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Ramadan: Sustaining Balanced Nutrition

The holy month of Ramadan is upon us, and for those who observe a daily fast for 29-30 days, it is a chance to reset the body’s biological functions and our relationship with food. For those unfamiliar with Ramadan, this is the 9th month in the Islamic lunar calendar when observant Muslims fast, abstaining from food and drink from dawn to dusk. Considered one of the five pillars of Islam, this is practiced by millions of Muslims worldwide. There are several spiritual and physical benefits for this practice, such as:

  • Refocusing energy and attention inwards

  • Practicing gratitude and reflecting on your blessings

  • Self-purification by abstaining from negative vices and habits like arguing, gossiping, smoking

  • Slowing down metabolic function and forcing the body to change its use of energy

  • Cleansing of the gut, which in turn aids immune system function

  • Increase in will power and self-control

Physically, during the hours of fasting, the body uses up stores of carbohydrates and fats to provide energy, so it becomes a necessity to refuel your body in the most efficient way to carry on the following day and continue to benefit from fasting.

Ramadan is a great opportunity to break bad eating habits and push ourselves to be much more mindful of what type and quantity of food we consume. It’s a chance to plan and shop more conscientiously, thinking out balanced and nutritious meals to help our bodies maintain a healthy fast and refuel productively.

Suhoor is the final meal before beginning the day’s fast, consumed between the dawn prayer. A common mistake people make is eating a snack before bedtime and skipping suhoor, which can cause irregularities in your blood sugar levels throughout the day and increased dehydration. If you want to fast safely, you should get up and have a light meal before fasting begins. This is especially a non-negotiable for athletes who are fasting and wish to continue training during the month.

Here are some nutritional tips and guidelines to help you have a healthy and beneficial fast during Ramadan:

  • For suhoor, you can consider wholewheat breads with a selection of dairy products like cheeses and yogurt, eggs, fresh vegetables and fruits. If you prefer hot foods, oatmeal provides protein and carbohydrates for a longer feeling of satiation and energy levels, or a vegetable soup or fuul (fava beans) with olive oil.

  • Dried fruits like dates, walnuts and almonds are essential during this month due to their fantastic nutritional properties and making you feel satiated for long hours. When breaking your fast, they’re a quick way to restore the nutrients in your body and can help boost your fiber reducing constipation.

  • When breaking your fast, you might have to fight the tendency to overeat. Begin first with a hot soup then hydrate with a couple of glasses of water. Wait 10 minutes, then eat your main meal. This will help you avoid overeating and overloading your digestive system after a long day’s fast.

  • For iftar, you should be aiming for a balance of starch, wholegrains, and protein-rich foods. Some healthy iftar options include protein-rich soups, grilled and oven-baked meats and chicken, plenty of vegetables, pastas and grains, and pulses like lentils and beans.

  • It’s natural for our bodies to be aching for fatty and sugary treats to cheat and restore energy levels fast but try to limit yourself to tiny amounts just to satisfy the cravings.

  • You must drink between 1.5-2.5 liters of water a day, which means drinking about two or three glasses of water every hour between iftar and suhoor.

I hope you have a happy and healthy month, and please ask me any questions in the comments if you’re unsure about how to benefit the most from fasting.

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