From Sahur to Iftar: Healthy Eating Practices for the Fasting Month
12 May 2016
During the holy month of Ramadan, Malaysian Muslims have a very narrow window of time to obtain enough energy and nutrients, as they abstain from all food and drink for over 12 hours a day. People who fast must make the best of the two meals allowed daily, namely the first meal at dawn (sahur) and the breaking of fast after sunset (iftar).
Considering our hot and humid weather conditions, dehydration is one of the most common risks during the fasting period. Many people experience headaches and problems with concentration while fasting. The drastic difference in eating habits and routine during the 30 days of Ramadan can also result in various digestive problems, including constipation and gastric pain. Indigestion can be triggered by the urge to eat more than usual during iftar. People often feel lethargic and drained of energy as well.
Rather than increasing the amount you eat at iftar or sahur, it’s best to focus on the quality and type of food you consume, in order to manage or prevent any adverse effects of fasting throughout Ramadan. Here are 8 ideal foods to have during sahur and iftar to maximise your energy intake:
Four Foods to Power Pack Your Sahur
1. Stay Hydrated with High Water Content Foods In addition to drinking water with your meal, stay hydrated by consuming foods with high water content. Fruits like watermelon, cantaloupe and strawberry would make ideal snacks. Try incorporating tomatoes, cucumbers, celery and baby carrots into your main sahur meal as well. All these foods are composed of over 90% water, and can help you remain hydrated throughout the day.
2. Power Up with Protein-rich Foods Protein-based food can help you feel less lethargic and more active through the day. Foods with high protein content also take more time to digest, and will keep you feeling full for a longer period of time. Eggs, cheese, fish, beans and lentils are good options, as well as soy or almond milk if you are lactose intolerant. If you prefer to consume heavier proteins, go for skinless poultry like chicken breast or lean red meat.
3. Smooth and Healthy Digestion with Fruits and Vegetables To avoid encountering digestive issues like constipation, avoid fatty, fried and spicy foods at sahur. Increase your intake of fruits and vegetables as they are rich in fibre and help to prevent constipation. Fruits and vegetables also contain a rich variety of vitamins and minerals you will require to maintain a consumption of balanced nutrients throughout Ramadan. Stock up on broccoli, dried figs or dates, lentils, sweet potatoes and spinach, among others.
4. Foods Rich in Starch and Fiber for Energy throughout the Day Starchy and certain high-fibre foods can help manage indigestion and heartburn. Consider incorporating oats, high-fibre cereal and whole grain bread into your meal to keep you feeling fuller for longer. As a rule, avoid dairy products, fatty or fried food and spicy meals when you suffer from digestive problems. Complex carbs in starchy foods like brown rice, couscous and potatoes are also good options for providing energy, improving your concentration as well as regulating your mood.
Four Best Foods for a Healthy Iftar
1. Refresh with Fruit Juices or Coconut Water Following a long day of fasting, your body may experience low levels of glucose. Drinking a fruit juice of your choice, preferably fresh or non-cordial based, can help your body quickly regulate blood sugar levels before you partake in the main meal. Fresh coconut water is also highly hydrating and replenishes essential electrolytes lost during the day.
2. Replenish Slowly with Soups, Stews, Porridge This is an ideal first meal to have after a full day of fasting, as the gentle flavors of broths and soup are easy on the stomach. You can try meat stews or vegetable-based broths and add various beans, lentils or even pasta for sustenance. This is also a way to add more variety to your liquid consumption in addition to water or juice. The well-loved and seasonal bubur lambuk is of course a popular choice!
3. Stock up on Fruits and Vegetables Green vegetables like broccoli, celery, asparagus and cauliflower are great choices for iftar after you have some food in your stomach. They are all low in acid and help manage any symptoms of indigestion, acid reflux or gastric pain you may experience. Try to avoid citrus fruits which are acidic and can exacerbate digestive issues. Instead, reach for bananas, watermelon or honeydew, which are milder and won’t irritate your stomach.
4. Don’t forget some Healthy Snacks You may be tempted to eat more than you usually do, or start craving for sweet and salty junk food. Make sure you maintain your regular dinner portions, and indulge instead in a small dessert or snack after iftar. This can include one or two cups of fruit, a smoothie or some yoghurt. These are light, nutritious options that can fill your stomach and minimise the risk of digestive problems and weight gain. For the same reason, avoid salty, spicy or fried food before bed.
Simple Meal Suggestions for Sahur
Iftar may be the more exciting meal during Ramadan, but it’s equally important to devote some time and attention to sahur. Never skip sahur, even if you’re sorely tempted to catch up on a couple more hours of sleep. Sahur will provide the sustenance you need for the day, and having regular and consistent meals is essential to your digestive health. When you’re pressed for time and can’t whip up the rice-curry-veggie meal in time, here are some simple sahur meals you can prepare quickly:
1. Whole grain tuna or egg sandwich with lettuce, tomatoes and cucumber
2. Cheese, spinach & mushroom omelets with a side of salad. Wrap the omelet in a wholegrain wrap or pita bread for additional bulk
3. Instant oats in a variety of ways. Top up with dried or freshly cut fruits of your choice for additional fibre, or with an egg for a savoury take
Simple Meal Suggestions for Iftar
Iftar is the meal during which you restore energy and replenish all the nutrients and vitamins you have lost throughout the day or failed to obtain during sahur. It’s advisable to start slow with gentle foods and include every major food group in your evening meal where possible, including protein, fruits and vegetables, complex carbs and fats. Whatever you cook or eat, consider healthier options such as grilling instead of deep frying. Where possible, use canola or soybean oil which contain less saturated fat than standard cooking oil.
Ideal meals to start off with:
1. Nutritious soups like egg drop soup or chicken broth
2. Hearty dishes such as lentil-based curries and roast chicken with couscous or brown rice
3. Flavourful bubur lambuk
At the end of the day, the true purpose for Ramadan is to remember the plight of the needy. May we keep the true meaning at heart, practice moderation and have a blessed Ramadan.