BY LEYLA YVONNE ERGIL
EXPAT CORNER APR 12, 2021
With the hours between dawn to dusk dedicated to reflection, Ramadan is not only the largest communal fasting ritual to take place all over the world but also a month (the ninth, in fact) in the Islamic calendar devoted to introspection, health and charity
Starting on Tuesday, April 13, Turkey and the greater Islamic world will be embarking on a monthlong fast that will end with the three-day Ramadan Bayram, also known as Eid al-Fitr, which will take place from Thursday, May 13 to Saturday, May 15. In between, the devout will devote the hours between sunrise and sunset to fasting as a means of prayer, reflection and a sense of community.
Its religious significance aside, fasting has become one of the most encouraged methods of replenishing health, with recent clinical studies citing countless physical and mental benefits, ranging from weight loss and mental clarity to reversing disease. While this historical month of fasting is certainly not new and in fact spans back thousands of years, there are many among us who have just recently boarded the fasting train and thus we may choose to embark on this annual tradition ourselves this year, whether it be as a spiritual practice or a healthy interlude. With the pandemic continuing to rear its ugly head and increased lockdown measures having arrived in Turkey for the month, there may never be a better time to enjoy the immense benefits of this monthlong fasting ritual.
For Muslims, the practice of fasting throughout the holy month of Ramadan involves waking up before dawn to enjoy the “sahur,” the first meal of the day to start the fast before the sunrise prayer, and then refraining from consuming anything throughout the day until “iftar,” the fast-breaking meal that takes place following the sunset prayer.
While every month the hours of the Ramadan fast vary slightly in tune with the timing of dawn and dusk, this month, the morning meal will be consumed by around 6 a.m., while the dinner will take place at approximately 8 p.m., generally speaking. In practice, this means that all foods and drinks will be consumed during the 10-hour window from 8 p.m. until 6 a.m. the next morning. As mentioned, these are very general guidelines and, in fact, the timing is strictly adhered to and in accordance with the prayer schedule, which varies in minutes every day. Therefore, when Ramadan falls in the summer months, the hours spent fasting can increase by up to two to three hours. But for this month coming up, the timing on average will be 10 hours in which participants are allowed to eat and drink water, followed by a period of 14 hours spent fasting throughout the day.
This practice of time-restricted fasting is in essence what the new popular diet and health concept of “intermittent fasting” is based upon. While Muslims have engaged in the practice throughout the religion’s history, funnily enough, intermittent fasting is the newest keyword in healthy lifestyle trends. This is because fasting in this manner can introduce countless benefits to our bodies, especially if it is done right. Thus, the following are some of the top tips on engaging in this monthlong fasting ritual in the best way possible:
Keep the beat of the circadian rhythm
The concept of refraining from indulging in food and drink during the day was not intended to mean binging on the two throughout the night. According to Ramadan traditions, we should really only be consuming the two aforementioned major meals and should be going to bed early to get a good night’s sleep in order to healthily do so. If we retire to bed after the evening prayer at around 9 p.m. and wake before 5 a.m. for the morning meal, this means getting nearly eight hours of sleep during the optimal hours our bodies were meant to, i.e. during the circadian cycle. Also known as our biological clock, the circadian cycle refers to the hours our bodies were designed to sleep during and when we are supposed to be awake – and it is all based on natural light. This makes sense when you consider that amenities to alter this innate cycle, in other words, electricity, have only been around for a mere fraction of human history.
During the nighttime hours, our bodies secrete growth hormones and cortisol, both of which play critical functions in our bodies’ stress and immune system management. Many of us will have heard of studies about how different organs go into repair mode at certain hours as we sleep. However, further research is also pointing to the disruption of our ancestral sleep cycle to being a major cause of the multiple chronic diseases that have surfaced in our modern existence, including metabolic and inflammatory diseases. Studies are showing that adhering to our body’s clock and getting enough sleep could also potentially reverse some of these diseases. The bottom line is, sleep has never been more important and it should be made a priority during this holy month of altering our eating styles.
Curtail your caffeine
Studies are showing that trace amounts of caffeine and even up to a quarter of the amount consumed at the time can remain in our systems for up to 12 hours. If you do the math, this means that the coffee you have at 9 a.m. is equivalent to downing a quarter cup of coffee right before you go to bed, which is something most people would choose not to do. Thus, in order to get that aforementioned good night’s sleep, try to limit your caffeine intake to the morning meal and spend the hours in the evening when you are allowed to drink beverages consuming the 2 to 3 liters of recommended daily intake of water, or mineral water if you are craving something bubbly.
The ultimate first ‘date’
As tradition has it, the evening fast is supposed to be broken by having a date followed by water. Dictated by the Prophet Muhammad himself, the date is one of the most densely nutrient-rich foods one can have and thus starting off with this dried fruit can seriously help replenish the body after hours of abstaining from food and drink. The date has fiber, healthy fats, protein, sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium and iron in addition to vitamin A and an array of B vitamins. It is also a great way to satisfy sweet cravings.
Consume the foods intended
For the “sahur,” which is the morning meal, participants are supposed to enjoy a healthy and filling Turkish breakfast, which is already filled with an array of healthy and balanced components including fibrous breads and grains, protein and dairy, fruits and vegetables, olives and nuts. Keep in mind that if you stray from this healthy balance and gorge on something that is carbohydrate-heavy, such as syrupy pancakes or waffles, then you will inevitably experience a sugar crash followed by cravings throughout the day.
The evening meal, in other words “iftar,” is a little bit more elaborate. As mentioned, the fast is supposed to be broken with a date or two followed by a light soup. Ramadan pide is a special round flatbread covered in nigella seeds baked in a wood-burning oven that is to be consumed accompanied by tomato and water-based vegetable and bean dishes, fresh salads and grilled, stewed or roasted proteins.
A rose by any other name
Güllaç is the official dessert of Ramadan and there are multiple reasons why this is so. It is a milky dessert that is not sickly sweet and also contains corn starch, wheat flour, walnuts and pomegranates. What gives its name, which means “food with rose” (güllü aş), however, is the rose water it contains. Traditionally, güllaç sheets, which are thin and phyllo-like, are soaked in a mixture of milk and rose water, though nowadays this practice has grown scarce. In addition to consuming fresh fruit as a meal closer, compotes, which consist of stewed fruits, are also a popular dish during this special time.
Making the month count
One of the most important elements of the holy month of Ramadan is its charitable components in which in years past municipalities, businesses and even locals would host elaborate “iftar” meals for members of the community. Donating to those less fortunate is an integral part of this holiday as is enjoying the social aspects of the communal breaking of the fast delivers. While this year may be a little different due to the pandemic, there are many ways to remain mindful, grateful and aware of the plight of others. First of all, the meals shared, even if just limited to close family, can be made into meaningful family time. The meals are expected to be enjoyed thoroughly and elongated by eating slowly and with breaks taken in between each course. While we may not be able to dine with multiple others as we used to, markets will always have special Ramadan boxes that contain all the basic necessities for the meal, which we can purchase and donate to those we would have hoped to break bread with.