How to Stay Healthy During Ramadan | Ramadan Kareem
Disclaimer: The following information is based on my experience during my last 4 Ramadan’s living in Saudi Arabia and what I’ve learnt through my Islamic friends. If I have stated anything incorrectly, please let me know
The Holy month of Ramadan, which looks like is commencing tomorrow (or the following day – this is decided at sunset by a senior cleric according to the crescent of the moon) holds a very special place In my heart.
My husband and I, both Christian but living in an Islamic region, wed 2 years ago in a cathedral in Bahrain,during Ramadan and our reception dinner after the ceremony was an Iftar shared with our friends. We feel so blessed to have married at such a spiritually special time.
For the unacquainted, Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam and a Holy Month to practicing Muslims who use the time to fast from all food and drink (including water), intimate relations and smoking (smoking is still a huge past time in the Arab countries!) during daylight hours. There is permission granted to pregnant women, elderly, sick and those who are travelling to either make up their missing fast time or feed those in need for every day missed. Also children are not expected to fast until puberty however some as young as 8 will join in.
This month is full of spiritual purification, worship, self discpline, enlightenment and also used to feel and give generously to those in need, both financially and emotionally. Then at sunset, break-fast occurs, this is called Iftar, and traditionally is with sharing of dates and Arabic coffee, then a meal, mostly shared with loved ones in a festive style, where gifts are also exchanged.
This is usually just not any meal however, it’s most likely a feast! Think Christmas time (minus the ham/pork of course) every night for the month!
I’m not sure how it’s celebrated In other countries around the world but in Saudi, I believe the working day begins around 7/8am then continues only till around 12/1pm with no break for lunch, obviously. Then you will find most workers will return home to their families and most likely sleep or rest. Perfect for this time of year I believe, where Ramadan has hit right in the middle of our sticky hot summer. (Ramadan dates change every year according to the lunar calendar.) Non Islamic workers ie my husband and all the expats he works with, still continue their working day as per normal, but due to most of the work force being reduced you can imagine productivity isn’t at it’s height during this time of year.
Then around Iftar, families tend to stay up all night celebrating. Sahur is usually around 430am and is usually another shared meal right before the sun breaks for first prayer of the day, Faji then the day begins all over again.
For non Muslims here in Saudi, it’s expected that for the entire month of Ramadan, that we don’t eat, drink or smoke in public places or in front of our fasting brothers and sisters out of respect for this time.
This takes some adjusting to, but due to the extreme heat right now, I’m really inclined not to leave my house until end if August or at least until after sunset and I’m not joking. You think this heat is tough, try doing it pregnant too
Plenty of local hotels and restaurants make a big deal out of offering Iftar buffets and this is something we are often invited to enjoy in large groups with our friends. I LOVE IFTAR
Businesses adjust their working hours accordingly and you’ll find most shops/malls/restaurants opening till much later and families in their droves, spending time in the malls late at night after dinner.
Typical foods that are enjoyed during Iftar must all be halal (as always of course) and overall during Ramadan can include but are not limited to:
- harira (lamb, lentil and chickpea soup)
- arabic bread
- hydrating sweet fruit drinks and teas
- flatbread with zaatar
- spit roasts
- salads including my favourite of fattouch
- numerous Lebanese & Middle Eastern style rice meat dishes
- Lebanese, Turkish and other Middle Eastern desserts – all sweet, sticky and rich!
Although it is believed that during Ramadan, plenty of people will gain unwanted weight due to feasting after daylight hours of fasting, it has also been reported over the last couple of years, that the younger generations are opting for healthier non traditional choices as well as smaller portion sizes, which is promising for weight control and overall health improvements particularly living in a region that has the highest diabetes rate in the entire world!
I’ve also been working with clients in the lead up to Ramadan who both fear gaining unwanted kilos but also want techniques for staying on the healthier side of Ramadan.
So here’s some ideas for having a healthier Ramadan and still enjoying your time with loved ones, because it’s not always just about the food right?
- Mix fresh fruit up with your dates for breaking your fast and try opting for water instead of Arabic coffee, to replace lost fluids.
- Dates are great to give a burst of energy after fasting but fresh made green juice can also have the same benefits. One of my favourites is 4 cos/romaine lettuce leaves, stick of celery, 2 kale leaves, 1 peeled lemon, 1 golden delicious apple and 1 small cucumber.
- Avoid deep fried and fatty foods, or if you still have to have some, fill up on a large salad first, and practice portion control, or else try and opt for baked options instead
- Make sure you fill up with a high fibre slow releasing carbohydrates (Low GI) for Sahur and don’t skip it! It is really needed to get you through the rest of the day ahead. Or some delicious and dense nut milk based smoothies with a handful of baby spinach like Strawberry Seduction or check out these smoothies here.
- Snack on nuts and seeds
- Try and avoid filling up on the breads or if you can, try to eat wholewheat.
- If you are worried you will be too hungry at sunset to make healthy decisions because of hunger, try and have your fresh fruit cut up the night before (fresh pineapple, watermelon etc). Bananas are nice and handy too and don’t require preparation.
- Also prepare your salads the night before but don’t dress them until you are about to eat them.
- Get into making your own salad dressings and make them in bulk so they last the week. 2 or 3 varieties and store them in the fridge in to dress your meal sized salads as you need. Make them so tasty that you want to go back for a second and third helping of salad. Right now I am loving my Spa Salad Dressing.
- Make some raw nut/seed balls with Arabic spices and raw honey to replicate the more sugary fattening desserts that will be on offer. Try Lola Berry’s halva balls here or your version.
- Make some of your own raw desserts. Sure they still are not best eaten in large amounts but they are a healthier option and usually as they are quite dense, you only need a little. Here are some of my favourites. Easy Raw Mango Softserve with Fresh Strawberries and Chocolate Cream, Raw Vegan Donut Holes, Raw Vegan Ice Cream Sandwiches.
- Nut pates or nut cheese can dense out a salad, as well as avocados, guacamole, chickpeas, hummus and lentils. This is my favourite nut cheese right now here.
- Get moving, but don’t over do it. Some brisk walking with loved ones after dinner (if it’s not too hot out, or even some laps at the air conditioned mall might be nice or even some light stretching or yoga will be very good for you.
- Allow yourself 1 day a week to enjoy as much as you like of whatever you want. I find having this one day to look forward to, keeps me on track and focused, knowing I can enjoy a treat after ‘being good’.
- Lastly, RELAX and enjoy this special time with loved ones and focus on what is really important.
I’d love to hear how you intend to make your Ramadan as healthy and enjoyable as possible and you may even find that during these Holy month, you make the most of your fasting time and come away healthier than you started, mind, body & soul, so put your comments in the comment section below.
I’d also love to hear how you celebrate if it’s different from what I described.
Ramadan Kareem.Share on Facebook