What is Ramadan?
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Muslim calendar. It is during this month that Muslims observe the Fast of Ramadan. Lasting for the entire month, Muslims fast during the daylight hours and in the evening eat small meals and visit with friends and family. It is a time of worship and contemplation. A time to strengthen family and community ties.
The Fast of Ramadan
The Month of Ramadan is also when it is believed the Holy Quran “was sent down from heaven, a guidance unto men, a declaration of direction, and a means of Salvation”.
It is during this month that Muslims fast. It is called the Fast of Ramadan and lasts the entire month. Ramadan is a time when Muslims concentrate on their faith and spend less time on the concerns of their everyday lives. It is a time of worship and contemplation.
During the Fast of Ramadan strict restraints are placed on the daily lives of Muslims. They are not allowed to eat or drink during the daylight hours. Smoking and sexual relations are also forbidden during fasting. At the end of the day the fast is broken with prayer and a meal called the iftar. In the evening following the iftar it is customary for Muslims to go out visiting family and friends. The fast is resumed the next morning.
According to the Holy Quran:
One may eat and drink at any time during the night “until you can plainly distinguish a white thread from a black thread by the daylight: then keep the fast until night”.
The good that is acquired through the fast can be destroyed by five things:
1. The telling of a lie
3. Denouncing someone behind his back
4. A false oath
5. Greed or covetousness
These are considered offensive at all times, but are most offensive during the Fast of Ramadan.
During Ramadan, it is common for Muslims to go to the Masjid (Mosque) and spend several hours praying and studying the Quran. In addition to the five daily prayers, during Ramadan Muslims recite a special prayer called the Taraweeh prayer (Night Prayer). The length of this prayer is usually 2-3 times as long as the daily prayers. Some Muslims spend the entire night in prayer.
On the evening of the 27th day of the month, Muslims celebrate the Laylat-al-Qadr (the Night of Power). It is believed that on this night Muhammad first received the revelation of the Holy Quran. And according to the Quran, this is when God determines the course of the world for the following year.
When the fast ends (the first day of the month of Shawwal) it is celebrated for three days in a holiday called Eid-al-Fitar (the Feast of Fast Breaking). Gifts are exchanged. Friends and family gather to pray in congregation and for large meals. In some cities fairs are held to celebrate the end of the Fast of Ramadan.
The food eaten immediately after sunset to break fast. Here are some healthy foods to eat during the Iftar.
Juice, 1 serving (4 oz.)
Vegetable soup with some pasta or graham crackers, 1 cup
The body’s immediate need at the time of iftar is to get an easily available energy source in the form of glucose for every living cell, particularly the brain and nerve cells. Dates and juices are good sources of sugars. Dates and juice in the above quantity are sufficient to bring low blood glucose levels to normal levels. Juice and soup help maintain water and mineral balance in the body. An unbalanced diet and too many servings of sherbets and sweets with added sugar have been found to be unhealthy.
First of all, there is no need to consume excess food at dinner or sahur (the light meal generally eaten about half an hour to one hour before dawn). The body has regulatory mechanisms that activate during fasting. There is efficient utilization of body fat. Basal metabolism slows down during Ramadan fasting. A diet that is less than a normal amount of food intake but balanced is sufficient enough to keep a person healthy and active during the month of Ramadan. Here are some healthy foods to eat during Sahur.
Consume a light sahur. Eat whole wheat or oat cereal or whole wheat bread, 1-2 servings with a cup of milk. Add 2-3 teaspoons of olive oil or any other monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats in a salad or the cereal. Eat 1-2 servings of fruits, as a last item.
Consume foods from all the following food groups:
Chicken, beef, lamb, goat, fish, 1-2 servings (serving size = a slice =1 oz); green pea, chickpea (garbanzo, chana, humus), green gram, black gram, lentil, lima bean and other beans, 1 serving (half cup). Meat and beans are a good source of protein, minerals, and certain vitamins. Beans are a good source of dietary fiber, as well.
Whole wheat bread, 2 servings (serving size = 1 oz) or cooked rice, one cup or combination. This group is a good source of complex carbohydrates, which are a good source of energy and provide some protein, minerals, and dietary fiber.
Milk or buttermilk (lassi without sugar), yogurt or cottage cheese (one cup). Those who can not tolerate whole milk must try fermented products such as buttermilk and yogurt. Milk and dairy products are good sources of protein and calcium, which are essential for body tissue maintenance and several physiological functions.
Mixed vegetable salad, 1 serving (one cup), (lettuce, carrot, parsley, cucumber, broccoli, coriander leaves, cauliflower or other vegetables as desired.) Add 2 teaspoons of olive oil or any polyunsaturated oil and 2 spoons of vinegar. Polyunsaturated fat provides the body with essential fatty acids and keto acids. Cooked vegetables such as guar beans, French beans, okra (bhindi), eggplant (baigan), bottle gourd (loki), cabbage, spinach, 1 serving (4 oz). Vegetables are a good source of dietary fiber, vitamin A, carotene, lycopenes, and other phytochemicals, which are antioxidants. These are helpful in the prevention of cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and many other health problems.
1-2 servings of citrus and/or other fruits. Eat fruits as the last item of the dinner or soon after dinner, to facilitate digestion and prevent many gastrointestinal problems. Citrus fruits provide vitamin C. Fruits are a good source of dietary fiber.
Fruits and mixed nuts may be eaten as a snack after dinner or tarawiaha or before sleep.
Drink sufficient water between Iftar and sleep to avoid dehydration.
Consume sufficient vegetables at meals. Eat fruits at the end of the meal but remember to wait for a while before so as not disturb the food processing in your stomach i.e. fermentation, bloating etc.. Avoid intake of high sugar (table sugar, sucrose) foods through sweets or other forms. Avoid spicy foods.
Avoid caffeine drinks such as coke, coffee or tea. Caffeine is a diuretic. Three days to five days before Ramadan gradually reduce the intake of these drinks. A sudden decrease in caffeine prompts headaches, mood swings and irritability.
Smoking is a health risk factor. Avoid smoking cigarettes. If you cannot give up smoking, cut down gradually starting a few weeks before Ramadan. Smoking negatively affects utilization of various vitamins, metabolites and enzyme systems in the body.
Do not forget to brush your teeth before sleep and after Sahur. Brush more than two times or as many times as practical.
Normal or overweight people should not gain weight. For overweight people Ramadan is an excellent opportunity to lose weight. Underweight or marginally normal weight people are discouraged from losing weight. Analyzing a diet’s energy and nutritional component, using food composition tables or computer software, will be useful in planning an appropriate diet.
It is recommended that everyone engage in some kind of light exercise, such as stretching or walking. It’s important to follow good time management practices for Ibada (prayer and other religious activities), sleep, studies, job, and physical activities or exercise.
Sick people, travelers, and women in certain conditions are exempted from the fast but must make it up as they are able. Perhaps fasting in Ramadan is the most widely practiced of all the Muslim forms of worship.
In summary, intake of a balanced diet is critical to maintain good health, sustain an active lifestyle and attain the full benefits of Ramadan.