Ramadan: What do I eat for Iftar? A health expert answers all your questions
The holy month of Ramadan began on Friday, during which Muslims refrain from eating and drinking from sunrise to sunset everyday as a show of gratitude and reflection.
Abstaining from all food and drink during daylight can make it difficult to maintain a healthy and balanced diet during Ramadan, especially as many of the foods traditionally consumed after Muslims break their fast could be high in sugar or fat.
However, by following simple guidelines, Muslims can stay healthy while celebrating the holy month.
Associate Nutritionist at the Diabetes Prevention Programme for the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) Hadeel Turkmani answered Al Arabiya English’s questions about sticking to healthy habits during Ramadan.
1. Dates are usually a staple item for Muslims when breaking their fast, but they also have a high sugar content. Should people eat dates if they want to be healthy or lose weight?
“It is true, dates do have a high level of carbohydrate at about 18 grams per date eaten. However, dates have a low glycaemic index, which means they are digested and absorbed at a slower rate in the body, therefore allowing blood sugar to rise slowly.
They have a good fibre content which aids in digestion and further slowing the release of carbohydrates into your blood stream, as well as being packed with antioxidants. So, by that nature yes, they are fine to have, but no more than about three as that is what is considered a portion.”
2. What does a healthy iftar meal consist of?
“A nice balance of carbohydrates such as potato, pasta, rice or bread should take up about a quarter of the plate. A good protein source such as chicken, fish or meat up should take up another quarter of the plate. The rest of the plate ideally should be a mix of vegetables.”
3. Should people eat more than usual during Ramadan since they are not eating all day? How can they ensure they are getting enough nutrients?
“People often think they should be eating more than usual. However, you do need to remember the simple principle of calories in versus calories expended. If you are not being very active during the day, then no you should aim for about the same amount that you usually eat in a day.
Often the best way to ensure you are eating enough is to eat a few meals once you have broken your fast as you normally would have done.
Nutrients-wise, it goes simply into what you are eating. Variety is key here; different foods give you a range of different nutrients.
Try to have as much fresh home-made produce as you can, not just during Ramadan but each day.”
4. How much water should people be drinking during Ramadan?
“Ideally aim for the same amount of water as if you were not fasting, so around 2 litres for an average adult. Water intake should be increased if you are quite active during the day.
Water is often the thing we forget once we break our fast. However, making sure you are having your daily intake of water before starting your fast is highly important for keeping your energy levels up. Set yourself a challenge to have at least 1-2 glasses an hour when you can.”
5. Should people indulge in sweets during Ramadan?
“Everything in moderation! There is nothing wrong with a sweet treat every once in a while, but it should not be the main part of any daily intake.”
6. Are there healthy alternatives they can have instead of sugar-filled desserts?
“Fresh fruits are always a good alternative, or dried fruits (of course the portion would be lower than fresh). Perhaps have a homemade dessert instead of store-bought. That way you know exactly what has gone into it and can adjust the portion size.
If you cut something out of your diet entirely it can often be the thing that stays on your mind the most. Do not deny yourself a treat but do not overindulge also. Try to find a balance. This takes practice but can be achieved.”
7. What should people have for Suhoor if they want to be healthy or lose weight?
“Eating healthily and weight loss are two separate branches from the same route. Ultimately, as I said earlier, a nice balance of the different food groups is the main thing. Cooking in lower levels of oil and having a smaller portion size can aid in weight loss.”