This article was written by one of The Food Medic team; registered dietitian – Maeve Hanan.
Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar. This is a time when many Muslims choose to fast everyday between sunrise and sunset for religious and spiritual reasons. Ramadan is an important time of year for Muslims and is part of one of the five pillars of Islam which is known as ‘sawm’ (which means fasting).
This article will explain how to achieve a healthy intake during Ramadan.
What to Eat and drink during Ramadan?
Iftar is the meal which is consumed after sunset in order to break the daily fast. During this time it is important to re-hydrate and refuel with nutritious options.
Dates soaked in milk are commonly eaten to break the daily fast. This is also a nutritious snack which provides some: fluid, calcium, potassium, phosphate, iodine, B-vitamins, protein and carbohydrates. Other options to consume when breaking the fast include: fruit, milk, smoothies or soup made with meat and/or pulses (1).
After sunset prayer, it is a good idea to consume a balanced meal which contains the following food groups (as outlined in the Eatwell Guide):
- Vegetables or fruit
- Starchy carbohydrates
It is advised to have at least two small snacks between your main meal during Iftar and going to bed in order to get a good overall nutritional intake during this time. Here are some examples of balanced snacks:
- A piece of fruit with a handful of nuts
- Berries and yoghurt
- A small chicken sandwich on wholegrain bread
- Lentil soup
- Bread or chapatti with hummus
- A small vegetable omelette
The last snack before going to bed should be higher in fibre and healthy fats like nuts, seeds and avocados (2). This is because these foods are really nutritious and they also help to sustain energy levels.
Suhoor (the meal before sunrise) is an important meal as it provides energy and important nutrients to fuel the day to come.
If this meal is well balanced then it can help to keep energy levels steady. Therefore, Suhoor should ideally contain the following:
- Slow release carbohydrates such as: oats, wholegrain breakfast cereal, brown or seeded bread, wholegrain couscous, wholegrain quinoa, sweet potato, bulgar wheat, barley or pasta (both brown and white pasta are slow release carbohydrates, although brown pasta contains fibre and higher levels of B-vitamins).
- Fruit or vegetables
- Protein: yoghurt, milk, meat, chicken, fish, beans, eggs.
- Fats: olive oil, rapeseed oil, walnut oil, cheese, avocado, hummus, nuts, seeds, peanut butter
The portion sizes will vary from person to person depending on their age, size, activity levels, hunger etc. But a ‘handy’ rough guidelines is:
- Carbohydrates: the size of your clenched fist
- Fruit and vegetables: 2 handfuls
- Protein: the size of your palm and the thickness of your little finger (a portion of milk is a 200ml glass, and yoghurt is 125ml or 1 small pot)
- Fats: the size of your thumb (a portion of avocado is ½ a small avocado, hummus is about 3 tbsp, nuts is 30g or one small handful)
It is also important to drink enough to restore hydration levels. There is usually more time to consume fluids during Iftar, so you may find it easier to consume roughly 75% of your fluid requirements (usually 35 x your weight in kg) during Iftar and the other 25% during suhoor. Home-made smoothies, milky drinks and soups can be useful options to include as they provide both fluid and nutrients.
Preparing meals and snacks in advance can be a useful strategy during Ramadan to make sure that you manage to consume nutritious options during Iftar and Suhoor.
How healthy is fasting?
Fasting during Ramadan is deemed to be safe for healthy teenagers and adults.
The type of fasting which occurs during Ramadan is known as daily intermittent fasting as all food is eaten within a time-restricted window everyday (in this case between sunset and sunrise).
Studies have found mixed results about whether fasting during Ramadan leads to improvements in weight, heart disease risk and the immune system (3,4). For example, fasting during Ramadan usually results in an intake of 1,220 calories per day and 1-2 kg weight loss (5,6). Although it has also be found that most of the weight which is lost during Ramadan tends to be regained within about 2 weeks of finishing Ramadan (6).
Other studies have found that daily intermittent fasting may improve heart health, reduce the risk of diabetes and promote healthy ageing. However, the research in this area is quite new, and more studies are needed to investigate the long-term impact of intermittent fasting. For more information on this you can check out our full article on intermittent fasting.
As with any big change in your diet there can be risks to bear in mind. If in doubt you can seek individualised support from a registered dietitian.
In Islam, those whose health may be negatively impacted by fasting are exempt from fasting during Ramadan.
- Pregnant women
- Breastfeeding women
- Those who are unwell
- People with type 1 diabetes
- Those who are suffering with an eating disorder
- People who receive their nutrition via a feeding tube
- Certain cases of renal failure
- Older people can also be exempt
For those who have type 2 diabetes it is advised to speak to your doctor or diabetes team about whether it is safe for you to fast during Ramadan. This is because your diabetes management plan may need to be changed in order to fast safely. This article by Diabetes UK provides more information about fasting during Ramadan and diabetes.
Whether you choose to fast or not is a personal decision of course. However, if you have any medical conditions, it is always a good idea to get advice and support from relevant healthcare professionals.
- BNF (2018) “A healthy Ramadan” [accessed May 2019 via: https://www.nutrition.org.uk/healthyliving/seasons/ramadan.html?limitstart=0]
- Dietitians of Canada (2016) “Fasting during Ramadan: What dietitians need to know & how to help your clients” [accessed May 2019 via: https://www.dietitians.ca/Learn/Practice-Blog/May-2016/Fasting-during-Ramadan–What-dietitians-need-to-kn.aspx]
- Mazidi et al. (2015) “The effect of Ramadan fasting on cardiometabolic risk factors and anthropometrics parameters: A systematic review” [accessed May 2019 via: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4641293/]
- Adawi et al. (2017) “Ramadan Fasting Exerts Immunomodulatory Effects: Insights from a Systematic Review” [accessed May 2019 via: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5712070/]
- Sweilih et al. (1992) “Body composition and energy metabolism in resting and exercising muslims during Ramadan fast” [accessed May 2019 via: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1434584]
- Sadeghirad et al. (2014) “Islamic fasting and weight loss: a systematic review and meta-analysis” [accessed May 2019 via: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23182306]