Ramadan is one of the most distinctive pillars of Islam. It is a yearly great opportunity to unlearn bad habits and learn some new good ones. It is a time for purification, reflection, being in control, meditation, being ego-less and being helpful and good to each other’s as well to one’s self. In one way or another, Ramadan is an intense test in self-organisation and setting priorities: personally, inter-personally, and spiritually. One of the hard aspects to manage in Ramadan is nutrition. Coming from a Moroccan background, our food traditions in Ramadan are unfortunately and for the most part counterproductive and make fasting even harder.
A typical fast-breaking meal in Morocco might look this:
Though it definitely looks appetizing and tastes marvelous, Moroccan or any traditional foods typically served in Ramadan are probably hurting you and not helping you with the fasting. They are usually loaded with refined sugars, saturated fats and highly processed flour that lacks a lot of nutrients and the necessary fiber to help with the fasting and increase sateity.
If you are also doing Ramadan this year in a European country like me, you really have to pay close attention to what you eat in the evening as the fasting time spans more than 19 hours. That leaves one with about 5 hours to provide one’s body with the necessary nutrients to get through the next fasting day. Productivity in Ramadan usually sinks greatly, but that is not how it should be. Indeed, in Ramadan, one can even be more productive, and if that is not the case, you are probably doing something really wrong with your nutrition or your sleep or both.
I personally think Ramadan is a great opportunity to give your body a break and purify it. A break from continuous eating, from stimulants (coffee, tea, etc.), from toxins, from refined sugars that messes with your insulin levels, and from all the processed flours that increase inflammations in your body, etc. As a result, I usually seize the Ramadan time to also abstain from foods that my body will thank me for not eating. This year’s exiled foods for me are:
- Wheat products: Bread, cereals, pasta, etc.
- Meats: Red meat, poultry, fish, etc.
- Refined sugars: Soda, candies, cake, chocolate bars, etc.
- Stimulants: Coffee, light soda, black tea, green tea, etc.
If you have an engineering background, you might think Ramadan is really nothing more than solving a problem with boundary conditions. We talked about what not to eat in this time, so what about the things that we need eat?
In general, we need to make sure we get the necessary macro-nutrients covered in our evening meals. These are the sources of energy (i.e. calories) for our body during the fasting time. Since “macro” means large, we need to make sure we get decent amounts of each of these. These are:
- Carbs (4 kcal/g): Carbs are the body’s main and preferred source of energy. These are found in large amounts in starchy foods (grains, potatoes), fruits, diary products, and in lesser amounts in vegetables, beans, seeds, nuts, etc.
- Protein (4 kcal/g): Protein is needed for growth and body regeneration and for providing essential hormones, enzymes and amino acids. Protein is found in large amounts in meats, diary products, eggs, nuts, and in smaller amounts in starchy foods and veggies.
- Fats (9 kcal/g): Fat has been negatively connotated with obesity and unhealthy weight gaining. However, fat is indeed essential for survival. We need fat for growth, absorbing certain vitamins, and maintaining cell membranes, for example. Fat is present with large amounts in oils, nuts, butters, margarines, meats, and milk products. The key here is not to abandon fat but to decrease or replace sturated and trans fats with healthy unsaturated fats present in olive oil, avocados, nuts, etc.
In addition to the macronutrients, we also need micronutrients. These are the nutrients that our bodies need in smaller amounts, and they include vitamins and minerals. Some people prefer to take supplements during Ramadan to compensate for the lack of vitamins and minerals. I am personally not a big fan of supplements, and I try to rather focus on having well-balanced meals.
Furthermore, the holy grail of life should not be forgotten. Decent amounts of water should be also consumed in the evening. I usually try to target about 2 liters of water, and I usually mix my water with lemon for a better taste. Water with lemon also helps with the cleansing associated with fasting.
