By Registered Dietitian Richelle Tabelon
This month I was honored to develop and present a Nutrition session entitled “Healthy Habits During Ramadan” at the University of Calgary. I was invited by the Faith & Spirituality Centre to speak to Muslim students observing the fast and staff supporting them.
Because I am not of the Islamic faith, I was blessed to have the guidance of Imam Fayaz Tilly to better understand the observance, benefits and challenges of fasting.
Ramadan occurs the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. Healthy adult Muslims observe ~29-30 days of fasting during the daylight hours. Abstaining not only from food, but also drink (all fluids including water) and sexual contact. Special daily night prayers are held at the Mosques.
The benefits of fasting are: spiritual growth, focus on compassion and charity, developing community spirit and improved healthy lifestyle. It is important to note that fasting is not a “weight loss diet” but is a great opportunity to focus on improving one’s character, changing behaviors and developing healthy habits.
This year Ramadan is observed during the ninth month of the Islamic lunar year (depending on the sighting of the crescent). Because of the long daylight hours during the summer in Calgary, the fast this year could last up to 16 hours! This must take some careful planning and consideration.
The following are some important tips to remember while observing the fast…
Healthy Habits During Ramadan – Top 10 List:
- Safety first
- Talk to your Dr. before Ramadan begins if you have medical conditions/ medications to ensure you are safe to fast
- People that are ill, travelling, elderly, those on insulin, pregnant or nursing are exempt from fasting
- Seek medical attention if health concerns arise (in some situations the fast may need to be broken and can be made up for at a later date)
- Community support
- It is greatly encouraged that families invite each other to break the fast together.
- Seek out community Iftars (where you break the fast) or plan your own with friends.
- Aim for plenty of water when not fasting (Bring water to the Mosque to sip between units of prayer)
- Avoid caffeinated high sugar drinks (ie. pop, energy drinks, coffee, tea)
- Avoid too much time in the hot sun
- Mindful eating
- When breaking the fast: eat slowly (takes 20 min for the stomach to tell the brain you’re full)
- Keep in mind the true spirit of Ramadan (not a “feast”)
- Make conscious food decisions – remember the “Balanced plate”: ½ plate vegetables and salad, ¼ grains and starch, ¼ protein
- Eat till you are comfortably full and then enjoy a bedtime snack after the mosque prayers
- Plan ahead
- Never skip Suhoor (pre-dawn meal)-this will be your energy for the day
- Complete most important tasks first
- Talk to your employer about shifting your work schedule earlier if possible
- Have an afternoon nap!
- Reduce activity and heavy work during the fasting hours
- Reduce caffeine intake to ensure a good night sleep
- Lead by example
- Add green to the table: bring the salad or vegetables!
- Try adapting recipes with less oil/butter and bake instead of frying
- Stress management
- Focus on self-care: prayer, rest, reading, counselling, etc.
- Ramadan is a great time to learn to nurture yourself without food
- Adjust exercise
- Frequency, duration and intensity of exercise likely will need to decrease
- If exercising, shift to the end of the day when food is eaten.
10. Seize the opportunity
- “Ramadan is an ideal time to break bad habits, reflect on personality and improve character.” (Ramadan health guide, 2007; Communities In Action, NHS)
- Help people of other faiths understand the significance of fasting and Ramadan
5 Energizing Suhoor Meal Ideas:
- Oatmeal, almonds, blueberries, glass of milk
- Dal (or any lentils, chickpeas, beans) roti (or other bread), vegetables
- Scrambled eggs, whole grain bagel, fruit salad
- Leftover lean meat, rice, and vegetables made into a stirfry
- Fruit and yogurt based smoothie, whole grain toast with peanut butter
5 Healthy Bedtime Snack Ideas:
- Greek yogurt and strawberries
- Tuna sandwich with lettuce and tomato
- Hummus, pita and raw vegetables
- Nuts, cereal and dried fruit
- Cheese, whole grain crackers and an apple
For more healthy meal planning ideas visit the articles and recipes in the resources section: https://www.healthstandnutrition.com/resources/