Don’t skip Suhoor
Some people skip Suhoor, the pre-dawn meal, and prefer to eat through the night instead of waking up in the early hours of the morning. But doing so can slow down metabolism, leading to weight gain and lethargy.
As the clock is essentially reversed when you fast all day and eat all night, feasting during the non-fasting hours is quite unhealthy. It is better to eat Suhoor and catch up with sleep later in the day rather than give up on the essential nutrients needed while fasting. Allow your metabolism to reset as your body begins to change the way it does things.
Have a light Iftar
Traditionally, Iftar around the world consists of rich, greasy, fried and sugary dishes, as people view the meal as a treat – a form of compensation for fasting. Following a long fast, people also tend to eat considerably more than usual in a short span of time.
It is recommended to break the fast with a few dates and water, following the Sunnah (practice) of Prophet Mohammed. Dates have a revitalising effect, similar to fruit juices, while water rehydrates and reduces the chances of over-indulgence.
Follow this with a few lighter snacks, perhaps taking a short break to complete the evening Maghrib prayer before having a balanced dinner – start with a soup and salad and remember to pace yourself; it takes 20 minutes for the stomach to tell the brain that it is full. You can also slow down your meal by drinking plenty of water to start stretching the stomach earlier and make you feel full.
After a large meal, blood sugar levels spike, causing our pancreas to secrete a lot of insulin to bring the levels back down. This extra sugar is stored as fat. So, in order to maintain an even level of blood sugar, it is better to eat small, well-proportioned meals and snacks throughout the evening rather than a heavy meal in one go.
After the evening prayers, have a small snack if necessary. Wake up before dawn and have healthy baked food items for Suhoor to boost your metabolism during the day, improve your health, and revitalise your well-being, making you feel more energetic.
The one-third food rule
Binge eating through the night is the fastest way to pile on the pounds. When you binge, the body thinks it is in a state of famine and stores everything you eat because it is worried about food supply. Even the Prophet is said to have recommended eating in moderation.
“Nothing is worse than a person who fills his stomach. It should be enough for the son of Adam to have a few bites to satisfy his hunger. If he wishes more, it should be: One-third for his food, one-third for his liquids, and one-third for his breath.”- Tirmidhi & Ibn Majah
Remember this rule if you find yourself overeating this year, and try to have no more than one-third food, one-third air and one-third liquid in your stomach to keep your metabolism from being too sluggish.
Recommended foods and what to avoid
Throughout the month, we basically have an early breakfast, skip lunch and eat dinner at dusk. But what exactly should we be eating?
It is best to keep food intake simple but varied, covering all the major groups: fruit, vegetables, carbohydrates, meat, fish and dairy.
Watery vegetables like celery, lettuce, cucumbers, and spinach have almost no effect on your blood sugar levels, while berries and apples are better than other fruit as they are low on calories and make you feel full.
Eating more complex carbohydrates also helps release energy slowly during the long hours of fasting. These are found in foods such as barley, wheat, tapioca, oats, millet, semolina, rice, beans, lentils and wholemeal flour.
It is also good to up your fibre intake during Ramadan, as this is digested slowly.
Fibre-rich foods include cereals, figs, bran, whole wheat, grains, seeds, potatoes, vegetables and almost all fruit (especially apricots and prunes). Leaving the skin on when eating a baked potato acts as a fibrous buffer that keeps some of the sugars away from the stomach. The more fibre you eat, the harder it is for the stomach to get at the sugars. So, it is better to leave the peel on apples, cucumbers, peaches, apricots, dates, kiwis, and other fruit.
Heavily processed, fast-burning foods that contain refined carbohydrates (sugar and white flour), as well as fatty food like cakes, biscuits, chocolates and sweets, should be avoided.
Nutritionists also recommend avoiding caffeine-based drinks such as tea, coffee and cola-based drinks, as caffeine is a diuretic that stimulates faster water loss, leading to dehydration.
Abstinence from water for 8 to 10 hours is not necessarily bad for health as the body has its own water conservation mechanism. But, make sure you consume plenty of water through the night to keep yourself hydrated during the fasting hours.
Lastly, remember that Ramadan is meant to be a time for Muslims to empathise with the poor and needy, so over-indulgence and elaborate feasts go against the principles of the month.
And since Ramadan is a great time to start new good habits and stop the bad ones, why not continue eating this well – even after Ramadan? Diets need a long-term commitment to show the benefits; you eat every day so use this time to kick-start a new healthy way of eating and living.