For the first time since the pandemic began, Muslims all over the world will be celebrating Ramadan in 2023 without any restrictions on social gatherings. This year the holy month falls between March 22 and April 23.
This is a period of time-honoured rituals, including the requirement to eat and drink only once one during the period before sunrise (suhoor) and after sunset (iftar). Yet while the socialising has returned, the overconsumption has, in many instances, been replaced by a much better understanding of what to eat for long-term health. Fasting during Ramadan can have numerous health benefits. Not eating for a prolonged period gives the gut a rest, boosts cellular regeneration and
may improve heart health by improving blood pressure.
The key is to underpin all of this good work by bookending the fast at either end of the day with the right food choices. After a period of abstinence, it’s all too easy to think about treating ourselves to guilty pleasures, or filling our empty stomachs with too much, too soon.
Yet, breaking a fast with a plateful of fatty or fried food, followed by large sugary dessert will only provide a temporary sense of satisfaction, if that.
Over the short-term, these kinds of food are far more likely to cause physical discomfort such as bloating, indigestion and broken sleep. Over the longer-term, many types of chronic illnesses beckon: from type 2 diabetes to heart disease.
Here’s some food for thought about how to eat for health during Ramadan and beyond:
Health experts generally recommend about two litres of water per day. Avoiding dehydration is one of the biggest issues that Muslims face during Ramadan since they don’t drink anything while they’re fasting.
This is particularly important right now given that some academic research suggests that dry airways increase susceptibility to viral illnesses. The best way to combat dehydration is to avoid fizzy, caffeinated, or sugary drinks pre- or post-fast. Opt for water, meals with a high fluid content such as soups and stews and individual foods
with high water levels such as courgettes (97%) and aubergine (92%).
Combat developing a dry throat during the day by drinking milk or yoghurt for suhoor. Avoid overly salty food.
Few of use eat the recommended 30 grams per day at the best of times. But your gut microbiome will thank you for eating more, as it’s their main food source. A balanced microbiome helps to regulate the body’s immune response.
Fibre is the part of plants, which the body cannot digest. It passes through to the large intestine intact. Good sources are wholegrain cereals, cruciferous vegetables, fruits, beans and pulses, nuts and seeds.
It’s especially important to get a lot of fibre during Ramadan, as changing eating habits can prompt constipation. Many Muslims eat three dates at the start of iftar for spiritual reasons, as that’s what the Prophet Muhammad did. But they’re also a great source of fibre (about eight grams).
Carbohydrates are the main energy source for our cells. Eating complex carbohydrates for suhoor helps to set the body up for the day.
But choose starches, which are low on the glycaemic index (GI). These are digested more slowly and help to maintain even blood sugar levels, preventing food cravings and metabolic mayhem. Opt for brown or red rice rather than white. Eat potatoes with their skins on.
We need protein to repair our muscles and bones. It also makes us feel fuller for longer and helps to avoid overeating after breaking the fast. Choose lean proteins such as chicken or fish, tofu or eggs.
It’s easy to think that fats should be avoided during Ramadan, or even generally to maintain weight loss. But the key is to eat the right fats because they’re the ones that keep the body ticking over in good health.
We need fats for our immune system, for hormone production and cellular regeneration. They also help to make use feel full and aid the absorption of certain vitamins – A, D, E and K.
Good fat sources are butter, nuts and nut oils, avocados, fish oil and flaxseed. Cook a curry with coconut oil, or add a teaspoon of olive oil to a soup or stew.