Why is that we spend a whole month of fasting, yet rather than losing weight we actually put on weight? I tell you why? It’s because we take this month as a month of food and forget the real essence of fasting and we overindulge ourselves, instead of eating less we actually overeat. Overeating has been frowned upon in our religion as it is thought to increase worldly appetites and cause sluggishness, thereby ”dulling the soul”. Ghazali said that satiety results in laziness and sluggishness of the heart; it slows down perception and awareness, while hunger clears the mind and purifies the heart. So, the whole purpose of fasting here is to have a lighter body in order to free the soul and focus on more important spiritual matters.
BENEFITS OF FASTING:
Fasting has lots of physical and spiritual benefits. I’m going to discuss some physical benefits here. Accordingg to Dhahabi in his ‘Medicine of the Prophet’, it was thought that the stomach was ”the seat of disease”. Fasting gives the digestive system a rest and makes the body feel lighter. The energy usually consumed in digestion and food metabolism will be directed towards body detoxification, tissue repair, and system healing.
Leon Chaitow recommended fasting in his book ”Natural Alternative to Antibiotics” as an effective way to ‘supercharge’ the immune system. He states that fasting boosts the activity of essential parts of the body’s natural defence mechanism. During fasting the ability of the lymphocytes and other blood cells to encounter any bacterial attack is much improved, and since the level of free radicals in the body is reduced by reducing food intake, the activity of the antioxidants is retained for better cell protection. Fasting also boosts the detoxification powers of the hepatic (liver) cells, cleans the kidneys and colon and purifies the blood. Furthermore, it helps overcome obesity, aids in ridding the body of any excess water, and clears the blood from extra fats, which in turn frees the tissues from stored fat-soluble toxins such as pesticides or drug metabolites.
In this month of Ramadan, we should aim and plan to gain the full benefits of fasting by eating healthy and controlling our portions of food. Always remember our body is a gift from Allah; He trusted our bodies to us to take care of for a fixed period of time. Taking care of it in the best way possible is our responsibility. The prophet (peace be upon him) said:
“God has a right over you; your body has a right over you …”
While we focus on our spiritual upbringing in this month, we also need to focus on our physical well being. To strike a balance between the needs of the physical body and your spiritual needs, you must consume the right type and amount of foods. Now let me share a few tips on what to eat and what not to eat during Ramadan.
WHAT’S FOR SUHOOR?
The prophet (Peace be upon him) strongly advised people not to skip suhoor (the meal before dawn). He recommended eating this light meal as close to dawn as we can, to be able to keep our full strength during the day. If you skip out on suhoor, you are putting your body in starvation mode and actually only going to cause yourself to overindulge at Iftaar time. So, eat sahoor. The prophet (Peace be upon him) said:
“There is a blessing in eating sahoor so do not skip it. Atleast drink a sip of water, for Allah and his angels give their blessings to the people who eat their meal before the break of dawn”.
List Of Food You Can Eat:
The best foods for suhoor are:
- a light meal of bread and cheese or
- A slice of bread with an omelette
- Whole grain toast with all-natural peanut butter/almond butter top with berries/banana slices or
- Museli/Quinoa with almond milk/full fat milk/yogurt, raisins, cinnamon, organic honey and banana/other fruits. Don’t forget the dates to spread on the top
- 3 or 5 dates with water melon, depending upon the size of the dates (Sunnah)
- 3 dates with milk
Basic rule applies here : ‘Do not overdo it’, when you eat less, you are less prone to becoming hungry quick and remember the purpose of fasting is to empty the stomach and lighten the body to free the soul.
WHAT’S FOR IFTAR?
List Of Food You Can Eat:
- Dates: After a long day of fasting it is wise to break the fast with a light and healthy meal. Start with dates if possible. I personally don’t question any food that was eaten by our beloved Prophet (Peace be upon him) or recommended by him. Anas Ibn Malik RA (may God be pleased with him) narrated:
“The messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him) used to break his fast before praying with some fresh dates, but if there were no fresh dates, he took some mouthfuls of water”.
