Ramadan and Intermittent Fasting

The countdown to Ramadan begins – here are my top nutrition tips to stay healthy during fasting.
By Nutritionist Shakela Shan

Ramadan from a food intake perspective is effectively intermittent fasting. The principles are similar so the nutritional guidance in this Ramadan blog can easily be applied to the growing trend in the West of intermittent fasting.

During Ramadan, Muslims abstain from ingesting food and liquids between sunrise and sunset for effectively a month. It is an exciting time of year bringing a sense of community and deep spiritual practice to Muslims around the globe. Equally, meal preparation and knowing how to eat healthily to sustain energy can be a challenge when juggling family-work-student life. Many clients reach out seeking nutritional advice on how to stay healthy during fasting, which prompted me to write this blog and share my top tips. Let’s begin with some small manageable steps:

Preparation Phase

Start preparing your body for long hours of fasting. A good starting place is to cut out snacking and focus on eating 3 balanced and healthy meals a day. Leave at least 3-4 hours between each meal.

Over the next few weeks start reducing your meal portion size. It can take up to 10 days to establish a new habit, so you have plenty of time to train your mind and body into eating less.

Get into the habit of eating mindfully to relax your gut muscles in preparation for digestion. Start by offering a prayer of gratitude, breathe slowly, chew your food well before swallowing – this will not only support the breakdown and nutrient absorption of your foods but also help to avoid overindulging, which can ultimately lead to body fat storing.

Fasting Phase – Suhoor (PRE-DAWN MEAL)

The pre-dawn meal needs to be nourishing to sustain the body through the long fasting day. Eat a balanced meal from all major food groups consisting of good quality protein and healthy fats such as eggs, dairy, fish, chicken, lamb, legumes, nuts, seeds, avocado, butter, ghee, olive and coconut oil. Add complex carbohydrates, such as colourful and fibre-rich vegetables, fruit, herbs, lentils, beans, chickpeas, brown rice, oats, quinoa, buckwheat, and bulgur. A balanced and varied meal will provide vital nutrients and release energy slowly throughout the day. You can also keep this meal simple and take the guesswork out by having last-nights leftovers.

Here are some satisfying meal options.

– Porridge with dates, banana, flaxseeds, flaked almonds and honey
– Poached eggs, mashed avocado, red onion and chives on sourdough toast with a drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper
– Lentil daal with flat bread and a side of rocket leaves, red onion and a squeeze of lemon juice
– Smoothie – milk of your choice, ground almonds, chia seeds, mango and ground cinnamon
– Yogurt with a fruit compote topped with pumpkin seeds and maple syrup

Adequate hydration is important. Aim for 2 litres of liquids per day and limit caffeine, which can have a diuretic effect leaving you feeling thirsty. In addition to water, consider coconut water, fresh fruit/vegetable juice and decaffeinated herbal teas. Mint tea is ideal after a meal to assist digestion and set you up nicely for the long hours of fasting.

Eating Phase – Iftaar (POST-SUNSET MEAL)

Iftaar is a joyful time to break the fast, re-charge and replenish your energy with food lovingly prepared amongst family and friends. Ramadan is certainly not the time to diet and deplete the body of vital nutrients. It’s about choosing “nourishment” instead of “dieting”. Your body will be working hard during fasting to regulate complex bodily functions so give it the best support you can.

Hunger tempts us to eat fast and overindulge on convenient ultra processed foods high in salt, sugar and unhealthy fats and will leave you feeling tired due to the digestive-load. Keep a balanced approach and have foods that have been grilled, baked, steamed, or sautéed. Stop eating your meal once you are 80% full to avoid excess calories and unpleasant digestive symptoms.

Here are some meal ideas to offer inspiration:
– Lentil and vegetable soup garnished with fresh coriander
– Baked falafel served with fattoush salad, hummus, and wholemeal flat bread
– Chicken and mixed vegetable tagine served on a bed of chickpea couscous
– Steamed fish with dill, salsa, roasted vegetables and a side of wild rice
– Lamb chops with quinoa, mixed colourful salad and a mint yogurt dip

Enjoy traditional Iftaar desserts in small portions and moderation. The odd gulab jamun won’t be a disaster if consumed occasionally. One of my go to desserts to satisfy a sweet tooth is yogurt topped with fruit, nuts, honey and grated dark chocolate, which seems to do the trick!

Keep well hydrated during the eating window to replenish lost electrolytes and energise your body at a cellular level. Choose water, coconut water, lemon-lime-berry infused water, kombucha, herbal teas, and thirst-quenching fruits and vegetables such as watermelon and cucumber.

‘Fasting is the first principle of medicine; fast and see the strength of the spirit reveal itself’ – Rumi
Wishing you all a blessed and joyful Ramadan!

Pecan, Banana & Coconut Desert Recipe

Here is an easy-to make, delicious recipe to enjoy during Ramadan.

Ingredients:
3 tablespoons of yogurt of your choice
3 tablespoons of coconut cream (the bit that sits on top of a can of coconut milk)
½ banana – finely sliced
5 pecan nuts – roughly chopped
A light drizzle of honey or maple syrup
A sprinkle of desiccated coconut and grated dark chocolate

Method:

In a serving bowl, mix together the yogurt and coconut cream until smooth and creamy. Top with banana, pecans, honey, coconut and dark chocolate. Enjoy!

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