By Ambreen Bano Imran
Dietitians may get asked questions from their Muslim clients on how to eat while fasting. It becomes obligatory for Muslims to fast during this month except for children, sick, pregnant, and breastfeeding women and the elderly.
What is Ramadan?
The Islamic months follow a lunar calendar, and each month begins and ends after sighting the moon. The lunar year is ten days shorter than the solar calendar, which means that each year Ramadan starts about 10 days earlier, and thus over a period of 30 odd years Ramadan occurs in all seasons.
This year, Ramadan is estimated to be from April 13 to May 12. Each fast in Ramadan, called a Roza, starts before sunrise and finishes at sunset. Muslims wake up in the middle of the night before dawn to eat and hydrate so they can fast the whole day. This eating in the morning is called Sehri. They do not eat or drink the entire day for about 12 to 13 hours, and then at sunset, they break their fast, which is called Iftar.
The kinds of foods Muslims eat during Ramadan depends on their culture. However, all Muslims break their fast with dates. Eating the right things both at Sehri and Iftar is extremely important. Growing up, I never realized why the elders were eating some things in Ramadan. However, some traditional foods for Ramadan were based on the advantages of those foods, which now I understand.
Below are some Ramadan tips and traditions followed in Pakistan and in my family.
I remember my uncle insisting on having yogurt at Sehri. Yogurt not only provides calcium but is also a good source of protein. Eating yogurt for Sehri provides protein, which keeps you full longer. I remember my Uncle eating yogurt with Roti (whole grain bread), thus getting his carbohydrates and protein.
As kids, we used to have Dalia (porridge). Dalia is made with oats. Oats are a great source of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Combining oats with yogurt or milk at Sehri provides protein and fiber in the same meal.
Egg with Paratha
Egg with paratha (oiled whole grain bread) was something which was eaten almost at every house. Protein from the egg and the whole grains from paratha keep you full the whole day. I never liked the oily paratha as it made me feel sick. Some people like me may not like paratha they can always have an egg with just roti (which is not oiled) or whole grain bread.
Dates are perfect for opening a fast as they are high in sugar and nutrients. Eating dates at Iftar provides the energy needed right after opening the fast. Combining dates with nuts can provide protein and carbohydrates at the same time.
Fruit Chat (fruit salad) for Iftar
A typical medley of fruits with some spices for flavor is a very typical dish for Iftar. Fruits provide you with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Dahi Bhalay (Lentil balls in yogurt)
Another must-have at Iftar is Dahi bhalay which is lentil balls in yogurt. This provides you with the protein from lentils and yogurt as well as calcium from the yogurt.
Chana Chaat (Chickpea Salad)
Chana chaat is made with chickpeas, onions, tomatoes, potatoes, green chilies, and coriander. Chickpeas are a great source of protein and provide you with fiber. The added vegetables also provide fiber and nutrients.
If it’s Ramadan and you don’t have pakoras for Iftar, you probably are not from Pakistan!! Pakoras are made with chickpea flour and can have a variety of vegetables in them so you get the protein, fiber, and nutrients from chickpea flour and vegetables. However, they can be really oily as they are deep-fried. If you are worried about the fat from the oil shallow fry them or have one or two instead of ten — which most people end up having!!
Lassi was also something that my grandparents and uncles used to have at Iftar. Lassi is made with yogurt and is a good source of probiotics and protein. It aids in digestion and prevents bloating and of course, the prebiotics are great for our gut bacteria.
It is important to eat foods high in protein and fiber as they last longer and provide more energy. It is important to remember not to have too many fried and salty foods to make you thirsty while not providing much nutrient density. I recommend either a typical dinner with half your plate as fruits and vegetables and the other half with whole grains and protein, or the Iftar items — not both.
Fasting without any liquid all day can lead to dehydration. Drinking the required 6-8 oz of water per day is essential.
Ramadan is a month for spiritual renewal as fasting is a test for both the body and the mind. The spirit of Ramadan teaches patience and getting on with daily activities despite the physical challenges of fasting. People also work on any vices and try and increase good deeds such as giving charity. Fasting also helps empathize with people who do not get to eat big meals daily. Ramadan is a community affair as all Muslims fast together and open fast together. COVID-19 has changed the gatherings for Iftar but there are many other ways to stay connected and remember the community feeling and spirit of Ramadan.
About the Author
Ambreen Bano Imran is a dietetics intern at Penn State University. Ambreen changed careers to make a difference in peoples’ lives. Ambreen is passionate about helping those with food insecurity, body image issues, and eating disorders.