By Karimah Bint Dawoud- Muslim Chaplain & Clinical Nutritionist
Alḥamdulillāh, all praise is due to Allah the Creator of the heaven and earth and everything in between. As the month of Ramadan is moving backwards through the solar calendar once again, Ramaḍān begins in the heat of summer with long days and short nights in some places of the world. And next year, inshā’Allāh, God willing, the days are going to be even longer. It’s the perfect time to take our deen, our Islamic lifestyle, to another level that includes nutrition.
Farewell to Fried Foods
It’s time to say good-bye to junk foods, toxins, and bad habits. Fried foods are essentially junk food in comparison to an Islamic “halal and tayyib” diet. Food studies reveal that fried foods damage your body and brain in many ways. They clog arteries and lead to strokes, Alzheimer’s disease, inflamed joints, heart attacks, aneurysms, and elevated blood pressure. This is no surprise when most corn oil and rape seed oil (canola) is genetically modified, contains pesticides, and more toxic than soy oil. For more information on these oils see, “So, You Think Canola Oil is Healthy?”
Purify the Body, Illuminate the Soul
Islam is a complete religion for the mind, body, and soul. We have been gifted with an amazing body, Alḥamdulillāh, praise God. Narrated `Abdullah bin `Amr bin Al-As:
Allah’s Apostle said, “O `Abdullah! Have I not been formed that you fast all the day and stand in prayer all night?”
I said, “Yes, O Allah’s Apostle!”
He said, “Do not do that! Observe the fast sometimes and also leave them (the fast) at other times; stand up for the prayer at night and also sleep at night. Your body has a right over you, your eyes have a right over you and your wife has a right over you.” (Sahih Al-Bukhari)
It is clear from the above hadith, that our body has rights over us. The body needs the right fuel to run at optimum performance. This means eating food that provides long, slow release of energy as well as vital vitamins and minerals.
Sacred Foods in a Six Hour Window
All the foods mentioned in the Quran and Sunnah are beneficial for our health. They are “halal and tayyib” meaning they are lawful AND pure. They are whole meal, quality foods that complement the body.
They are fresh foods, full of sun-fired vitality. However, the wrong combinations of healthy foods can be unhealthy. There is a difference of opinion about “Food Combining theory” between qualified nutritionists, vegan raw foodies whose business often depends on them justifying mixing certain fruits, nuts, and vegetables, and scientists who are usually paid by Big Pharma and the processed food industry.
Islamically, we are allowed to eat meat. Meat is part of the food combining equation. With a little skill and know-how we can eat from all the food groups. This year we are going to try something that seems radical. This is going to take a real shift for some of us. I know many Muslims eat through the night until Fajr, that’s not new, however I am going to introduce good nutrition and food combining into this 6 hour window in which we can eat. This 6 hour, healthy banquet is a long meal. Starting with fluid and more fluid, soups, starters, and salad and then the main course at suhur. What, no dessert? No dessert! Let’s save that for Eid, inshā’Allāh.
Breaking Fast: Dates and Water
First and most important is hydration. Hydration is going to be the key factor in this year’s Ramaḍān nutrition. We are going to have to monitor, regulate, and force ourselves to drink water. It is essential during this 6 hour window that we drink at least 2 liters or 3 ½ pints of water. It can be broken down like this:
- Iftar: 500 ml water and dates. Personally, I will be adding a spoon of honey to my iftar water, not only for the energy but also for the healing, anti-bacterial, and anti-fungal properties, as well as much more.
- Every hour after that 300 ml or 10 oz of water including at suḥūr.
There is a wisdom to why we eat dates. They are sun-fired packages of high energy multivitamins and minerals. If you don’t already, train yourself to love them, they are a superfood.
Caffeinated drinks such as tea or coffee so not count towards this fluid intake, as these will deplete your body of essential vitamins and minerals like magnesium, and also dehydrate you. If you must drink these, then have an additional mug of water and make sure you take a vegan multi-vitamin and mineral supplement.
Maghrib with a Side of Fruits
Fruits are so special they will be in paradise. The Holy Quran mentions fruits as a generic term فاكهة fourteen times.
1. And for them there is fruit, and for them there is what they ask for. [36:57]
2. Therein they will recline; therein they will call for fruit in abundance and drinks. [38:51]
3. Therein for you will be fruit in plenty, of which you will eat (as you desire). [43:73].
Bananas, dates, grapes, figs, and pomegranate are individually mentioned in other chapters.
Fruits are sun-fired foods that have a high water content as well as essential vitamins and minerals.
Eat some sort of fruit salad, fruit juice, or smoothie after breaking fast with water and dates. If time is not on your side, buy pressed fruit juice with bits, not smooth and not concentrate. If you are making it at home, smoothies are better than juices because they contain soluble and insoluble fibers. Fiber is good to combat constipation, encouraging elimination of toxins. It’s good for the digestive and circulatory systems of the body.
