Smart eating is essential to reaping the full benefits of Ramadan. This guide provides a list of tips on healthy eating and related recipes, with a focus on foods that will keep us full, alert and healthy as we forge through days of work and nights of prayer. Time is tight, so many of these recipes require little to no cooking and can be made ahead of time, in batches, or the night before suhoor. They are fast, easy, healthy and delicious. Explore, enjoy and please share your own tips and recipes in the comments!
HEALTHY EATING TIPS
a. Increase Fiber: Fiber keeps us full for longer, keeps us alert and is essential for our digestive health. It also helps sustain our blood sugar levels so we don’t experience an unhealthy spike and crash. Foods high in fiber are whole grains, whole fruits and vegetables, beans and nuts.
b. Reduce Sugar: Sugary foods and drinks cause the dreaded sugar spike and crash that makes us feel lethargic and hungry again only a few hours after eating. But naturally occurring sugar is important fuel for our cells. Aim for sugar in whole food form like fruits and vegetables (where it’s naturally coupled with nutrients and fiber), and stay away from added sugar in processed foods like sweet cereals, cakes, sodas, sugary juices and syrups.
c. Eat Good Carbohydrates: Whole grains, whole fruits and vegetables contain healthy carbohydrates to keep us full and alert. Refined carbohydrates found in white bread/bagels, white pasta and white flour spike and then crash our blood sugar levels, so best to avoid them.
d. Increase Protein: Protein is excellent for sustaining our energy and metabolism and improving cognitive function. Foods high in protein are meat, poultry, dairy, egg, fish, beans, soy and nuts.
e. Eat Healthy Fats: It’s important to distinguish good fats from bad fats. Good fats are heart-healthy and have been found to curb hunger. They are found in foods like avocados, olives and olive oil, fatty fish like salmon and tuna, nuts and nut butters and flax seed.
f. Drink Water: With 16+ hour fasts in the middle of summer, we risk dehydration if we don’t drink enough water. Keep a large water bottle near you from iftar to suhoor so you remember to drink enough. Otherwise it is too difficult to down 3-4 glasses at once in the morning. Juices, sodas, and energy drinks should be avoided since they contain high amounts of sugar.
g. Eat Whole Foods: We live in a world of processed foods with empty calories that have been stripped of nutritional value. They are not smart choices, particularly when fasting. Nature has already done a fantastic job creating whole foods that maintain our health, so aim to incorporate more vegetables, fruits, meats, nuts and seeds. This need not be dull or time-consuming, as you’ll see from the recipe suggestions below.
h. Balance, Moderation, and Variety: Remember that these are the keys to a healthy diet. Nutrients sustain all our systems and the mental clarity we want to enhance during Ramadan. By eating a variety of foods with different nutrients, you will ensure your body and brain work at their optimal level.
RECOMMENDED FOODS AND RECIPES
These are not our mothers’ recipes. While many of us have learned how to make traditional savory meat dishes through our families and cultures, we tend to be less aware of health-conscious options that are tailored to our particular needs and lifestyles, so that is the primary focus of this guide along with a focus on suhoor foods to keep us full and alert throughout the day.
a. Pancakes may be a breakfast staple, but they are typically made of refined, empty carbohydrates that cannot sustain us for long. Instead, try this quick recipe that combines banana (potassium, magnesium), egg (protein, choline) and peanut/almond butter (protein, healthy fat, fiber) for a protein-packed pancake that is so naturally sweet and delicious, you’ll find syrup unnecessary! Add a dash of vanilla, cinnamon, and/or dark chocolate chips for added tastiness. If you dislike traditional eggs, this is a different way to work them into your suhoor.
b. Eggs are an excellent suhoor meal, high in protein to keep us full and choline to boost brain health.
i. Omelettes with cheese and various vegetables give you plenty of protein and nutrients.
ii. To pack more nutrition into simple fried eggs, make them inside bell pepper slices.
iii. Baked eggs with wilted spinach: A winning combination of two powerhouse foods to keep you full and alert.
c. Oatmeal is high in fiber and therefore a great choice for suhoor.
i. Baked oatmeal bites: Make these in batches ahead of time for a quick suhoor treat packed with fiber, whole grains, and top with delicious chocolate/berries/nuts. They are far healthier than most store-bought granola bars that have added sugar and preservatives.
ii. Banana Oatmeal Smoothie: A filling smoothie with whole banana (magnesium and potassium), yogurt (protein), almonds (vitamin E and healthy fat) and oats (fiber and whole grain).
d. Berries (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries) are ideal for their low sugar content and loads of antioxidants to keep us alert. Sprinkle them on whole grain cereal, oatmeal and yogurt.
i. Yogurt, Berry, Granola Parfait: Parfaits are delicious, require almost no prep time, and are packed with protein. You can add exactly what you want – berries for antioxidants, raisins for iron, almonds for protein, fat and fiber, etc. Editor Shazia Riaz suggests using healthy greek yogurt and adding chia seeds for fiber and omega-3’s. There are more great parfait ideas here.
e. Nuts and Dark Chocolate are a delicious, filling and healthy combination, particularly if you dislike eating nuts alone. Dark chocolate contains flavanols that improve blood flow to the brain while the nuts tame the sugar content with fiber and healthy fat. The vitamin E abundant in nuts also improves cognitive function.
i. Chocolate, nut, and berry bark: All you need is a microwave to make a batch of this quick, filling snack that’s as healthy as it is tasty.
