Ramadan (in Arabic: رمضان, Ramadān) is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar. During the whole month, Muslims believe that fasting teaches patience, modesty, and spirituality. Meals are served before sunrise, called suhoor, and after sunset – iftar, and often eaten with family or with the local community.
“Ramadan is a great opportunity to break the chains of bad eating habits, but the majority of people are not reaping the full benefits of this month,” says Salaamah Solomon, a registered dietitian at Tygerberg Academic Hospital in Cape Town.
What we eat outside our fasting hours is crucial to our health.
“To fully benefit from fasting, a person should put a great deal of thought into the type and quantity of food they indulge in throughout this month [Ramadan],” Solomon said.
Find tips below on how to start and end your fast!
May God accept your fasts, bless and grant you a month and lifetime of beauty and taqwa, ameen.
Iftar – when first breaking the fast go for plenty of fluids, low fat, fluid-rich foods and foods containing some natural sugars for energy (avoid consuming a lot of foods or drinks with added sugars). Below are some examples:
Drinks – water, milk, fresh juices or smoothies – water provides hydration without any extra calories or added sugars. Drinks based on milk and fruit provide some natural sugars and nutrients – these are also good to break the fast but avoid drinking a lot of drinks with added sugars after breaking the fast as these can provide too much sugars and calories.
Dates – traditionally eaten to break the fast since the time of the Prophet Muhammad (S), dates are a great way to break the fast as they provide natural sugars for energy, provide minerals like potassium, copper and manganese and are a source of fibre.
Narrated Salman ibn Amir: The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: When one of you is fasting, he should break his fast with dates; but if he cannot get any, then (he should break his fast) with water, for water is purifying.Sunan Abu Dawood – Book 13 Hadith 2348
You could also try other dried fruits such as apricots, figs, raisins or prunes, which also provide fibre and nutrients.
Fruit – a traditional way to break the fast in South Asian cultures, fruit provides natural sugars for energy, fluid and some vitamins and minerals.
Soup – traditional in many Arab countries, is a light way to break the fast and provides fluid. Traditional soups are based on a meat broth and often contain pulses, like lentils and beans, and starchy foods like pasta or grains, providing nutrients and energy.
After breaking the fast – meals vary between different cultures but try to make sure the foods you eat provide a balance of starchy foods, fruit and vegetables, dairy foods and protein-rich foods like meat, fish, eggs and beans.
After a long fast it’s natural to want to treat yourself but try to keep the amount of fatty and sugary foods and sugary drinks you have to a small amount. Remember that you only have a relatively short time each day to eat and drink to provide your body with all the essential nutrients and fluids it needs to be healthy, so the quality of your diet is especially important during Ramadan. If you can, once you have had a chance to digest your food, you could try doing some light exercise such as going for a walk. If you attend Taraweeh prayers in the evening, perhaps you could walk all or part of the way there.
Suhoor: – drink plenty of fluids, choose fluid-rich foods to make sure you are well hydrated for the day ahead and go for starchy foods for energy, choosing high fibre or wholegrain varieties where possible as these tend to be digested more slowly. Below are some examples:
Oats – these are whole-grains and you could choose porridge, which will also provide fluids as it’s made with milk or water, or muesli with milk or yogurt. You could experiment with fresh or dried fruit, nuts or seeds as toppings.
High fibre breakfast cereals – these provide plenty of fibre and are often fortified with vitamins and minerals, providing extra nutrients. Because they are consumed with milk, you also get fluid and nutrients like calcium, iodine and b vitamins from the milk. Ensure that the milk is organic, or try an alternative if you are lactose intolerant.
Starchy foods like rice, or couscous – you could try rice pudding with fruit or experiment with couscous or other grains with dairy or fruit. If you go for savoury dishes at suhoor then make sure these are not too salty or they may make you very thirsty.
Yogurt – this can be a good food to include at suhoor as it provides nutrients like protein, calcium, iodine and b vitamins and also contains fluid. You could combine it with cereal and fruit.
Breads – go for wholegrain options as these provide more fibre, for example wholemeal toast or chapattis. Avoid combining bread with salty foods like hard cheese, or preserved meats. You could try nut butters (without added salt), soft cheese, or banana. As bread is fairly dry, make sure you drink plenty of water or other fluids alongside or you could have fluid-rich foods such as a lentil soup, which is a traditional food at suhoor in some countries.