The month of Ramadan is here.
The super organized amongst us have a stock pile samosas and kebabs in the freezer while the rest of us have located the nearest mithai (sweets) shop for jalaybees (fried sweet batter soaked in sugar syrup), parathas, samosas (fried bread stuffed with vegetables or meat), and other “necessities” of Ramadan.
On the other hand, many of us are hoping to lose weight this month. Thinking that not eating and drinking during the day will result in weight loss. Instead, Ramadan comes and goes leaving behind Jalaybee Jiggle- the weight gained during Ramadan despite fasting for nearly fifteen hours daily for an entire month!
Making nutritious choices during Ramadan is definitely a challenge. But I would argue that Ramadan is the best time to make positive, long lasting and healthful changes. If you can perform your activities of daily living without a single morsel of food or drink then you can most definitely make small dietary changes that will have a huge impact on your health.
Use some of the following tips to make this Ramadan a healthier one and reap the benefits spiritually and physically!
Suhoor/Sehri- Morning Meal
In some families, Suhoor is a feast of the senses where families wake up before sunrise to prepare huge, elaborate meals. In others, members wake up just long enough to gulp down a glass of milk before heading back to bed. Whatever the case may be, you can make healthful choices.
Ideally, Suhoor should consist of a variety of foods that will keep you full well into the day and provide you with energy to perform your daily activities. Cereals and grains will give you energy while fat, fiber and protein will keep hunger at bay. Experiment with what works best for you and your lifestyle. They key is to consume a meal that suits your eating style while controlling portions and added fat.
- Old School: Whole-wheat paratha/roti (or any bread) and kebabs cooked with a couple of teaspoons of vegetable oil. A side of fruit, 1% milk and a few dates.
- Traditional breakfast: Eggs, whole-grain bread, a side of fruit with some yogurt, a glass of milk and a few dates.
- Vegetarian: Lentils, mixed vegetables with whole-wheat pita/roti. Milk/yogurt, fruit and a few dates.
- Not hungry-need energy: A bowl of whole-grain (boxed cereals, oats etc.) cereal with 1% milk, topped with bananas, berries, dates and some nuts.
- Fluids only: A smoothie with some fruit, 1% milk and peanut butter. Date shakes are awesome too!
- Also try non-breakfast items such whole-wheat pasta, chicken breast, beans etc. that provide a variety of nutrients and keep you full.
Iftaar/Iftari- Evening Meal
Time to break your fast! Iftaar is where most of us go wrong. We think- I haven’t eaten anything for fifteen hours or so and now I can eat anything and everything in sight!
Generally, the meal occurs in two parts. The first part consists of pakoras, samosas fruit salad, dates and jalaybees. The second part is an entire dinner that a family would eat traditionally.
There is no harm in enjoying fried food or eating in two parts. The only problem is that most people consume more calories in the first part than they would have consumed in the entire day and then proceed to eat dinner. If you are leaving the Iftaar table feeling like a stuffed potato every evening then you have eaten too much!
Use the following suggestions to make your iftaar/dinner more healthful and experiment with what works for you!
- Always eat the fruit salad first. This way you have satisfied your hunger with something that you enjoy traditionally and is good for you.
- Enjoy fried iftaar items only once a week or less so you are not tempted to eat them everyday.
- If you really must have fried iftaar items every day, only make one item and eat a small serving. E.g. one samosa, a couple of pakoras or a small jalaybee.
- Ideally, break your fast with a few dates and some water and then proceed directly to dinner.
- For dinner, consume vegetables, lean protein and whole-grains. Enjoy fruit or a yogurt parfait for dessert!
- Go easy on the dates. Although they are a super food packed with vitamins, minerals and fiber, they are also high in sugar. Daily consumption should be around 5-6 dates.
Weight gain and loss is a very simple equation of calories consumed versus calories expended. If you eat more than you expend, you will gain weight regardless of the length of fasting or activity level.You can prevent weight gain while consuming the foods you enjoy by altering portion sizes and cooking methods.
Remember that not eating during the day is not a license to consume mass quantities at night. People who fast regularly are aware of the notion that the first few days of fasting are the hardest and subsequent days become easier. Similarly, making small changes to your dietary routine might seem hard at first but will become easier as you strive for better health.
As you nourish your soul this month, focus on nourishing your body too with food that will energize you and allow you to gain the spiritual benefits of Ramadan.
Please feel free to comment or post questions.
Disclaimer: Women who are pregnant or nursing and individuals with diabetes or other chronic diseases should consult their physician before making any dietary changes. The above article is meant to provide general advice on nutrition during Ramadan. Always consult your health care practitioner for medical advice.