Ramadan: Between Religion & Health

  • Ramadan is the holy month of fasting for Muslims.
  • There are similarities and common health benefits between Ramadan and intermittent fasting.
  • The Suhoor is the first light meal eaten before sunrise.
  • The Iftar is the heavy meal eaten to break the fast after sunset.

“Ramadan Kareem – ALLAHU AKRAM.”

“Generous Ramadan and Allah are the most generous.”

The quote above is a quick glimpse that indicates what Ramadan is all about. One can call it the slogan of the holy month. Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar. Fasting during this time is one of the five pillars of Islam.

It’s a spiritual month when Muslims pause life enjoyment for 30 days every year. This includes excessive eating. There are a couple of goals to be achieved in the month. Ramadan helps redirect their focus closer to  God and strengthens their spiritual health and self-control. Ramadan is also considered a generous month because Muslims are encouraged to do a lot of charity work. 

 

Why do Muslims fast during Ramadan?

Muslims believe that the Quran was orally revealed to prophet Muhammed during Ramadan. This holy book is to be the light for the people and the guidance to the proofs and criteria of life. 

Fasting during Ramadan is the way for Muslims to be closer to their faith. It teaches them self-discipline and self-control. It also reminds them of the suffering of the poor. Charity, food, money, and hospitality are offered on a very large scale in the  Islamic countries during this blessed month.

There is a simple logic with regards to fasting during this holy month. When you empty your stomach and growl from hunger, you are able to direct all your concentration towards God and spirituality. Through this, you are able to test your will. 

Could it be controlled? Is it patient, generous, and gentle towards the surroundings? Through fasting, you are able to raise your self-control towards the pleasures of life. It increases your self-awareness about how you may deal with nervousness, hardships, and even the most heated arguments. 

“Food” is one of the most significant pleasures of life. Sweets, baked goods, meat, fruits, and veggies are all translated into important nutrients by our body’s metabolic language. This means that our carbohydrates, proteins, and fats are controlled during this holy month. You gain only the needed beneficial nutrients to keep the body active during the fasting period. This will be explained in detail below.

 

Intermittent fasting vs Ramadan fasting

Muslims start fasting at dawn and break their fast at sunset. During the nearly 16 hours in between, Muslims cannot eat or drink any kind of food or drink. This even includes water. Ramadan fasting is mandatory for all Muslims except for certain conditions. These include women who are pregnant, breastfeeding, and menstruating. They also exempt those that are too old, too young, on medication, or traveling. 

Have you noticed any similarities between Ramadan fasting and the trendy eating pattern, intermittent fasting?

The main concern of Intermittent Fasting (IF) is the timing of the caloric intake, not the kind or amount of calories itself. This is why it is not considered a diet, as it focuses on your pattern.

The most popular way to follow this pattern is the 16/8 method. It is similar to Ramadan fasting. One fasts for 16 hours and only starts eating meals for the next 8 hours.

Because of how similar they are to each other, the results of the two are comparable. This is a good indication that one can really build a fit and healthy body during the 30-day regimen of Ramadan.   

 

One can build a fit and healthy body during Ramadan

Ramadan only involves two meals. The first is the small caloric meal (Suhoor) before sunrise. The second is a large caloric meal (breakfast or Iftar) right after sunset. 

To guarantee a healthy, fit, and toned body, we recommend maintaining healthy meals. Iftar meals must be nutritionally balanced meals. Meanwhile, Suhoor must not be too heavy. We also recommend exercising after Iftar for about one hour at least 5 times a week. This regimen will help you maintain a healthy weight. 

 

 What is the Iftar meal?

The Iftar refers to the heavy meal that Muslims eat after sunset. We advise breaking your fasting by eating 3 dates, followed by a cup of water. Some may prefer to dip some pieces of dates in milk. This makes it more delicious and beneficial. Dates have tremendous benefits:

  • They are very nutritious because they can provide your body and brain with energy.
  • They have a high fiber content which aids in gastric motility after a long fast. They also boost bowel movement, preventing constipation.
  • They are naturally healthy sweeteners. People with diabetes can eat dates without spiking their blood glucose levels.
  • They provide the body with strong antioxidants needed for fighting the free radicals that cause severe diseases. Dates have a high content of flavonoids and carotenoids.

 After breaking your fasting with the dates, we recommend eating a hearty chicken dish or a cream soup. Here are some great ideas for your main course:

  • Chicken served with rice and sautéed veggies
  • Grilled fish with potatoes
  • Baked salmon
  • Baked potatoes
  • Chicken tagine with spiced Brussels sprouts & feta cheese

All of these dishes primarily contain grilled chicken, meat, fish, or salmon. These foods are rich in protein, unsaturated fats, and omega-3 fatty acids. The vegetables, like potatoes, onions, Brussels sprouts, contain multivitamins. They are also good sources of carbohydrates, omega-3 fatty acids, and fiber. These foods together will keep the body well-nourished and energetic during the fasting hours. 

 

What’s the Suhoor meal?

The Suhoor refers to the low-calorie meal that Muslims eat before sunrise. It is advised to eat Suhoor as this will encourage the body to fast more. It also makes fasting less difficult. 

Suhoor meals are preferably light. It must also be able to keep you energetic and hydrated for the rest of the day. The examples below will keep your body hydrated and supply it with adequate fibers. Dairy products like yogurt and cheese will also give you enough protein for the day.