Sunan Abu Dawud
Dates contain a high percentage of simple sugars that are easily and quickly absorbed by the body, giving an immediate boost of energy and restoring normal blood sugar levels (BSL) after a long fasting day. Dates also provide the energy necessary for food digestion, assimilation and absorption, thus preventing the sluggishness often felt after the Iftar. Dates are rich in vitamin A and B, in addition to magnesium, potassium and phosphorus. In addition to simple and easily absorbed sugars, they contain fibre, which relieves constipation, aids in cholesterol reduction, fights colon cancer and rapidly gives a feeling of satiety (fullness).
- Fresh fruit juice/Milk: I will highly recommend that you break your fast with dates and fresh juice. This is the healthy combination and if you can’t prepare it daily then make your life easy and have plain water or even milk with dates. Milk with dates at Iftar is a tradition which is applied in many Arabs and Muslim countries. Muslims break their fast on dates pre-soaked in milk before performing their sunset prayer. Milk is rich in proteins, calcium, vitamin B2 and fat soluble vitamins. The high glycemic index of dates is counteracted by milk. The fatty nature of milk slows down the absorption of the sugars in dates, preventing a sudden rush of insulin.
- Other option would be Dates and Fruit salad
Basic rule applies here: Eat three or more dates with milk/fresh juice or any other healthy drink. Take it as a snack time, offer Maghrib and then have your dinner post Maghrib.
Dinner Meal Options:
- Fresh salad: Eat lots of fresh salad, it is both healthy and filling, but avoid the ready made dressings. You can prepare your own healthy dressing from olive oil, apple cider vinegar, thyme, basil and oregano.
I recommend you follow the plate method for dinner. If you want to know how much food should we eat from the food items mentioned above, check out my blog which I wrote about portion control. Click here for the blog on Portion Control
Basic rule applies here: Eat salad first and then the rest of your meal. Salad will fill you up. Check out your portion sizes, Don’t overeat.
Drink Plenty of Water:
Water is the most purifying drink. It cleans out toxins from your body, prevents you from getting headaches (especially when you are not drinking or eating all day). So drink plenty of water between Iftar and Sahoor.
FOODS TO AVOID:
- Avoids fats and fried foods as much as you can. Please, a humble request, don’t eat those samosa, pakoras, chips and bla bla. Frying foods creates unnatural fats called trans fatty acids (trans fats) which studies have shown to be involved in many heart and circulatory disorders. So avoid it.
- Skip the soda. Drinking soda with your Iftar will only make you thirstier, and dehydrate your body more than it already is.
- Break your coffee and tea addiction. If possible, regulate your body to get rid of your caffeine addiction before Ramadan starts. If you are drinking 3-4 cups of coffee/tea daily, and on the first day of Ramadan you don’t drink any, you may get headaches and lack energy. So start reducing your tea/coffee now.
- Don’t eat empty calorie desserts. Replace them with fresh or dried fruits.
Furthermore, do not sleep after Iftar. Be active and take a walk or 15-20 min of exercise would be good. It will help your body to digest the food. And how can we forget our voluntary prayer – ‘The Tarahweeh prayer’ is the best form of exercise guys. Be aware that if you fast properly (no overeating), you may experience some natural symptoms of detoxification as the toxins are slowly withdrawn from your body, especially in the first few days. These symptoms can be anything from fatigue to headache and may be bad breath. These are totally safe and natural symptoms which you will soon overcome (as long as you are getting enough fluids). I hope that you find this blog helpful. I assure you that making these small healthy changes in your Ramadan and even regular diet, will substantially improve your overall health and fitness.
My last note would be: Make a good intention for all of your actions. For instance, instead of praying Maghrib and rushing to eat, set your intention to eat to nourish your body so that you can stand and pray. Set your intention to eat suhoor to have energy all day so that you can worship properly. In this way, you make eating an act of worship and get rewarded for it In’sha’Allah (If God wills).
May you all have a happy and healthy Ramadan. Remember me in your dua’s. Take care and eat healthy! 🙂