Top 10 tips for healthy Ramadan
8 June 2016
Ramadan is a perfect opportunity for making new changes and adapting to a healthier lifestyle. This year Muslims in the UK will experience the longest fast for 33 years, with the fasting day lasting about 16-19 hours (depending on your UK location). It is therefore important that balanced foods and drinks are eaten during the pre-dawn meal (Suhoor) and meal at dusk (Iftar) to replenish your energy stores and rehydrate.
Here are our top tips for eating healthy during Ramadan:
1. Don’t skip the pre-dawn meal(suhoor) The suhoor meal should be a wholesome and moderate meal that is filling and provides energy for the fasting hours ahead- so it’s an important one not to miss out on. Below are a few examples of what to eat:
• Oats, porridge or muesli – choose plain and unsweetened varieties
• Breads such as pitta bread, naan or toast – choose wholegrain options as these provide more fibre.
• Breakfast cereals – choose high fibre varieties and those that are lower in salt and sugar. Most breakfast cereals are fortified with vitamins and minerals providing you with extra nutrients.
• Yoghurt or milk – choose low fat versions e.g. semi skimmed
• Eggs - fried, poached, scrambled or soft-boiled with soldiers, eggs are packed with protein that will help stave off hunger.
• Fruit- try adding fresh fruit or dried foods such as dates or figs to your breakfast cereal.
2. Have a light and simple (iftar) meal
You don’t need to break your fast with a huge feast -Ramadan is not about over indulgence. The iftar meal isn’t supposed to make up those hours you spent without food. The meal should be simple and should not differ too much from our everyday meal.
Break your fast with dates which contain natural sugars, a quick energy source your body needs after fasting. Start with simple, light foods such as soups or fruit before moving on to your main meal.
3. Base your meals on complex carbohydrates and fibre rich foods The suhoor and iftar meal varies between different cultures but try to make sure that the foods you eat are based on complex carbohydrates and high fibre foods. These foods will help to release energy slowly during the long hours of fasting and hopefully make you feel fuller for longer. Complex carbohydrate foods include barley, wheat, oats, semolina, beans, lentils (daals), wholemeal flour (chapattis) and basmati rice. Fibre-rich foods are also digested slowly and include bran, cereals, whole wheat, grains and seeds, potatoes with the skin on, vegetables such as green beans, and almost all fruit, including apricots, prunes and figs.
Check out the eatwell guide here for more information on a balanced diet.
4. Avoid processed and fatty foods
Although processed foods can be convenient, they usually contain high levels of fat, salt and sugar, everything we need to be limiting in our diet. So avoid snacking on junk foods such as chips, sweets, chocolate during Ramadan.
Food to avoid
• Deep fried foods such as samosas, fried dumplings, fried chicken
• High sugar and high fat foods/drinks such as cakes, biscuits, chocolates, sweetened fizzy drinks, syrup drinks and sweets such as baklava and Indian/Pakistani mithai
• High fat cooked foods such as parathas or pastries
5. Cut down on sugar
Ramadan is a good time to try and cut down on your sugar intake. Many packaged foods and drinks contain high amounts of sugar. Swap your sugary breakfast cereal for plain porridge or whole-wheat cereals or mueslis with no added sugar. Swap sweets or chocolates with fruit or dried fruit such as dates. If you can’t resist, then eat a small portion.
6. Cut down on salt
If you are used to adding salt during cooking, try to gradually reduce the amount you add and use herbs and spices instead to flavour foods. Most of our salt intake comes from processed foods so remember to check the labels when out shopping and choose lower salt versions. Avoid salty snacks as pickles, salted nuts and cheese pasties.
7. Avoid caffeine
Caffeine is found in tea, coffee, chocolate and cola drinks and causes you to lose water in the day faster. Try to avoid drinking tea or coffee during Ramadan. If you are a regular drinker, try to reduce your intake by cutting out caffeinated drinks at suhoor time.
8. Drink plenty of water
This is the obvious one that is sometimes forgotten. This year Ramadan will be in summer so it’s important to drink plenty of water to help with rehydration after the long day of fasting. Try to drink as many glasses of water as you can throughout the night and at suhoor time.
9. Get cooking – use healthy cooking methods
Try making your meals by cooking from scratch. It’s also a great way to share food dishes in Ramadan with your friends, family and neighbours. To make your meals healthier, adapt your cooking methods by grilling, baking or steaming which helps to retain the flavour of foods especially for fish and meats.
10. Plan your meals
When it comes to eating well, meal planning is one of the easiest things you can do to set yourself up for success. Plan your meals ahead of time and avoid shopping on an empty stomach – which can result in you buying the energy dense foods that are high in fat, salt and sugar.
Saadia Noorani, Registered Nutritionist (Public Health)
Kawther Hashem, Registered Nutritionist