Ramadan daylight fasting is one of the five pillars of the Islamic faith.
This June, our blog site Guest Author is Teba Abdul Lateef, a Registered Dietitian from Pakistan who is contributing to a two-part blog series on Ramadan. Teba is sharing some of her expertise as a devout Muslim when it comes to Islamic traditions. Please see Part 1 of this two-part blog series for links to Teba’s background. (Grand Mosque picture courtesy of barunpatro at rgbstock).
Part 1 covers some background from Teba concerning Ramadan as well as some reported culinary trends during Ramadan for Muslims living in various parts of the world. This Part 2 includes some thoughts from Teba for devout Muslims to consider when it comes to maintaining their health during Ramadan.
Remember that this blog site only provides infotainment. We respect each person’s right of choice.
We urge each devout Muslim who is considering practicing daylight fasting during the month of Ramadan to please check with his or her personal physician. Each devout Muslim should carefully weigh the individualized health care advice received from that health professional before making any decision regarding personal fasting.
Please note that a health care professional personally working with any devout Muslim who chooses to fast from dawn to dusk during Ramadan may suggest the taking of specific dietary aka nutrient supplement(s). Such supplement(s) may contain particular levels of minerals and/or vitamins designed to promote wellness and protect health considering the circumstances of daytime fasting and the consumption of fewer meals during Ramadan. Any such recommendation should be personalized for each devout Muslim’s unique individual needs.
Please see Part 1 of this blog series for more details on Islamic religious doctrine regarding those Muslim faithful who may be considered exempt from fasting during Ramadan.
We hope that you enjoy this two-part series with a unique perspective on Ramadan.
Dining Considerations for a Healthier Ramadan
Original Article Draft by Teba Abdul Lateef; Content Editing and Formatting by Stephanie
Intermittent fasting during daylight hours of Ramadan, which is considered a religious duty for non-exempt mentally and physically fit adult Muslims, has been reported to be accomplished safely when reasonable precautions are taken when eating and drinking during allowed meals of Ramadan.
Many healthy adult Muslims firmly believe fasting during daylight hours of Ramadan can be beneficial for their health. Health Care Professionals urge that all healthy adult Muslims take great care to consume food items from all of the food groups during allowed meals along with adequate clear fluid intake in order to best protect their health during Ramadan.
Muslims are concerned that non-Muslims may have a misconception about prolonged intermittent daylight hour fasting during the month of Ramadan. Non-Muslims may incorrectly believe that prolonged intermittent fasting is the same as non-stop continuous fasting aka starvation.
Starvation is an unhealthy state in which the body is not getting enough food to produce sufficient energy to meet its energy needs and thus the body is forced to use its own protein sources for energy. Breaking down muscle tissue and later organ tissue occurs in starvation in an attempt to meet the body’s most critical needs for energy.
Starvation is NOT the same as intermittent fasting.
People throughout the world at times must engage in overnight intermittent fasting prior to having blood work drawn the following morning. In such instances, the fasting period lasts for 8-12 hours including while one sleeps. The body typically enters into a fasting state approximately eight hours or so after completion of the last meal. After such an overnight intermittent fast, liver glycogen, a storage form of the sugar glucose, can be broken down to release glucose into the blood stream to provide energy to the body of a healthy person. Muscle glycogen can also be available to the body.
The same principle of drawing upon body stores of energy applies to daylight intermittent fasting with the exception that one is typically active during daylight hours and that activity places a greater demand upon one’s body to draw upon energy stores of liver and muscle glycogen. It is typically closer to 24 hours of fasting when the body can draw on fat stores and break them down so that fat can be used as an energy source once liver and muscle glycogen stores have been used up.
Fast durations during daylight hours of Ramadan will vary depending upon the time of year in which Ramadan occurs and the country in which the Muslim faithful are living. Fast durations can potentially extend to 15-16 hours or more in length in peak summer months in both Eastern & non-Eastern countries. Extremes of the “midnight sun” in certain parts of the world where the sun is visible for up to 24 hours such as north of the Arctic Circle or South of the Antarctic Circle (no human settlements exist in the latter location) can pose difficulties for the Muslim faithful during Ramadan, however, the majority of Muslims do not live or travel in such places. Guidelines are available for when devout Muslims may eat at “Sehr” (Suhoor aka Suhour aka Suhur) and Iftar if they happen to be in “midnight sun” areas during the time of Ramadan.
