The Muslim month of Ramadan is finally here and the preparations have been made. Most people would probably think that with a solid 18 hours without food or water, Muslims everywhere must just be dropping mad weight. Not so, my friends. While the idea is to humble yourself and understand your fellow man who might come from more modest means, the reality is that in most predominantly Muslim countries, Ramadan tends to resemble a 30-day festival with inconvenient dry periods. Fatty, deep-fried foods fare heavily on the fast-breaking menu—and sometimes, the same could be said about the morning meal. For those not of the faith, here’s a quick background:
The Islamic practice of fasting during the month of Ramadan is one of the five essential pillars of the religion. Believers rise about an hour or two before sunrise in order to prepare and eat the morning meal. The term varies by language, but in Arabic, this meal is known as suhoor. When dawn breaks, all eating, drinking (and sex!) is brought to a close. From then on until sunset, there is no eating, drinking (not even water), sexual relations, smokin, etc. At sunset, the fast is broken and participants are free to partake in the above (Author’s Note: Smoking is seriously bad for you and your wallet though. If you’ve been looking to quit, Ramadan can be a great time to start!). The cycle continues for 30 days, after which it is culminated by day of feasting.
SalamCenter.org offers a great summary on what Muslims hope to achieve with this ritual:
Some of the main benefits of Ramadan are an increased compassion for those in need of the necessities of life, a sense of self-purification and reflection and a renewed focus on spirituality. Muslims also appreciate the feeling of togetherness shared by family and friends throughout the month. Perhaps the greatest practical benefit is the yearly lesson in self-restraint and discipline that can carry forward to other aspects of a Muslim’s life such as work and education.
So, back to the food.
A Los Angeles Times article talks about the problem in Egypt, but it is a problem everywhere—particularly in Western countries where rich, calorie-laden food is so readily available.
In the spirit of Ramadan and to help out any of my brothers and sisters in faith that are trying to remain healthy and practicing self-discipline, here are the Top 3 foods to eat for suhoor:
1: Complex Carbohydrates
Carbs are the primary source of fuel used by the body and brain to perform its necessary physical and mental functions. Insufficient carbs in the diet lead to lethargy, weakness, and difficulty concentrating and thinking, as well as low moods and irritability. Complex carbs […] release energy to the body over a longer period of time, keeping energy levels stabilized.
Examples of complex carbs include whole grains, fruit, vegetables and legumes. Even pickles (which are made from cucumbers), soy products and dairy products are on the list.
Always remember to stay hydrated! Drink enough water throughout the evening and during suhoor to keep your body running at its best. 18 hours without hydration is no joke. Plan for it. We lose about a quart and a half of water a day just by breathing, and ultimately lose over three quarts a day.
If you need to, get your water through things other than water. As much as I hate recommending things like coffee (ugh) or cola (even worse!), they are not diuretics, as previously believed. Diuretics cause you to urinate more frequently after ingesting them, however, Mayo Clinic nutritionist Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D., says that
new research shows […] caffeine has a diuretic effect only if you consume large amounts of it—more than 500-600 mlligrams.
Muslims have a special place in their hearts for dates due to the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) extolling the virtues of the little fruit. Here’s a more scientific recommendation (among many) from OrganicFacts.net:
Dates have high levels of soluble fiber, which is essential in promoting healthy bowel movements and the comfortable passage of food through the intestinal tract, which can relieve symptoms of constipation.
What can I say? You gotta take care of your plumbing. =P
In it’s simplest terms, it boils down to what Dr. Haffejee said:
Our diet should not differ very much from our normal diet and should be as simple as possible.
Those are some great words to take with you outside the times of fasting, as well.
Ramadan Mubarak, everyone!
SalamCenter.org: Frequently Asked Questions
Many Muslims Gain Weight During Ramadan Fasting
Food Habit Tips During Ramadan
The Health Benefits of Comlex carbohydrates and Diet
Why Is Hydration Important?
Health Benefits of Dates
What Your Poo Is Trying to Tell You
Best foods to eat at Suhoor this Ramadan
Mayo Clinic nutrition and healthy eating question