29 March, 2024

Ramadan is a sacred time of year for Muslims all around the world. The month-long celebration of Ramadan involves acts of worshipping, community and fasting for 30 days. During this time, Muslims will typically fast from sunrise to sunset, meaning that food and water will not be consumed during daylight hours – days may be shorter or longer depending on where you live.

While the limited hours of eating and drinking can pose a challenge to maintaining a balanced diet, when observed safely, Ramadan can also present fresh wellbeing opportunities for your breast cancer prevention journey.

Breast Cancer UK reached out to award-winning dietitian Salma Mehar RD for her insight on the simple steps Muslims can take to maintain a balanced diet and follow nutritional lifestyle choices during Ramadan.

“Ramadan is a special time of year when Muslims are more conscious of their food and drink choices. Naturally, this comes with an increased awareness of the impact these choices will have on our ability to carry out daily activities.

“From a prevention standpoint, Ramadan can be an amazing opportunity to help young people develop healthy habits (mindfulness, cooking, healthy eating, etc) that will reduce their risk of developing conditions like breast cancer, Type 2 diabetes and heart conditions in the future,” says Salma.

Note: Please consult your healthcare professional if you have any underlying health conditions before undertaking fasting.

Here are some of Salma’s top tips for a nutritious Ramadan:

1. Don’t skip the first meal of the day (Suhoor)

It can be a challenge getting up before dawn for the first meal of the day (Suhoor) but missing out on it for a night of unbroken sleep can be costly from a nutritional aspect. By skipping the first meal of the day, you will essentially be extending your fast as it will be a longer wait in between meals.

Starting your day with whole grain, high-fibre meal will set you up well for the day. As your body is used to eating at a certain time, it is unlikely that any one meal will stop you from feeling hungry. However, the right meal will ensure that you are not lacking in nutrition. This can include unprocessed foods like whole wheat porridge, nuts and seeded bread.

While it is important to eat, it is also, the type of food you eat is equally as important. Sugary foods should be avoided as these can cause your blood sugar levels to spike and contain very little nutritional value.

2. Plan your meals

The limited hours when food and drink can be consumed mean that it is even more important to plan your meals in order to get all the essential nutrients your body needs. This will help you to avoid the pitfalls of resorting to last minute takeaways and processed foods. For example, try buying your fruits and vegetables ahead of time. Preparing smoothies that you can drink when you start your day (Suhoor) or marinating food during the day so that it will be ready to cook in time for Iftar.

Ramadan is a great time to get into the habit of planning your meals and maximising the nutrition on your plate. If you have young people in your life, try to involve them in the meal planning process. This will help to equip them with the skills they need for later life. Eating healthfully from a young age and being consistent can help to promote long-term health and reduce the risk of health complications such as obesity and various forms of cancer.

3. Keep your plate balanced

However, much like any other time of the year, eating a balanced, nutritious meal should remain a priority during Ramadan.

It is traditional to break your fast with a date. Dates are a great source of natural sugar and fibre. However, consume dates in moderation as dates can vary in size and sugar content.

In addition to drinking plenty of water during non-fasting hours, it is also important to have a varied plate and eat slowly. Your plate should roughly look like this; one-quarter carbohydrates, one quarter protein and half vegetables. This can be followed by a mixed fruit salad bowl providing those essentials antioxidants.

4. Avoid tea and coffee

Most of us are used to starting our day off with a cup of coffee or tea. During Ramadan, it’s best to fill your cup with something else. This is because caffeine acts as a diuretic, and therefore causes the body to remove fluids at a faster rate. In addition, highly caffeinated and sugary drinks also contain very little nutritional value, neither of these are ideal when fasting.

We recommend choosing to drink plenty of water during non-fasting hours as it provides hydration. Milk-based drinks and yoghurts such as smoothies, lassi and labaan provide some natural sugars and essential nutrients. These are also good to break the fast. Avoid drinks such as fruit juices and fizzy drinks after breaking the fast as they are high in sugar with little nutritional value.

5. Stay active 

Physical activity is important during any time of the year, but this becomes even more apparent during Ramadan. Not eating and drinking during daylight hours can cause you to feel more lethargic, but contrary to belief, the reduction of movement can have a negative impact.

Exercising releases endorphins which increase energy levels and stop your muscles from weakening from inactivity during Ramadan. However, if you are someone with a very active lifestyle it is advised to reduce your intensity. Low-intensity physical activities include going for brisk walks and gentle stretches even if it’s for 10 minutes a day.

For more information and advice on a healthy Ramadan, reach out to Salma Mehar RD and NHS, Diabetes UK, and the Muslim Council of Britain.

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