Last 10 days of Ramadan: Find your food balance

Asma: Ramadan is a challenge for so many people, especially those trying to eat clean and stay on a balanced diet. Hunger overtakes us and makes us want to eat carb filled foods at Iftar. Can you offer some guidelines to help keep us on track?

Zainab:Ramadan is a great opportunity to break bad eating habits and transform oneself physically as well as spiritually and to overcome the barriers to optimal wellbeing. People are often confused about what constitutes a balanced diet, or at least their ideas of a balanced diet are significantly mistaken. It’s important to educate people on how they can use this month of Ramadan to tame their bad habits and use better self-control as a tool to a healthy lifestyle post-Ramadan. Here are some of the guidelines with which you can stay on track during Ramadan:

  1. Drink at least 4 glasses of water (1 liter) when you eat your pre-dawn meal (suhoor).
  2. Suhoor should not be heavy. It should be a combination of the correct portions of complex carbs, lean protein, dairy and vegetables. As a general rule of thumb, use following guidelines for portion sizes:

Protein:Palm size serving of meat, chicken, or fish or ½ – 1 cup cooked legumes.

Oil:1 tsp-1 tablespoon per meal

Rice/Pasta/Quinoa: The amount of carbohydrate you will need depend on your age and activity levels but as a general rule of thumb, just half to one cup cooked is all we need, especially if weight control is the goal.

Cheese:1-2 slices of organic cheese depending upon individual statistics.

Bread:If large slices, take 1 slice per meal or 2 small bread slices / meal.

Vegetables: As a general rule of thumb,2-3 cups of salad in a day.

Chocolate: 2-3 squares of chocolate. Choose dark where possible.

Dressings/Sauces:Whether it is mayonnaise, tomato sauce, soy sauce or dressing, sauces add extra calories. Limit sauce to just 1-2 teaspoons.

Eggs:In general, 1-2 full eggs or egg whites depending upon individuals.

Nuts:In general, 1 oz. per serve

Dairy: In general, Measure 1 cup of liquid dairy and 1-2 cups of other types of dairy such as yogurt & cottage cheese.

Fruits:½ cup fruit cut into pieces or ¼ cup dried fruit.

           These are all the general guidelines to follow if you want to maintain your current    weight. If you want to lose weight then portion sizes vary according to an individual’s body statistics, current lifestyle and health issues.

  • Break your fast (iftar) with foods that are high in fiber and protein and that will stabilize your blood sugar, kill hunger and prevent overeating so that you can stay within the number of calories you need to lose weight. 
  • Avoid eating and drinking stuff that only makes you thirstier. For example, avoid salty foods, sodas, coffee, and tea. Coffee and tea are diuretic drinks that will dehydrate you.
  • Drink at least 8 glasses of water during non-fasting hrs.
  • Moderation and portion control is the key to success in Ramadan, as it is throughout the year.
  • Have moderate portions from every food group to ensure variety. For example, break your fast with 1-2 dates followed by 2 glasses of water. Lemon can be added in the water for flavoring. Then have a main balanced meal containing complex carbs, right amount of protein, and vegetables.
  • Fruits shouldn’t be used in unlimited quantity. Use 2-3 fruits to curb your sweet cravings after your main course.  
  • Stay away from fried and fatty food as much as possible and substitute frying with baking or grilling.
  • Do low-impact exercises during your fast and short vigorous workouts after iftar. 

Asma: What is the ideal suhoor and is there a particular way or pace you suggest we eat it? Can you give us some sample suhoor meals?

Zainab: Suhoor should not be heavy. Big meals loaded with calories and fat, regardless of the amount of food we consume, cannot compensate for energy lost during the long fasting hours. Even if we eat more than normal, there is the tendency to feel low on energy during the fasting hours because of our food deprivation. The key to surviving a whole day of fasting is eating the right foods. Suhoor has to be balanced in carbohydrates, protein and good fat, i.e. egg omelette with vegetables and whole-grain slices of bread plus smoked salmon or a little bit of mashed avocadoes. Add probiotics (Yogurt, Kefir, Kimchi, Kombucha, Sauerkraut). The most important thing is not to consume any fried foods and foods high in salt, as that will lead to excessive thirst during your fast.

Asma: Is Ramadan a good time to lose weight? If we eat right, will our weight loss accelerate?

Zainab: Most people generally believe that fasting itself aids in weight loss, which is not true.When we are fasting, we are reducing our overall calorie intake and when our body senses that the calories we absorb are less than our needs, it slows down our metabolism. It starts conserving energy to remain efficient. This actually activates our body’s natural protective mechanism to resist what it perceives as starvation. It slows down our calorie-burning rate, which might lead to weight gain.

The most important thing you can do, whether fasting or not, is to limit unhealthy food and maintain a diet rich in antioxidants. This fights free radicals that cause illnesses, malaise and diseases. Make sure to consume super foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, salmon, avocado, etc.  Fasting alone is not enough to remove toxins. It has to be accompanied by a healthy and balanced diet.

If we eat right, then Ramadan is the best time to start your weight loss journey; since you are already fasting, it becomes easier to control your cravings and organize your eating habits. 

If you have questions for Zainab, please send them to altM at asmauddin@gmail.com. We will feature them in our next Q/A with her.

If you’d like to reach out to Zainab, you can find her on WhatsApp at +971 52 986 5868 or via email at xainabsarwar@live.comYou can also find her on Instagram and her company, Moksha Dubai, on Facebook and Instagram.

Asma Uddin is the founding editor-in-chief of altM.

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