Staying Healthy During Ramadan

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic (Lunar) calendar. Fasting is one of the Five Pillars of Islam and during the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims are asked to abstain from food and drink from dawn till dusk.

12-Apr 2021, by Karim Hamandi

Keeping Things Healthy During Ramadan

Introducing Karim Hamandi with a piece on how to keep things healthy during Ramadan.

The holy month of Ramadan

O you, who have believed, Fasting is decreed upon you as it was decreed upon those before you, that you may become righteous and mindful of Allah.” “But to fast is best for you, if you only knew." Surat Al-Baqarah verses 183-184:

People might fast for many reasons, due to religious or spiritual obligations, to gain mental clarity and focus, cleanse the body, lose undesirable weight, get fit and healthy or simply prepare for a medical procedure. These two verses of the Quran, beautifully summarize much of that, and of what I am about to tell you in this article.

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic (Lunar) calendar. Fasting is one of the Five Pillars of Islam and during the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims are asked to abstain from food and drink from dawn till dusk.

And eat and drink until the white thread (light) of dawn appears to you distinct from the black thread (darkness of night), then complete your fast till the nightfall”. Surat Al-Baqarah verse 187

But first, let me define fasting.

Fasting is the act of willingly and strategically abstaining from the consumption of food and drink, for a prescribed period of time. There are many forms of fasting or time restricted feeding such as water fasting, egg fasting, Intermittent fasting, extended fasting, one meal a day and so forth.

“O you, who have believed, Fasting is decreed upon you as it was decreed upon those before you, that you may become righteous and mindful of Allah.” “But to fast is best for you, if you only knew." Surat Al-Baqarah verses 183-184:.

Why do we fast?

According to Abraham Maslow, an American psychologist, people are motivated by five basic categories of needs: physiological, safety, love, esteem, and self-actualization.

Basically, fasting works in direct opposition to our most basic survival instincts, finding food and not being hungry. This in my opinion is key to understanding the spiritual aspects of fasting.

If one can control their basic needs, then they can control their behavior and actions, and more importantly in the eye of God, not sin.

Food culture during Ramadan

If Ramadan is known for one thing, it is the pop-up tents and restaurants serving lavish food, entertaining music, shisha, countless sweetened drinks and desserts. Truly that defies the holy nature of a month devoted to worship, self-reflection and connection with family.

To add insult to injury, the act of feasting after fasting negates all the health benefits and perhaps makes things even worse. For many, adopting a healthy lifestyle, Ramadan is the month were “we take a break and enjoy life”, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

Best way to start & break a fast

The prophet (PBUH) said “The fasting person has two occasions for joy, one when he breaks his fast because of his breaking it and the other when he meets his Lord because of the reward for his fast." Sahîh al-Bukhârî (7492) and Sahîh Muslim (1151).

The best way I see to break a fast is to ease it in. The stomach and GI tract have been empty, and at points anticipating food, for more than twelve hours. Immediately filling the stomach with food, or worse, dilute the stomach acids and enzymes with a sugary drink, is not a good idea; you will feel that shortly afterwards.

The Prophet (PBUH) said: “Break your fast with dates, or else with water, for it is pure.” (Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi).

A date is relatively high in carbs, around 60% by weight, but packs fiber, minerals and fatty acids.

More importantly, it prepares the body for the meal to come, by signaling the stomach to produce more acid and enzymes, and the pancreas to secrete insulin, follow that with a light soup, a small salad and a short break.

The main meal for Iftar needs to serve two purposes, the first being to replenish depleted energy stores and micro-nutrient, and the second is to provide long lasting satiety.

For that, I always opt out for a good source of protein. There are many options and certainly endless healthy recipes with beef, lamb, fish or other seafood, these are definitely one of the most nutrient dense foods out there!

That leaves us with a source of energy, and if you’re in the keto camp, then it is fairly straightforward, otherwise a good complex source of paleo approved carbs such as Quinoa or Cucurbitas – squash, pumpkin, zucchini and low glycemic fruits or berries.

I know that many of us will have some sort of naughty cravings, those usually come in the form “this loaf of bread” or that “piece of cake” staring back at you from the display.

But that’s no excuse to “Indulge” especially when there are healthy alternatives.

There are many keto options on the ingfit store and I am sure you will find something you will like, some of my favorites are the “Snickers bar”, “Carrot cake Jar” and “I Wulnut carb you up cookies”.

Suhour, the meal before dawn and the start of the fast, is equally if not more important, it should follow the same guidelines as Iftar with a few twists.

  1. Manage your electrolytes – sodium is key to maintaining hydration, but too much will make you thirsty.
  2. Consider exogenous ketones for the first couple of days specially if you are not on a ketogenic diet today.
  3. Don’t drink too much coffee or tea - caffeine is a diuretic and that doesn’t help in keeping you hydrated during the day – and if you do, splash some MCT oil in there for an extra boost of energy
  4. Avoid sugary and sweetened drinks or sodas - The sweetness in and of itself will make you feel thirsty, and the sugar will cause a spike in blood glucose followed by a crash, you won’t feel good, trust me.
  5. Balance your meal with protein, fat and fiber to keep you fuller for longer.
  6. During the day, breathe from your nose and never from your mouth. Mouth breathing causes your body to lose more heat, which is not good if you want to conserve those calories, and more humidity causing thirst1.

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Should I exercise during Ramadan?

Definitely yes.

Why would you want to waste a whole month of the year without exercising, intentionally!

The key however is to find the system that works for you. Most people I know including myself generally fall in one of two categories, those who exercise right before iftar and those who break their fast then do their work out before completing dinner.

I find it hard to train late during the day, and more so when fasting and thirsty. My personal choice is to break the fast, hydrate and have a small meal then hit the gym.

That also serves as a short break before the second meal while your stomach is getting ready for all the low carb ketogenic or Paleo foods you got prepared ;).

About the author

Karim Hamandi is a solutions architect at an American multinational technology company. When he's not helping his clients on their digitization journey, he's preaching about living a healthy, Primally aligned, lifestyle and functional breathing methods. He started his personal health transformation in 2017 and plans to continue on this journey. His moto is “Before you heal someone, ask them if they’re willing to give up the things that made them sick” Hippocrates.

You can contact Karim on Instagram or Facebook.

Karim Hamandi

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