During the month of Ramadan, iftar is understandably the most anticipated meal of the day. It’s only natural that after fasting for 12-20 hours (depending on where you live), you would be famished. However, have you considered what’s the best way to refuel your body?
But first, let’s learn what’s part of the sunnah and what happens to the body when we fast.
What happens to our body when we fast?
When we have suhoor, our body breaks it down with enzymes in our digestive system. Carbohydrates in particular, are broken down into glucose and our body delivers it into our cells (with the help of insulin) to use as energy . Foods with a lower glycemic index and more fibre will be broken down more slowly.
After several hours of fasting, we produce less insulin, and our body then uses glucose from stored energy, mainly from our liver (glycogen) .
Your body will also break down stored fat for fuel, and in prolonged fasts it can even resort to breaking down your muscles for energy – and that’s not what we want .
So it’s important to have a balanced and nutritious suhoor to support you during your fast, and an iftar that will replenish your body’s energy stores.
Keeping it Sunnah at Iftar
This month we fast & abstain from what’s permissible to us. We attain taqwa (consciousness) and discipline by doing so.
The Prophet s.a.w said “The son of Adam cannot fill a vessel worse than his stomach, as it is enough for him to take a few bites to straighten his back.” (At Tirmidhi)
We fast the entire day, holding ourselves back, exhibiting discipline and self restraint. But once maghrib adhan hits, we fill our stomachs to its fullest without a second thought (mostly with fried foods with little nutrition). Where did all the discipline and self restraint we exhibited all day vanish?
Part of the sunnah is to eat moderately, and to break your fast (Iftar) with a date and water (to rehydrate).
The Prophet s.a.w. continues “If he cannot do it, then he may fill it with a third of his food, a third of his drink, and a third of his breath.”
Eating in moderation can be very fulfilling, if we pause and think before helping ourselves to more than we need. Leaving a third for air, can really help to prevent feeling sluggish or uncomfortable in our ibadah (worship) later in the night.
What to Have at Iftar and How Much?
Iftar can help to restore energy, provide essential nutrients, and rehydrate.
As tempting as it is, try to avoid heavily fried and sugary foods. They have little nutrition, can spike your blood sugars, and can fill you up when your body needs to be replenished with a nutritious and fulfilling meal. Ex. fruit kebabs and lentil soup vs fried samosas and brownies.
Consider breaking your fast with the following (well-absorbed for energy & hydration):
- Water (instead of sugary drinks ex. Falooda, vimto, sodas)
- Fresh fruit ex. watermelon, strawberries, figs, pineapple, etc.
- Milk (<2%)
Break your fast with something small, go for maghrib salah and return for a modest & healthy meal (this gives the brain time to register the food in your stomach as well).
Consider the following nutrient-dense foods at your main meal:
- Omega-3 rich fish (ex. salmon, mackerel, trout, herring) preferably two servings (75g or 3 oz) a week
- Lean poultry (skin removed) or beef (fat trimmed off, and less often)
- Legumes (ex. beans, lentils, chickpeas, tofu or soy protein/TVP)
- Whole grains (ex. brown rice, whole wheat pasta, barley, whole grain bread, millet, bulgur, etc.)
- Vegetables (ex. cauliflower, eggplant, okra, green beans, broccoli, spinach, mushrooms, carrots, sweet potato, etc.)
- Unsaturated fats (ex. olive oil, canola oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, nuts, seeds, etc.)
For examples of nutritious and tasty meals, check out Journey Across the Seas in 30 Meals Cookbook.
Benefits of Wholesome Food
The hours of eating are limited so choose nourishing foods.
You may have grown up with meat as the highlight of your meal. However, consider choosing plant-based meals a few times a week as well. Plant-based diets (including legumes, whole grains and vegetables) can help lower the risk of chronic disease (like heart disease and cancer), manage your weight and improve your health .
For heart health, choose lean meats, by removing the skin off poultry and trimming any visible fat off red meat. Saturated fat is linked to a higher risk of heart disease by raising LDL (a.k.a. “bad”) cholesterol which can lead to plaque buildup in our arteries . Fish are a good source of vitamin D and protein, and also provide minerals such as iodine, magnesium, iron, copper and antioxidants such as selenium .
Vegetables are rich in essential nutrients providing the body with so many benefits, so choose them more often. For example, carrots contain beta carotene which plays an important role as an antioxidant, protecting our cells from damage. It is converted into vitamin A, which helps maintain immunity, healthy eyes, and bones .
This month should teach us to keep a balance of indulging with discipline and reflecting on how we can improve our physical and spiritual wellbeing.
May you have a nutritious and enriching Ramadan.
Sadaf Shaikh, PMDip, RD