Fruits digest more quickly than vegetables, opening the digestive canal and providing energy, vitamins, and minerals to the organs. To combat your thirst at iftar, have a watermelon smoothie, agua fresca, with honey and lemon, then have another type of fruit smoothie. Melons are the quickest of fruits to digest, taking only 20 minutes. Watermelon can be blended or juiced, including the skin and seeds, which contain the important minerals magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, Zinc, Iron, potassium and copper. All essential!
Keep the smoothies just fruits, no nuts, no dairy, no veggies, then pray Maghrib. This will give your digestive tract time to open up, absorb these essential sugars, vitamins, and minerals and give you energy for the rest of the evening Insha’Allah.
Remember to drink more water while you are preparing this next part of the meal.
Seest thou not that Allah sends down water from the clouds, then makes it go down into the earth in springs, then brings forth therewith herbage of various hues; then it withers so that thou seest it turn yellow, then He makes it chaff? Surely there is a reminder in this for men of understanding. (39:21)
After Maghrib eat something vegetarian, healthy, and tasty. Have high fiber salads with an amazing dressing or soup. Raw vegetables also have high water, mineral, and vitamin content. This is where you can also eat your starchy carbs. We can have vegetable curry and rice, whole meal pasta with zucchini and tomato sauce, rice flour pancakes (substitute soaked flax seeds for egg to bind), or Mediterranean rice salad with scrumptious asparagus and artichokes. Check out some vegan recipes. There is so much choice BUT no protein at this point. Look at this list of amazing veggies from Allah’s Bounty Store:
- Bean sprouts
- Brussels sprouts
- Summer squash
Starches and Oils
This is where you get to eat your starchy carbs; black, brown, or red rice, whole-meal bread, whole-meal barley, oats, and pasta. White flour, white sugar, and white rice are all refined, processed foods and should be avoided for optimum nutrition.
The Prophet Muhammad never ate white flour even though it was available.
Narrated Abu Hazim: I asked Sahl bin Sad, “Did Allah’s Apostle ever eat white flour?” Sahl said, “Allah’s Apostle never saw white flour since Allah sent him as an Apostle till He took him unto Him.” I asked, “Did the people have (use) sieves during the lifetime of Allah’s Apostle?” Sahl said, “Allah’s Apostle never saw (used) a sieve since Allah sent him as an Apostle until He took him unto Him,” I said, “How could you eat barley unsifted?” he said, “We used to grind it and then blow off its husk, and after the husk flew away, we used to prepare the dough (bake) and eat it.” (Sahih Bukhari and Tirmidhi)
This is the best time for your healthy oils. Olive oil is sacred oil, once again mentioned in the Quran. Use olive oil for cooking or salad dressings. Healthy oils are essential for good mental health, helping the brain make the right connections, joint mobility, and lubrication of internal mucous membranes. Everything internal, even the cell walls, need oil.
It should be about 11 pm by the time you finish this meal, time for ‘Ishā’ and Tarāwīḥ prayers. Keep drinking water, maybe with a little honey, during breaks in Tarāwīḥ.
If you are going to sleep a few hours, please drink water beforehand. Allow the previous food consumption at least 2-3 hours to digest before eating again, but still drink water.
Suḥūr: Protein Time
This meal needs to be animal protein and vegetables, but not starchy carbs like rice, pasta, or bread for optimum nutrition.
Tests show for the same caloric value, protein gives the most sustained energy. Meat takes 16 hours to digest. Animal protein is best at this time. In accordance with the Quran and Sunnah it is best if the meat is halal and free range, free from growth hormones and antibiotics.
Animal protein contains a special iron called heme iron which is 15% more absorbent than non-heme (plant) iron. Heme iron actually helps the absorption of non-heme iron; therefore, it is a good idea to combine foods from the plant and animal kingdoms for the best balance and benefit.3 Iron is essential for the blood and for transportation of oxygen around the body.
Suggested meals are vegetable omelet and salad, Thai fish veggie soup, kofta in sauce and cooked spinach, grilled chicken and garlic beans, mince lamb and okra salad or lamb tagine with loads of cooked veg. These can be prepared earlier. I know it’s really tempting to eat starchy carbs like bread or rice with these meals, it’s a habit, a tradition, and it’s a pattern we need to break. Starchy carbs need an alkaline stomach environment to enable the enzyme “amylase” to work. The gastric enzyme “pepsin” is used to break down proteins; it cannot do so in an alkaline environment. The conflicting chemicals needed to breakdown these different food groups are disabled by the presence of the other, causing fermentation of the foods in the digestive tracts.4 The knock on effect of this is bloating, heart burn, indigestion, and wind. Worst of all, the optimum absorption of all the nutrients from the consumed food is inferior.
Please use this food combining chart, this illustrates food group combinations for optimum nutrition and digestion. Optimum nutrition means optimum ‘ibādah. And remember, “He who fails to plan, plans to fail.”
May Allah make this Ramaḍān easy for us and a benefit to us all in this life and in Jannah, Ameen.