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20 health tips for Ramadan

Ramadan, Diet and Health

Ramaḍān presents unique opportunities to taste a special closeness with Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) and to achieve multifold ajr with every righteous action. Opportunities we seldom encounter during the remaining months of the year. It is therefore absolutely vital we plan effectively, to maximise the potential of what we can all achieve. The following Qur’anic injunctions and Prophetic statements highlight an important aspect of this preparation:

The Prophet Muḥammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) is reported to have said:

“…Allāh never tires of rewarding until you tire of doing good deeds.” [1]

Another ḥadīth of the Messenger (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) also states:

“A strong believer is better and more beloved to Allāh than a weak believer”[2]

“Eat of the good things which We have provided for you.” [3]

“Eat of what is lawful and wholesome on the earth.” [4]

“Eat and drink, but avoid excess.” [5]

In the spirit of the divine revelation, it is clear that maintaining good health, diet, and a strong body characterises a good mu’min (believer) and allows greater stamina for ʿibādah and many righteous deeds. The following explores some health related practical pointers as we set out aiming high for our month of fasting inshāAllāh.

First things first

Before delving into the dos & don’ts of Ramaḍān diet habits, let us first ground ourselves in the different categories of food content we come across.[6]

  1. Complex carbohydrates: starchy foods which release energy slowly throughout the day, as they take longer to digest and absorb into our bloodstream. This helps to keep us active through the day. These include potatoes, wheats, rice, couscous, grains, oats, cereals, fruits, and many vegetables. Wholemeal or wholegrain variations are the best, as they contain a good amount of fibre too. These foods are a key foundation to a balanced diet.
  1. Simple sugars: high sugar content foods which rapidly absorb into your bloodstream. They can be used to release instant energy when we are exercising or active. However, when taken in excess they remain mostly unused and are subsequently stored as fats in the body. High amounts of sugar in the blood can cause us to become less sensitive to the insulin our body produces, thus increasing our diabetes risk. Simple sugars are also absorbed by bacteria in the mouth which release substances harmful to teeth. Examples include: sweets (chocolate, Indian sweets), cakes, desserts, concentrated fruit juices, energy drinks, many ‘low-fat’ varieties which compensate on taste by adding plenty of sugar!
  1. Protein: these form the building blocks of our body, involved with growth and repair. Studies have also linked dietary proteins to increased satiety, keeping hunger at bay![7] [8] Examples include meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products, nuts, beans, seeds.
  1. Fats: in small amounts, they are important to many bodily functions and are a source of energy. An excess of saturated fats however increase harmful cholesterol levels, contributing to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. Obesity is also associated with some cancers and diabetes. Examples include: animal fats (oils, red meat, poultry skin), full fat milk, cream, cheese, butter, ghee, cakes. Unsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, on the other hand help lower harmful cholesterol when taken in moderation. They include: oily fish, olive oil, vegetable oils, avocados, peanuts.
  1. Fibre: important in maintaining a healthy digestive system. They add bulk to our food and help us feel less hungry for longer. They are found in vegetables, fruit, wholemeal grains, cereals. Where possible, eat vegetables and fruit with their skin, more fibre to your diet!
  1. Vitamins and minerals: we need these in small amounts to keep healthy and they serve a huge number of functions in our body. Easily found in a combination of fruits, vegetables and meat/poultry.

20 practical health tips for Ramaḍān

In light of the information above, the following are general pointers related to our fasting. This list is not exhaustive, and I would encourage seeking advice from your GP to make an individualised plan for your fasting.

