To the outside observer, the concept of Ramadan often sounds like a perfect “detox” – I remember explaining it to a friend at university one summer who was utterly impressed and exclaimed that it sounded so healthy and that “you must lose so much weight!”
Fasting for Ramadan can in fact be the perfect time to cut back on refined foods and bad habits like smoking, but unfortunately most people aren’t quick to seize this opportunity. On the contrary, most people tend to gain weight during Ramadan as a result of overeating and the fact that the typical iftar meal includes a plethora of heavy, fatty and high calorie foods. Many seem to be of the mentality that they “deserve” an overly indulgent meal as a reward after having the patience to fast all day. This is not only extremely detrimental to your health, but it also kind of defies the point of fasting to enforce self-discipline and moderation.
So with that said, here are some of my top do’s and don’ts for Ramadan.
DO break your fast with something nutritious.
After fasting all day long, you should at least make sure you break your fast with something healthful and nutrient dense, like dates or fresh juice. It is extremely common to break a fast with dates, as per Islamic tradition. Dates are naturally high in sugar, vitamins and minerals and are quickly digested so they are ideal for an immediate energy boost. To avoid the post sugar rush slump, make sure you combine your dates with a protein source like nuts as these slow the release of sugar into the blood. I personally break my fast with a dried date stuffed with a raw walnut followed closely by some fresh juice and water.
Juicing in Ramadan is a great way to get in an extra dose of concentrated nutrients, especially when the day is as long as it is during the summertime. Normally, I have no problem getting enough vegetables and leafy greens, but when you only have a limited time to consume food in (from sunset till sunrise) there’s only so much salad you can eat.
That said, I appreciate that a juicer isn’t exactly a standard home appliance and that not everyone has the time to juice every day, so alternatively try having a small light salad (easy on the creamy dressing) or a soup before the rest of your meal.
DON’T overdo it at iftar.
This should be a no brainer, but fact that 100 people were admitted to hospital in Qatar for overeating on the first day of Ramadan this year says otherwise. A large, heavy meal that is difficult to digest is the last thing your body wants after a day of fasting from food and water and while it may seem like a good idea at the time, overeating will leave you feeling bloated, and lethargic. Not ideal.
As the Qura’an says: “Eat of the good things we have provided for your sustenance but commit no excess therein.”
Instead, have a light meal at iftar, for example soup and salad, then have a more substantial dinner an hour later (or as soon as you feel hungry again). Alternatively, split your meal into smaller portions and have the rest later. Just remember to eat slowly, chew thoroughly, and avoid drinking water during meals. This enables you to eat with your family at a large gathering and avoid the awkward “why are you only eating soup?” conversation.
DO opt for high quality (and high calorie) foods.
While it might be a good idea to pass on the deep fried appetizers, don’t shy away from high quality high calorie foods. Raw nuts and seeds, nut butters like tahini and avocado are all great sources of healthy fat which you should try to include in your diet on a regular basis, not just in Ramadan. Again, it’s everything in moderation so make sure to balance your plate with a carbohydrates, grains, vegetables and a protein source.
DON’T give up on exercise.
I’ll admit, Ramadan does present a bit of a challenge when it comes to maintaining an exercise routine, but it is doable. The trick is to focus on maintaining your current fitness level, not improving it. You can still work out while fasting (although it is preferable to do so right before breaking a fast, so that you can re-fuel and avoid getting dehyration), but just do so at a lower intensity than you’re used to and you’ll be fine.
If you prefer to exercise after iftar, but don’t wan’t to spend your nights at the gym try doing some at home HIIT workouts or just decrease your regular workout in time.
DO remember that it’s okay to indulge every once in a while!
Traditional sweets and desserts are ubiquitous during Ramadan, and while they’re hardly the healthiest, even I have to admit that they are pretty darn delicious. A small treat every once in a while isn’t the end of the world, and you should never deny yourself something you want or crave. Just have a reasonable portion and make sure that it remains just that, a treat not a necessary supplementation to your daily meal.
Unfortunately as much as I love Arabic sweets, a great deal of them aren’t exactly vegan friendly, but I’m working on that…
and in the mean time, I’ve been indulging the ultimate sweet treat and the best thing about having Ramadan in the summer:
Local, fresh dates.
And no in case you’re wondering, I will never stop raving about them. 🙂