With Ramadan beginning today, we sat down with one of our colleagues, Fatema, to discuss the 30 days of fasting ahead and some of the best ways to keep healthy throughout this challenging period.
Can you let us know a bit about your history with Ramadan?
Being born into a Muslim family in India, I have always practiced 30 days of fasting during Ramadan.
Fasting during daylight hours for the month of Ramadan (Sawm) is one of the Five Pillars of Islam – the obligations that every Muslim must satisfy to ensure they are living a good and responsible life according to Islam.
How does your diet change during Ramadan? Do you usually eat breakfast and dinner as normal, or do these meals change to accommodate for skipping meals during daylight hours?
My meals change slightly, but I also have a different set of circumstances as I eat a keto [ketogenic] diet.
As keto means I’m on a very low carb diet, I usually find Ramadan even harder – quick ‘fuel’ foods such as a slice of bread or a bowl of noodles are off limits, so I need to plan carefully.
For breakfast (Suhoor or Sehri), I usually have a bowl of Greek yoghurt with berries, topped with ‘Munch’ – these are clusters of nuts, seeds and dried berries that also make a great snack. I usually also eat a handful of dates for the natural sugar they provide. Finally, I sneak in a morning coffee as I’m not able to have one during the day.
When deciding on breakfast, I also have to be very wary of time – I need to say my morning prayers before I leave for work; however, as soon as I’ve said my first prayer, I’m unable to eat until the sun has set, meaning I need to eat very early in the morning.
After the sun has set and I’ve returned home, I say my evening prayer before breaking the fast.
First, I need to have a pinch of salt to cleanse my palate. This also acts as an antibacterial agent to remove any bacteria that have built up during the day as I’ve been unable to eat or drink anything since sunrise.
As most will do, I then eat some dates for natural sugar (as I do in the mornings). I also drink plenty of water to rehydrate myself and I usually sneak in another coffee to satisfy my cravings.
Every Iftar is a celebration during Ramadan. Iftar usually involves families or communities gathering for large, traditional feasts together. As my family are in India, for dinner I usually eat whatever I’ve been craving throughout the day. As I’m thinking about food at least 70% of the time during Ramadan, I find myself instantly satisfied when I taste the first morsel of food at the end of the day.
Are there any particular foods or drinks you recommend consuming during Suhoor or Iftar?
Essentially, I just recommend eating healthily. Above all, you don’t want to stock up on carbs in the morning as these burn too quickly and you’ll find yourself crashing before the end of the day. You should definitely steer clear of processed foods for this reason.
I find sugar-free isotonic sports drinks to be good fuel for the day ahead and they can also help replenish fluids you’ve lost come the end of the day, so they are a personal favourite of mine.
Back home in India, as it’s very hot, we would often boil palm sugar water and mix it with rose water as a quick, tasty way to hydrate.
Are you able to take any supplements during Ramadan to ensure you’re not depriving your body of essential nutrients?
For starters, there are exemptions to participating in Ramadan. For example, if you’re unwell or pregnant you’re not all obliged to fast. In these situations, what often happens is that the person who is unable to fast will pay Fidyah, a donation to help feed those in need.
As you are unable to consume anything through the mouth, supplements are off-limits during daylight hours, however it can be a good idea to take these at morning or night if you feel you’re missing out on important nutrients.
If you are in good health, you should not be taking medication during the day either. I sometimes get headaches during the day from dehydration, but taking ibuprofen at night time usually alleviates these.
Do you need to monitor your diet at the conclusion of Ramadan to ensure you don’t begin over-eating?
This can be very hard. When Ramadan concludes, you almost feel like you’re a freed prisoner and your natural instinct is to eat and eat and eat with the new freedom you have.
It’s critically important to have a balanced diet over Ramadan; lots of people put on weight due to eating fatty, carb-rich foods at odd hours.
On the other hand, fasting actually cleanses and detoxes the body, so if approached correctly, there are actually some health benefits of Ramadan.
Ramadan ends with celebration of Eid al-Fitr, which usually runs for two days and involves a large feast based around traditional food and sharing. Again, this varies for me as I live away from my home, but I usually go to a really nice restaurant instead to celebrate.
Personally, with the celebration of Eid, I find it fairly easy to settle into my usual eating routines once Ramadan has finished.
Should you get health advice from a medical professional before observing Ramadan?
If approached correctly, Ramadan should not have a detrimental effect on your health. However, if you are unsure about fasting, and how it might impact your current health situation, it’s a good idea to have a chat to a health professional before commencing.
Anything else you would like to add?
Some people worry about how they should conduct themselves around Muslim co-workers who are practicing Ramadan. I find this is a good article on Ramadan etiquette for non-Muslims. Basically, you don’t have to change how you act towards us.
We still like to feel included, so if you’re having a morning tea or going on a coffee run, you can still invite us! Most of us will still feel up to a walk and some fresh air. Just don’t tempt me with dumplings from Yum Yum!