Indulging in lavish meals is a mistake we all do particularly at the onset of Ramadan. Your body takes at least 3 or 4 days to accustom to the Ramadan circadian clock, you are craving for food all day and finally, at the climax of hunger, iftar time, you break your fast and blimp out driven by all the things spinning around your head you could not eat from dawn to dusk. Breathing becomes difficult and bending for that extra rakk’ah becomes painful, you lose focus and start complaining: “Why did I stuff myself so much ?”.
Let’s change that story, let’s override the gargantuan Ramadan food culture, let’s follow the example of our Prophet (pbuh) and what science can bring us, let’s take control of our body, let’s empower ourselves, let’s embark into this journey.
Before diving into the menu, some rules of thumb from our Prophet pbuh:
- Sip water, not chug
- Breathe in between sips
- Eat in thirds (food, air, drink)
- Less is more
- Do not blow on your food
- Avoid drinking extremely cold water on a hot day
The Prophet pbuh said: “The stomach is the home for all illnesses. Abstinence is the best drug, and give your body what you have made it accustomed to.” Fehrist-i-Ghurar al-Hikam, p.13.
One important verse to keep in mind:
يَا بَنِي آدَمَ خُذُوا زِينَتَكُمْ عِندَ كُلِّ مَسْجِدٍ وَكُلُوا وَاشْرَبُوا وَلَا تُسْرِفُوا ۚ إِنَّهُ لَا يُحِبُّ الْمُسْرِفِينَ –7:31
O children of Adam, take your adornment at every masjid, and eat and drink, but be not excessive. Indeed, He likes not those who commit excess.
Eating for a muslim is also a spiritual deed as we start our meals by saying: Bismillah. The way we eat is as much important as what we eat. This article will be touching on these two planks. Enjoy your meal !
Tips when breaking fast and first food intake
It is your wont to break your fast with dates ? Then you’re already on the right track !
When the sunset is nigh, rush to them and don’t forget to ask whatever you wish before relieving your hunger as the Prophet pbuh said: “When the fasting person breaks his fast, his supplication is not turned back.” [Sunan Ibn Majah, no. 1753] and “The people will continue to be in good condition as long as they hasten to break the fast” [Al-Bukhari, Muslim]
Our Prophet (pbuh) proceeded in the following order: he would break his fast with fresh dates, if none was available, he would then have dried dates, if neither of the two were found, then he would drink a few sips of water. Simple. Efficient.
Dried dates and water are usually the easiest to find.
Dates are the perfect nutrient to reintroduce food to your crying stomach, it contains a lot of carbohydrates, it is rich in fibers, easily absorbed, and prepares your stomach for further food intake. A few dates later, your sugar blood level will spike and relieve the strain over your head.
Try to resist the urge of immediately raging on highly processed or fatty food and don’t let your frustrations overwhelm you in the most important time of your fast.
Any raw fruit is a good option, as mentioned for dates, they contain mainly carbohydrates and fibers and will help smoothly get this blood sugar level back to its steady state. They are also a source of water which, incidentally, should be drunk without limitation when breaking your fast (except when we start hearing glug-glug from your throat, then it becomes annoying just drink quietly like everyone).
Fruit juice can also be an option but be wary to not over consume these beverages as they lack fibers and can drive your sugar blood level to increase too fast and ultimately increase your hunger. Opt for freshly made fruit or the less popular vegetable juices.
Other good food to have immediately after breaking your fast that our Prophet pbuh loved: pumpkins/squash, cucumber, watermelon, camel or goat milk. You can then go pray or move to the second phase of your iftar depending on your preferences.
Second food intake
Now that you have gingerly prepared your stomach to receive food, you can move to a more hearty meal. Our Prophet pbuh, in a narration related by Abdullah Bin Awfa, ate Sawiq for iftar, a mixture of barley, wheat and water. Which brings us to one of the staples of Ramadan: a good soup, broth or stew !
The Prophet pbuh loved soup ! You can supplement it with – or have as a side dish – boiled eggs or any healthy fats like olive oil, coconut oil, avocado, clarified butter or ghee (the last one is also a prophetic food).
Try to base your soup on vegetables and you can add meat and bones to flavour it, many food cultures have their own special soups for Ramadan. If you are adding something as a side dish, try to avoid deep fried-food.
Herbs and spices will also bring more vitamins, consider: garlic, ginger, turmeric (root if possible), bay leaves, cloves, peppercorns, stick cinnamon, cumin, coriander, parsley, chillies and some sea salt.
Now you can wait a bit and continue, or stop here (which seemed to be the case for the Prophet pbuh). Nutrition is highly body specific, some people might no be able to digest certain food, there is no other way than going empirically, listen to your body and tweak your best diet for Ramadan.
Don’t forget that it takes 20 minutes for your brain to aknowledge that your are full according to Zane Andrews — an associate professor of physiology and a neuroscientist at Monash University. So take a break after your soup to appreciate your stomach status and go pray maghrib if you haven’t before.
To sum up the backbone of this journey before diving into the next phase: eat dates, fruits, drink water (tepid, regularly, in a staggered fashion) and a soup, take breaks, emulate the Prophet pbuh way of eating (eat in thirds, breathe…) and don’t forget that for a good iftar you need a good suhoor.
Third food intake
Do you have difficulties assessing your hunger ? Then this solution might befit your need: Use a scale from 0 to 10, 0 is when you just ate, 10 is right before iftar. Always put half of what you think you need in your plate, so 5 at iftar time. If you still feel hungry, you can add up. Participants using this method consume less according to Dr Hassan Younes.
This third phase has to be considered before Isha in summer time. There is no specific diet to follow for this phase except that it is the most critical part as you are approaching fullness of your stomach. Eat a normal dish using the scale mentioned above for the serving and avoiding deep fried or junk food.
An example would be a salad and/or rice (whole grain if possible) with vegetables, a tajin with vegetables, meat and vegetables, lentils or any dried vegetables. The key is too refrain from reaching complete fullness while eating.
Chew thoroughly your food repeatedly, appreciate the blessing of every mouthful and pay heed to the disruptive elements that can be part of your meal (phone, television, computer…). According to Dr Hassan Younes they can increase your food intake up to 20%.
Sweets and special dishes can also be consumed but if you can’t limit yourself make it a casual treat. Tea and coffee should be sipped before Isha (beware of their diuretic effect).
Stay healthy, be mindful eaters, enjoy your iftar while I am hoping that this article has benifitted you and that you have nailed your iftar !
Eventually, don’t worry too much about Covid19, as it is not the first calamity to strike, according to the mother of the believers :
Narrated by A’esha, may Allah be pleased with her, that she said: “the first calamity for this nation after the prophet’s death is fullness of their stomachs; when their stomachs became full, they became obese and their hearts weakened and their desires became wild” Bukhari.