To spend the month of Ramadan physically healthy and strong, one should take their current health status, diet, physical activities and sleep patterns into consideration before fasting. People with chronic illnesses and/or those who regularly take medications should consult their doctors to avoid exacerbating their conditions while they fast.
Research (1) shows that individuals who are qualified to fast according to Islamic rules have positive changes in their health when they participate in Ramadan. Data collected from 23 countries, 91 studies and 4431 participants indicate an improvement in cardiometabolic risk factors during Ramadan fasting. The risks of obesity, high blood sugar, high blood pressure, insulin resistance, and irregularity in blood lipids are reduced as well.
In another study (2), regardless of weight loss or calorie restriction in fasting people, an increase in anti-cancer proteins, regulatory proteins in glucose-lipid metabolism, DNA repair, regeneration in the skeletal system, insulin sensitivity, and improvement in circadian rhythm and cognitive functions has been observed.
Ramadan fasting can bring such improvements to your health if you make the following changes to your diet and lifestyle:
- Refer to the healthy eating plate model for variety in food.
- Eat slowly and chew well during iftar and suhoor. Put the utensils down between bites and pick it up again before the next bite.
- Divide the iftar meal into two parts. Start with water, dates and soup. Take a break of about 10-15 minutes before continuing. Resume with the main course and salad.
- Drink enough water. Not drinking enough water can cause headaches and weakness during fasting, and loss of appetite at iftar time. On the other hand, drinking too much water at the time of iftar can cause indigestion as it can dilute stomach acidity. Therefore it is recommended to drink only 1 glass (200 ml) of water at iftar and continue drinking every 15-20 minutes from iftar till bedtime. During suhoor, drink an average of 2-3 glasses of water.
- Instead of heavy meals at suhoor, choose breakfast foods that can be a source of fibrous carbohydrates, healthy protein and fat. Those who want to eat soup can consume a low-salt, low-fat bowl of soup instead of a slice of bread.
- Craving sweets may be an indication of nutritional deficiencies. Take care to get enough fiber in meals, regularly consume fruits and drink enough water. If one does not have any serious health problems, instead of cutting out sweets completely, a dessert can be consumed by paying attention to the portions and frequency.
- Choose foods that keep you full such as:
- Quality protein sources: eggs, kefir, yogurt, milk, low-sodium/unsalted cheeses.
- Fibrous food sources: raw and cooked vegetables, fresh and dried fruits.
- Whole wheat instead of refined white flour such as emmer wheat, black-awn wheat, einkorn wheat, buckwheat, whole rye berries and oat flour.
- Healthy fat sources: raw nuts (walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds..), avocados, flax seeds, chia seeds, sesame, tahini, black cumin and low-sodium olives.
Problems frequently experienced during Ramadan include:
- Indigestion and bloating: If these complaints exist, use cumin regularly in meals, drink one or two glasses of fennel tea between iftar and suhoor and if there is no stomach discomfort drink one to two tablespoons of organic apple cider vinegar before or after iftar meals.
- Constipation: In the first few days of fasting, bathroom schedules may change, but if there is chronic constipation, it can be alleviated by the intake of water and fibrous foods. Probiotic sources (food and supplements) should be added to the diet and physical activity should be increased.
- Sleep: Instead of staying awake between iftar and suhoor, sleep for at least 2-3 hours between 11:00 p.m. and 04:00 a.m. If not, rest in a dark, quiet environment. By adapting to the biological rhythm of the body, complaints of exhaustion can be reduced and positive effects of night time sleep can be supported during these hours.
- Physical activity: In order to protect current health and also prevent possible future complaints, increase your mobility by walking or exercising at home after iftar or in the first hours of the day.
In addition to all these recommendations:
- Shop for groceries between morning and noon hours during Ramadan. As the time of iftar approaches, the chances of making an unnecessary amount and variety of purchases increases with hunger.
- When weighing yourself, step on the scale in the afternoon instead of in the morning. This will improve the accuracy of one’s measurements.
- Do not let iftar tables display waste, vanity and insatiability, but instead let them represent a positive step towards health.
I hope this will be a fruitful and productive month of fasting in which our gratitude, understanding and sharing with the needy increases.
I wish everyone a healthy Ramadan with the guidance of a verse from the Qur’an and the hadiths below:
Nutrition and fasting in the Qur’an and Hadiths
“(If only he did not think about his origin and end), then let man look at his food (how we administer it)”. Surah Al-‘Abasa [80:24]
It was narrated from Abu Hurairah (رضي الله عنه) that the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said:
“For everything there is Zakat and the Zakat of the body is fasting.” (A narrator in one of the chains) Muhriz (رضي الله عنه) added in his narration: “And the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: ‘Fasting is half of patience.’” [Sunan Ibn Majah 1745]
Anas bin Malik (رضي الله عنه) narrated:
“The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) would break the fast with fresh dates before performing Salat. If there were no fresh dates then (he would break the fast) with dried dates, and if there were no dried dates then he would take a few sips of water.” [Jami` at-Tirmidhi 696]
Miqdam bin Ma’dikarib (رضي الله عنه) reported: I heard Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) say:
“No man fills a container worse than his stomach. A few morsels that keep his back upright are sufficient for him. If he has to, then he should keep one-third for food, one-third for drink and one-third for his breathing.” [At-Tirmidhi, Riyad as-Salihin 515]
Jabir (رضي الله عنه) told of hearing the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) say,
“One person’s food is enough for two, two persons’ food is enough for four, and four persons’ food is enough for eight.” [Muslim, Mishkat al-Masabih 4178]
Aylin Özgür, Dietitian
Translated by Filiz Arslan