Eating for Better Health this Ramadan and Summer
Written by Fatimah Jackson-Best
Ah, summer. It is the time of the year when we can look forward to warmer weather, longer days, barbeques, and picnics. For Muslims the summer also brings the month of Ramadan, and approximately 30 days of abstaining from food and drink from sunrise to sunset. To have a successful Ramadan and a healthy (and delicious) summer we will need to do some planning. But do not think of this as a chore: consider it an investment in yourself that will reinforce good eating habits that can positively impact us for the rest of the year.
There are typically two camps of fasting people in Ramadan: those who lose weight, and those who gain some. Your culture, metabolism, and the food you eat will be determining factors in what happens to you and some of these are out of our control. Realistically, we should not use Ramadan as a quick diet or a 30 day binge; neither is healthy or helpful for the long term. Try viewing the month as a way to be more mindful about your eating, and an exercise in choosing quality over quantity. By being watchful about what we eat during Ramadan we may be reminded that all of our meals must fuel us throughout long days of fasting and long nights of praying. This kind of mindfulness can also help us create a different relationship with food and transform how we understand it.
A key step that will help us stay healthy in Ramadan is planning what we eat. This can be achieved by creating weekly meal plans that feature key ingredients you will use, and it all starts with how and where we shop for food. Try going to local farmers’ markets to source produce that is seasonal, abundant, and locally grown. It is also fortuitous that Ramadan coincides with the beginning of the summer harvest. For example, in Ontario corn, peaches, and sweet peppers typically begin to roll out in the early part of the summer. All of these are high in vitamins and minerals and can be used in stews, curries, and desserts. Get to know what is in season by asking farmers’ market vendors what is the most fresh. You may be amazed at the familiar and unfamiliar produce being grown right in your country or city.
These seasonal fruits and vegetables can help you to organize your weekly meal plans. Think of them as being the star of your meals for the week and find or create meals that incorporate them along with other items. Vegetarian or meat-based chili would go great with fresh corn cut right off the cob. And sliced peaches make amazing crumbles, tarts, or when eaten on their own.
The point is to get creative and excited about your food. Find the farmers’ market nearest to you and make a morning out of it with a friend or loved one. Invite people over later for Iftar to increase your blessings and your knowledge around the kitchen.
Nothing feels better than providing a meal to hungry people, and you can tell everyone that you supported your local farmers too.
Grocery stores can also be great places to buy nutritious and delicious foods for your Iftar and Suhoor meals. There are two rules I typically follow when shopping in big chain grocery stores:
1) make a list,
2) shop in the outside aisles of the store first.
Lists will cut down your time in the grocery store, and help you to avoid buying things that you don’t need. Shopping in the outside aisles directs you to the places that fruits, vegetables, dairy, meats, eggs, and other perishable foods are kept. Think about your local grocery store: where is the boxed cereal, chocolate bars, and soda?
Usually in the middle aisles and closest to the cash registers where it’s easy to forget your discipline and reach for something salty or sugary. Resist the urge to go down these aisles of empty calories and work your way around the perimeter of the grocery store first. Once your cart is loaded with fresh meats, dairy items, and produce then you can check out the aisles that house beans, canned vegetables, and seasonings.
By the time you are done there your cart may be too full to put any bags of chips or bottles of soda in it. The most important thing to remember is that these items are not food and they will not fuel you or fill you up which is integral to having a healthy Ramadan and summer.
We also cannot underestimate the importance of staying hydrated throughout the summer, and especially while we are fasting. This can be tricky when you are prohibited from having a glass of water in the hottest part of the day as we fast. The best strategy is to fill up during Iftar and Suhoor, and I generally try to have three to four cups at the very beginning of both meals.
It is important to choose food and drink that help us to sustain our strength and keep us feeling full while we fast. Although we may moan and groan at the summer heat that some of us have to endure during Ramadan, it is best to stay positive.
Consider it a gift from Allah that Ramadan begins during the summer growing season when we have access to many kinds of fruits and vegetables. Trips to the market and grocery store can be fun and healthy, so get out there and start exploring even before the month starts and long after it is done. The goal we should be striving towards is having healthier lives, and this does not begin or end with Ramadan and the summer. Rather, it is sustained by making healthy changes to our lifestyles that will transform our bodies and minds over time.
Fatimah Jackson-Best is a writer for Halal Foodie Magazine and currently lives in Barbados with her family.