  • Berry yogurt or frozen yogurt
  • Oats with milk and bananas or berries
  • Fruits (bananas, cucumbers, watermelon) 
  • Tomatoes and feta cheese
 

Physiological changes during Ramadan

Scientific studies have found that fasting during Ramadan has similar health benefits as the intermittent diet. This eating pattern prevents your body from consuming high contents of carbohydrates and fats all day. The blood glucose levels, cholesterol, and LDL are significantly decreased. This forces your body to acquire its energy from ketones that are stored as fats in the body. 

Fasting during Ramadan or intermittent fasting often results in reduced calories consumption. The key mechanism in this pattern is metabolic switching. It triggers the body to switch its source of energy. Instead of using glucose stored in the liver, it is forced to burn ketones, which are stored in fat, instead.

 

Do’s and Don’ts in Ramadan

To maintain a healthy lifestyle in Ramadan, you need to follow some simple tips to stay in a healthy state physically and mentally:

  1. Don’t drink too much tea or coffee. This may cause a severe headache during your fasting time in the day. It may also cause you to urinate a lot, which can lead to dehydration.
  2. Don’t eat too many sweets. In Ramadan, we clear our bodies from blood glucose and stored glycogen in the liver. Therefore, we recommend changing your eating habits from before.
  3. Don’t add salt or spices. Due to the long fasting period, salt or spices intake during Iftar or Suhoor may cause dehydration and irritable bowel symptoms.
  4. Don’t eat processed meat or fats. Eating processed or canned food isn’t eligible in Ramadan. This may be due to the salts or spices added during the process of preparing and storing this kind of food.
  5. Do take your time in eating your meals. After a long period of fasting, eating so quickly may cause a decrease in gastric motility. This can lead to difficulty indigestion. Your body may not be able to break down food as fast. This is due to a possible malfunction in enzyme secretions after the long fast.
  6. Do drink plenty of water. Your organs will crave hydration during the fasting period. Drinking not less than 2.5 liters of water after breaking your fasting is highly recommended.
  7. Do eat fruits. We recommend those that are high in fiber. Eating watermelons, dates, and bananas can maintain your body’s hydration for a while. It also decreases the possibility of constipation.
  8. Do work out. After your Iftar meal, you can hit the gym or do your home workout exercises for an hour. This can help improve your digestion. It also prevents the accumulation of fats in the lower part of your abdomen.

 

 Special dishes to serve during Ramadan

 

1. Khusaaf:   

This is a very well-known drink in Islamic countries. It is actually a combination of different cultures. It is believed to be a Turkish drink with Egyptian and Persian additives. 

The liquid itself is called Amar Aldin, with dried fruits & nuts (almonds, pistachios, hazelnuts, dates, raisins, prunes, and peaches) dipped in it. Some say that this drink goes back to the Fatimid era ( 909 to 1171 CE).

This dish is a classic example of a healthy breakfast. It is enriched with glucose, fibers, and unsaturated fats. It also contains multivitamins, multiple minerals,  B-carotenes, and antioxidants

2. Ful Medammes:

This refers to fava beans pureed with some additives. They may be mixed with foods like hummus, olives, onions, and maybe some cubes of tomatoes. 

This dish is rich in proteins, unsaturated fats, and vitamins necessary during the fasting period.

3. Um Ali:

This one is really fun! Um Ali is a bread pudding with warm milk and sprinkled nuts and cinnamon. This dish goes back to the Mamluk era (1250–1517 CE) in Egypt. It is a  translation of the phrase “the mother of Ali.”  It is named after the wife of Sultan Ezz Aldin Aybak.

Milk and nuts are well known for their beneficial nutrients. These include calcium, potassium, vitamin D, antioxidants, and proteins.  

 

4. Kabsa:

This dish originates from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Yemen, and Kuwait. It is made up of long grain rice and meat, usually baked chicken. Some spices are also added to it. It is really delicious!

 The mix of grains, rice, and meat assures that the body has the needed supply of proteins, carbohydrates, fibers, and unsaturated fats. 

Ramadan establishes the need for purification and resuscitation not only spiritually, but also physically. You can remodel your way of dealing with the surrounding generally and with yourself. This helps you prepare for various general and specific conditions. 

During this month, you can boost their mental and physical health. This is done by letting his soul and body heal themselves on their own. All of this starts by controlling his desires towards the pleasures of life.

It’s also a very good chance to build a fit, healthy, and toned body. Be sure to follow a healthy nutrition plan! Try not to miss your workout schedule.  

 

Summary

Among the ages, Ramadan has been considered as a time of resuscitation and renewing Muslim’s spiritual and physical status. 

It also intensifies the need for good deeds and charity works. This establishes the main concept of giving.  

The self-denial during fasting is also emphasized. This is especially reflected on large scales of communities. It is also an opportunity to build a healthier body.

Scientific Information

LDLLow-density lipoprotein (bad cholesterol) can clog the arteries that the heart can’t receive enough oxygen.

Ketones Ketones are chemical compounds that your body produces from stored fats when there are low levels of carbohydrates.

GlycogenGlycogen is a polysaccharide compound that works as energy storage for the body.

Written by:
Reham Ashraf, RPh
Reviewed by:
Registered Dietitian

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