  1. Begin iftār with dates, providing you with an immediate source of energy. Rehydrate yourself with plenty water.
  1. Isotonic drinks or natural juice drinks when breaking the fast are a good source of minerals, salts, and vitamins.
  1. Resist the urge to feast as much as you can, as quickly as you can! Research has shown that even food-associated words appear much brighter to the hungry.[9] After a day of fasting and discipline, resist this instinct and illusion – aim to eat in moderation.
  1. Avoid high-fat, high-sugar content, and highly-processed food (e.g. white wheat) – fried food, ghee, pakoras, biryanis, Indian sweets, halawas (and the list goes on..!). By iftār time, our bodies are working to preserve as much energy possible. Therefore, excessive fatty food and sugars will be rapidly added to body fat reserves.
  1. Salty food at iftār and suhūr will cause dehydration and make you feel increasingly thirsty.
  1. After Maghrib salāh, have a well-balanced meal containing all of the food groups mentioned in this article.
  1. Meals with slow release carbohydrates will keep you well energised for a night of ʿibādah. Include sources of fibre, which will keep your bowels working and healthy after resting during the day.
  1. Fibre and proteins keep you feeling full for longer – an important part of your meal plan.
  1. Staying well hydrated and eating sources of fibre will help prevent constipation in Ramaḍān
  1. Cereals, salads, fruit and vegetables are excellent replacements for oily curries and fried snacks.
  1. Eat in moderation, a heavy stomach rarely agrees with a night of fruitful ʿibādah
  1. The ḥadīth regarding the breath of the fasting person does not justify poor dental hygiene. Brushing, flossing before tarawīḥ is advised, for the sake of fellow worshippers too! Excessive sugary snacks and drinks are also harmful for teeth.
  1. After iftār, stay well hydrated by taking regular sips of water every half hour, or a cup full or more every hour.
  1. Physical exercise immediately after iftār may not be a good idea, as our blood flow is being directed to our digestive system at that time.
  1. Please be mindful of the sugar content in caffeinated energy drinks. With tea and coffee, again moderation is key.
  1. Take the strength and discipline developed during fasting to give up smoking this Ramaḍān. Smoking cessation services in the NHS can help you reach this goal.[10]
  1. Do not skip suhūr An important sunnah and opportunity to nourish your body with a balanced diet containing complex carbohydrates, fibres, proteins, good fats we have discussed earlier.
  1. Try to fit in adequate time for napping. Planning rest well will allow us to make the most of our time in Ramaḍān. Even sleep can be rewarded if intended to recuperate in preparation for more ʿibādah!
  1. If you are taking any regular medication, have any health conditions, are pregnant or breastfeeding, it is very important to consult with your GP first before planning your fasts. Please make sure you encourage family members to do the same.
  1. Our Deen excuses those who are unwell or ill from fasting. Please spend time learning the fiqh of fasting from a trusted local imām, and ask when faced with any questions.

We ask Allāh Jalla wa ‘Alā to accept our fasting and grant us the ability to maximise our time in Ramaḍān.

Source: www.islam21c.com

Ramadan 1436

Notes:

[1] Saḥīḥ Bukhārī

[2] Saḥīḥ Muslim

[3] Al-Qur’ān 2:173

[4] Al-Qur’ān 2:168

[5] Al-Qur’ān 20:81

[6] Summarised from www.nhs.uk/Livewell

[7]Holt SH, Miller JC, Petocz P, Farmakalidis E. A satiety index of common foods. Eur J Clin Nutr 1995;49:675–90.

[8] Batterham RL, et al. Critical role for peptide YY in protein-mediated satiation and body-weight regulation. Cell Metab 2006;4:223–33.

[9] Rémi Radel et al. Evidence of Motivational Influences in Early Visual Perception: Hunger Modulates Conscious Access. Psychological Science, 2012

[10] http://www.nhs.uk/smokefree

About Dr Shafiul Amin

Shafiul studied Medicine at King's College London. Currently, he is working as a Foundation Year 2 medical doctor rotating in general practice medicine. During university, he served as Islamic Society President and was involved with medical student representation. He has led on multiple Muslim community based projects, regional health campaigns in inner-city London and medical relief work abroad. Active academic interests include faith-based public health promotion, health infrastructure in humanitarian crisis zones, medical education and pursuing studies in the Islamic sciences.

3 comments

  1. hey admin
    i read your post about Yes, if you eat more potatoes and rice than you should you’re probably going to run into trouble, but no one is suggesting that. Although there is a lot of benefit (short term) in rebooting the system by going low carb healthy foodshigh fat, not even Mosely doesn’t suggest going no carb forever – there is still a place for starchy complex carbohydrates in a balanced diet, even if it is just to periodically interrupt a low-carb diet to make it effective for the long term

  2. Naved Siddiqi

    This is essentially based on the NHS ‘Eat Well’ plan… which is now being seriously challenged by research, such as in the book: The 8 Week Blood Sugar Diet by Michael Mosley.

    You say that “potatoes, wheats, rice” are a key foundation to a balanced diet, and this is now seriously contended foundation.

    • Not really… Although individual research papers might be used by the popular low-car fad diets all over the place now, that doesn’t take away from the overwhelming evidence that points back to what we all knew all along—that in order to be healthy you have to have everything in its right proportions. A balanced diet.

      Yes, if you eat more potatoes and rice than you should you’re probably going to run into trouble, but no one is suggesting that. Although there is a lot of benefit (short term) in rebooting the system by going low carb high fat, not even Mosely doesn’t suggest going no carb forever – there is still a place for starchy complex carbohydrates in a balanced diet, even if it is just to periodically interrupt a low-carb diet to make it effective for the long term.

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