. So, if we know that we are putting too much sugar in the juice or falooda, then we should slowly reduce the amount we put until it is a moderate amount or until, in the case of fruit juices, we can do without added sugar altogether.
Here are some general healthy tips to take on during this month:
• Suhoor: Keep it light and fresh. Have whole grains and fibre-rich foods which keep us fuller for longer and release energy slowly during the day. Examples of whole grains and fibre foods: Weetabix, oats/porridge, muesli, banana, wholegrain rice, pasta, bread.
• Iftar: Don’t fill up on finger foods; limit these and leave space for the main meal. Make sure it is healthy and well-balanced, including a bit of protein, carbohydrate, fruits and vegetables and milk/dairy.
• Add salads or vegetables to your meal to help you get the essential nutrients required to help you get through your day and will help you reach your 5-a-day. They are healthy and filling and will help you limit your intake of fatty foods.
• Have a fruit plate/bowl every day to ensure you get your 5-a-day or cut some fruit up to snack on between iftar and sehri.
• Make sure you have plenty of water between iftar and suhoor. Keep yourself hydrated with fluids such as water, fresh juices and dilute drinks as lack of water can make you tired and lazy. Water also helps to flush out toxins, detoxing and cleansing our body.
• Have a small portion of the sweet, fried foods. The key is moderation; again, don’t fill up on these, but leave space for the main meal which will give you the essential nutrients and energy to function well in the day and through the night.
• Don’t rush the iftar meal; it won’t help the digestive system and promotes problems like bloating, constipation and trapped wind.
So, whatever your cultural or culinary background, make sure you follow a well-rounded, balanced diet during Ramadhan, one that will work with your body rather than against it. Remember this is a month to cleanse our bodies so, rather than having more food, let us have food filled with nutrients rather than energy. Ramadhan is a time to heal and repair our bodies and it cannot be done with excess food filled with fats and sugars.
Ayshabibi Hafesji is a qualified public health nutritionist and is registered with the Association of Nutrition. She is self-employed as A H Nutritionist, working with individuals and groups of people in schools, community centres and health/fitness centres. Her aim is to promote healthy wellbeing in the Islamic community and help people to adapt to a healthy lifestyle.