The best nutrients to consume in the short nightly hours
Striking a balance has always been a tough feat for those fasting the month of Ramadan, and this year has been no exception. With the month of Ramadan falling within the long summer days of July this year, particularly long in Britain, it can be hard to know and prioritise the most-required nutrients for our bodies.
It is reported that the Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) advised: “It should be enough for the son of Adam to have a few bites to satisfy his hunger. If he wishes more, it should be: One-third for his food, one-third for his liquids, and one-third for his breath.”
The challenge for Muslims, is not only to survive Ramadan, but to consume healthy, wholesome food to stay alert and focused through times of worship, without feeling sluggish and lethargic.
So, how is this possible with only four to five hours between sunset and dawn in which to eat and drink?
Keeping well hydrated is the most important thing we can do this Ramadan. Aim to drink between 1.5 to 2 litres of fluid between iftar (meal at the time of breaking fast) and the end of suhur (the pre-dawn meal). The best fluid is plain water, but you can also drink squash, fruit juice and milk to hydrate. Avoid caffeinated drinks for their diuretic effects. Our kidneys can only absorb a limited amount of fluid at a time, so it is best to constantly sip water rather than gulp down large amounts at a time, as it can stress out your kidneys and most of it will not be absorbed.
By the time iftar arrives, you will have fasted up to 19 hours. Our body enters into a fasting state eight hours after our last meal, which is how long it takes for our gut to finish absorbing nutrients from that meal. The body then starts to use stored glucose for energy, and then stored fat. The meal at iftar should be a replacement for what we have used up during the fast, to prevent the body from using protein from muscle as a source of energy.
The Iftar meal should be a good balance of all food groups, and should look like the ‘eat well’ plate from the FSA below:
Specifically, iftar can consist of:
Dates and other fresh fruits: Dates are high in glucose, so are ideal as a first source of replenishing the stored glucose used during the fast. They also are high in a host of vitamins and minerals including potassium, sodium, calcium and iron. Additionally, they are high in fibre and have a laxative effect helpful for those suffering fasting-induced constipation.
Nuts: Nuts are packed with protein, essential fats and fibre and are a great source of energy, ideal for breaking the fast. The nuts should be unsalted. A 30g portion of mixed nuts can contribute a valuable source of vitamins and minerals from a single food source.
Complex carbohydrates: Complex carbohydrates like barley, wheat, oats, millets, semolina, beans, lentils, wholemeal flour and basmati rice should be the staple of the meal. They provide energy, fibre and essential vitamins and minerals, as well as being filling. Fibre-rich foods are digested slowly and, therefore, are better than simple carbohydrates like sugary desserts, as they provide more stable and sustained energy release which means stable levels of blood glucose.
Meat, fish and poultry: These provide protein for replenishing lost muscle, and also some fat. The meat should be lean, and grilled or baked where possible.
Dairy products: The best dairy product for Ramadan is live yoghurt as it helps with digestion, and can be made into a filling smoothie with fruits and oats.
As the recommended prayer of Tarawih so closely follows the iftar meal this Ramadan, it is best to control portions. Being too full will affect our ability to pray properly. During Tarawih we should keep well-hydrated.
The meal at suhur should look similar to the iftar meal, but with the aim of consuming foods that are slow-burning to help maintain energy levels for the upcoming fast.
Specifically, suhur can include:
Fluids: It is important to consume enough fluid before the fast starts.
Food: Oats (porridge) with chopped fruit and nuts is an excellent suhur food. As it is a complex carbohydrate, it is slow burning and will provide a constant source of energy for many hours. Dates, milk and live yoghurt are also good to have.
The key message here is to not break the fast with a feast. After all, the spirit of Ramadan is about self-control and discipline. Our Ramadan meal choices should be smart, focusing on the quality of the food over the quantity.
Image from: http://www.thaqafnafsak.com
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