What My Evening Meal Plan Looks Like
Since fasting will be depleting most of my glucose and protein stores, I try to refuel these stores with my meals accordingly. Furthermore and since I don’t have a lot of time to prepare or digest foods in the evenings, I try to keep my meals simple to prepare and focus on getting my nutritional needs covered instead. Usually, people will try to still have their 3 meals also during Ramadan. Since I only have about 5 hours for eating and sleeping, I reduce my meals to only 2: Iftar and Suhour. I also try to help my digestion system. Eating a lot in a short time stresses the digestion system and leads to having a bad sleep, which can affect your tiredness and energy levels for the next day greatly. As a result, I try to drink my calories instead of eating them and avoid fatty foods. I achieve this through homemade green and fruit juices. This is good because with a juice or a blend, the contained water will also help you with rehydration. I also try to progress with foods according to their required digestion efforts. Starting with fast digesting foods, to moderately digestible foods and finally ending up with slow digesting foods for Suhour in order to have a steady supply of nutrients for the fasting time.
Iftar or Breakfast
I break my fasting with a glass of water (preferrably mixed with lemon) and dates (4–6) following the prophetic tradition. After fasting, your glucose stores are depleted, so eating dates will make sure to increase your blood sugar level to reenergize your body.
I usually will wait 7–10 minutes before eating anything else. This prepares your digestion system for accepting more food. Remember after fasting, your metabolism is quite slow and needs to be fired up slowly.
Next, I will have a fruit mix with whey protein and avocado or some nuts. Unfortunately, when the body depletes its amino acids stores, it will start breaking muscles protein down for amino acids, and that is why I add some whey protein to my fruit blend. Whey protein is a fast-digesting protein and makes sure to signal the body to stop breaking muscle for amino acids. Avocado or nuts are for replenishing the body with healthy fats.
In addition to a fruits blend, I also prepare a vegetable blend. Some people prefer to have a mixed blend for both fruits and vegetables. I personally like to have a sweet drink and a (just a bit) salty drink. It is really a matter of taste. A vegetables’ blend provides vitamins and minerals. Another reason why I prefer a separate greens juice is that it is high in water and low in calories, so you can use it to boost rehydration. Fruit juices are to be enjoyed with care for their calorie density and fructose content.
It is easy to get stressed with Ramadan food preps, so I really try to make it simple and do not vary much my recipes once I settle for my taste combi for the fruit and green juices. I also keep my Suhour meal the same. It tastes and satisfies its purpose greatly. No need to change a working system. Since time is critical, I usually have meals prepared for several days especially during the week.
After the juices, I of course also have a normal dish, which can vary every day and can also be prepared in portions for several days. Since I am abstaining from meats and wheats, I try to have some vegetables, an alternative carb source for wheats (potatoes, rice, amarand, quinoa, beans, etc.), an alternative protein source to meats (beans, egg whites, cottage cheese, etc.) and some fats (egg yolks, olive oil, cococut oil, etc.). As far as vegetables are concerned, I try to stick to seasonal offerings. For example, in Germany nowadays, it is time for asparagus. Here is my favorite meal using asparagus:
Suhour Or Pre-dawn Meal
The Suhour meal is all about slow-digesting nutrients for having a steady flow of energy while fasting. For this, an overnight bowl of oats with fruits (especially blue berries which are rich in antioxidants) and slow-digesting protein from cottage cheese or Greek yoghurt should be your friend. My recipe here looks as follows:
- 1/2 to 1 banana or apple depending on fruit size.
- Nuts mix (cashews, mandel, walnuts, etc.) for healthy fats.
- Berries mix (blue berries, strawberries, raspberries, etc.)
- Flax seeds (preferably sliced for better absorption) or hempseeds or chia seeds.
- 1–1/2 tsp cinnamon (to be enjoyed with moderation)
- 1 tsp cacao powder (100% cacao) or dark chocolate
- 100–200 g low fat curd Cheese (Magerquark in Germany) or Cottage Cheese or Greek yoghurt for a slow-digesting protein.
- 30–60 g Oats (Whole grains).
Ramadan is about purification. Try to seize it, make it serve its purpose and make it count. I hope I could provide some helpful tips for how to deal with the body purification part. I wish you all a lot of success with the spiritual purification part as well and most notably a happy Ramadan and an enjoyable fasting.
* First published on medium.com