f. Dates are a Ramadan staple for good reason. Their sugar rejuvenates us and their fiber fills us while helping to stabilize the spiking effects of sugar. Experiment with these delicious recipes:
i. Raw doughnuts/dessert balls: An extremely quick, sweet and healthy alternative to doughnuts. They’re made of dates (fiber), nuts (protein, good fats), chia/flax seeds (fiber, omega-3), cacoa (chocolate flavor in its healthiest form), honey and coconut (good fats). I make these in large batches to last weeks and they taste just like doughnuts, so everyone who tries them loves them. A great filler for suhoor and a fun way to break fast as well.
ii. Banana date shake: A popular, sweet iftar treat with bananas, dates, milk and peanut butter. Just be mindful of its high sugar content, particularly if you maintain a low glycemic diet.
g. Leafy Greens like spinach, kale and collard greens are some of the most nutrition-dense foods on the planet, yet sadly most of us eat too few of them. These adventurous recipes, along with the noticeable boost to your overall health and mental clarity, will likely make you go green:
i. Green Smoothies: I sang their praises in this post last year, and I continue to stand behind them. They cannot be beat for how quick, tasty, and nutritious they are; they are simply perfect for Ramadan. Note: Smoothies maintain all the original components of whole fruits and vegetables, including their blood sugar-stabilizing fiber, so they are a better choice than juice for Ramadan.
ii. Spinach burgers: We’re not usually veggie burger fans, so my family was stunned at how delicious these turned out. They are extremely healthy (high protein, low carb), quick to make and very filling. They incorporate cheese and eggs for better taste and more protein and are great for both suhoor and iftar. Make and store a large batch, then reheat for a quick meal.
iii. Baked Kale Chips: A nutritious alternative to potato chips and just as tasty! They are made of kale, olive oil and salt. Add black and red pepper and Parmesan cheese for even more kick.
iv. Kale and Garlic Hummus: A delicious, nutrient-dense take on a classic recipe. Healthy fat from cashews adds the creamy texture and curbs hunger. Great with whole grain pita or carrot sticks.
h. Avocados are growing in popularity as we learn more about their enormous health benefits. Add a few slices to your sandwiches and burgers or try these recipes:
i. Avocado salad: One of my favorite salads to make is comprised of cucumbers, tomatoes, cilantro, lime juice and the healthy fats of avocado and olive oil to increase nutrient absorption. This salad tastes great alongside turkey burgers and the abovementioned spinach patties.
ii. Avocado baked fries with cilantro ranch dipping sauce: Finger foods are always enjoyable. These are high in healthy fats and protein. Use whole grain bread crumbs for added fiber.
i. Sweet Potatoes: Complex carbohydrates take longer to digest, keeping you full for longer. Sweet potatoes are naturally flavorful and high in fiber and vitamin A.
i. Sweet potato baked fries: A delicious and healthy alternative to traditional fries, with an egg coating for added protein.
ii. Sweet potato and cauliflower soup: Like broccoli, cauliflower has cancer-fighting compounds, high nutrient density and high fiber. Combined with sweet potatoes, this soup is a nutritional powerhouse.
iii. Sweet potato daal (lentil) with spinach: A unique combination of East and West that combines 3 nutrient-dense foods.
j. Chickpeas are high in fiber. In addition to hummus, try these varieties:
i. Roasted chickpeas: Make a batch of this easy snack to add more fiber to your suhoor meal.
ii. Chickpea burger patties with cucumber-yogurt sauce: This recipe includes egg and yogurt for protein, and olive oil for healthy fat. It’s easy to make ahead of time in bulk.
k. Beans and legumes are excellent sources of fiber, protein and many nutrients.
l. Salmon is one of the healthiest foods we can eat. The standard American diet is largely deficient in heart and brain-enhancing omega-3 fatty acids, so it’s important that we actively aim to get enough of it. Salmon is an excellent source of omega-3 and protein.
i. Smoked Salmon with cream cheese: A simple and filling snack with protein, fiber and omega-3. Spread cream cheese on whole-wheat crackers and top with slices of smoked salmon.
ii. Toasted sesame and ginger salmon: An easy baked salmon recipe that’s bursting with Asian flavor.
m. Chicken dishes are popular in most cuisines around the world.
i. Explore sites like epicurious.com for interesting recipes like this Malaysian chicken curry.
ii. If you’re looking for unusual chicken recipes, this article has great ideas such as chicken with chickpeas and chicken tortilla soup.
iii. The Food Network website also has healthy chicken recipes.
I hope these tips and simple recipes have inspired you to incorporate more healthy ideas into your diet this Ramadan and beyond. This is only a small sampling of all the wonderful foods that benefit our health, so if some of these foods and recipes are not to your liking, explore the blogosphere to find the right ones for you. Click around the sites linked in this guide for new ideas. Pinterest is also a great resource for discovering the most popular internet recipes. Epicurious.com has an extensive Ramadan guide with more advanced recipes inspired by cuisines around the globe, and this recent LA Times article features delicious Middle Eastern-inspired dip ideas. The blog My Halal Kitchen also has helpful Ramadan tips and healthy recipes. Enjoy experimenting and please remember to share your tips and recipes in the comments!
Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor or nutritionist, just a health enthusiast hoping to inspire others. Each individual has unique health circumstances, so this information is no substitute for personalized medical advice.
Sarah Rashid is a contributing editor for Altmuslimah.