Making Better Halal Food Choices During Ramadan
Beyond consuming water as a beverage*, it is typically suggested that Halal food choices from each food group should be consumed in the two allowed meals of Suhur and Iftar (plus any snacking after Iftar) in order to obtain a sufficient array of nutrients from one’s diet to promote health. For information on Halal, please see a publication from the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) titled The Kosher and Halal Food Laws (you can download a full pdf from the abstract link page) and/or a publication from the Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America (IFANCA) Halal Foodservice Kit.
Suhur* (pre-dawn meal eaten at Sahar) should be composed of more wholesome food choices to provide energy to last through the daylight fasting hours. Iftar (breaking the fast after sunset) should be a complete meal to contribute to replenishing a person’s energy levels during the following overnight hours. Snacking judiciously late evening/at night (preferably 2-3 hours prior to bedtime) to obtain needed nutrients during Ramadan is another strategy Muslims can utilize.
Suggested Meal Patterns for Iftar and Suhur
- Fruits and vegetables: Servings per meal of vegetables (2-3) and fruits (1-2) should be consumed. These carbohydrate-rich food sources should be consumed especially during suhur as they give a person a feeling of fullness because each contains fiber. *The water content of vegetables and fruits can also help keep a person hydrated during the rest of the day during fasting hours of Ramadan. Total vegetable and fruit consumption for a 24 hour period can typically range between 5-9 normal size servings.
- Whole grains: Serving(s) per meal of whole grain bread and whole grain alternatives (1-2-3) should be consumed. Whole grain bread or brown rice are often preferred. Whole grains contain complex carbohydrates which release glucose slowly (glucose is a form of sugar the body uses for energy) and help to sustain more even energy levels for the body for longer periods of time than refined grains do. Total whole grain consumption for a 24 hour period can range between 3-6 oz aka 3-6 normal size servings.
- Meat, fish and alternatives (such as cooked legumes/beans/pulses): One serving per meal of leaner meat (2-3 oz cooked) or its alternatives can be desirable. As rich sources of protein, they can help repair body tissues and contribute to maintaining the immune system. Cooked legumes/beans/pulses can contribute valuable fiber intake helping to prevent constipation during times of intermittent fasting. Total meat and alternatives consumption for a 24 hour period is typically adequate at 5 oz cooked meat equivalent.
- Dairy products: Serving(s) per meal from lower fat or non-fat dairy products (1-2) may reduce the incidence of joint and bone pain which are among frequent complaints voiced by Muslims during Ramadan. Total dairy products consumption for a 24 hour period is typically adequate at 3 normal size servings each equivalent to 7-8 grams of protein).
Dining Choices that are Discouraged in Many Countries During Ramadan
Foods to avoid during Ramadan include highly processed foods and refined carbohydrates (such as refined white flour, high sugar content items, refined flour made cakes, refined flour made biscuits), as well as other food items high in fat (even if they don’t appear fatty) along with food items high in sodium (even if they don’t taste salty). It is fine to use white whole wheat flour as it is made from a whole grain and is NOT refined white flour.
Although many different kinds of dessert items are frequently available in various Muslim cultures during Ramadan, higher saturated fat intake is usually discouraged.
It would be worth avoiding caffeine as much as possible in the diet during Ramadan. Caffeine is a known diuretic and stimulates more rapid body loss of needed water, which is a serious concern in extremely hot weather when Ramadan occurs during peak summertime heat. Caffeine is present in tea, coffee, certain carbonated soft drinks, energy drinks, chocolate, etc.
Cooking Method Awareness During Ramadan
Deep fat frying, and excessive sautéing should be avoided during Ramadan. Although some limited fat intake is reasonable, sufficient fiber and water intake may help to ameliorate potential episodes of constipation. High fat intake should also be avoided because in the process of slowing down digestion it can lead to prolonged acidity in the stomach and a sense of indigestion after a meal.
Tips For a Healthier Ramadan
- Drink adequate clear water and other fluids, but avoid caffeinated beverages as much as possible especially since Ramadan falls during a peak time of heat and humidity this year in many parts of the world and concerns for dehydration are thus increased.
- Break your fast at iftar with a little fruit which has a high content of fructose (a form of sugar) such as 2-3 dates (for almost “instant energy”).
- Avoid fried foods as much as possible and be judicious when consuming high sugar content items other than some fruit (avoid excessive dessert intake temptation despite the offering of so many high sugar and high fat dessert items popular in each culture during Ramadan).
- Include adequate real, wholesome food intake from each food group as much as possible in each allowed meal.
Since one’s diet plays an important role in one’s observation of Ramadan, it is hoped that faithful Muslims will practice healthier eating when they dine during Ramadan.
Ramadan Mubarak! (May your Ramadan be blessed!)
*Suhur is also known by other spellings (including, but not limited to) Sahari, Sahur, Sehri, Sehur, Suhoor and Suhour