Tips for eating well and supporting one another
Ramadan is a month for Muslims to demonstrate their religious devotion to their faith. Beginning after the sighting of the new crescent moon, it is the most sacred month of Islamic religion. This month of prayer and self-reflection allows the opportunity to self-reflect, grow spiritually, and become closer to God. During this month, many Muslims will not eat or drink from sunrise to sunset. For health reasons, not all Muslims will participate in the Ramadan fast.
Early each morning, before the Ramadan fast begins, a meal called suhoor (also spelled suhour) is eaten before sunrise. This is the last meal before the daily fast. At sunset, the fast is “broken” and a small meal, called iftar (also called ftoor/futoor) is eaten. It is common for people to get together to share this meal. Some people eat small meals or snacks throughout the night.
During Ramadan, many Muslims try to avoid eating less healthy fried foods and focus on eating more nutritious foods, like fruits and vegetables. In Canada, because most workplaces and schools continue to operate during Ramadan as they do at other times of the year, Muslims must be concerned about eating well, so that they may continue to perform their regular daily activities, like working, exercise, studying, praying, and visiting with friends. The first few days of the fast are the most difficult for many. Some tips for fasting during the day are below.
Preparing for the fast:
- a few days before Ramadan, begin to reduce caffeine intake (tea, coffee, chocolate, soft drinks, energy drinks, chocolate) to wean the body
- a couple of days before Ramadan, reduce daytime snacking
- plan for future meals and try to prepare them in advance, for example, cook chicken or boil some eggs and clean and slice vegetables and keep them in the refrigerator so they are ready-to-eat, for example as a quick salad, or as part of a larger meal
- try a new food and freeze half of it to eat on a day that you are very busy, for example, using this recipe for Chicken chili with corn, using a Halal meat, or replacing the turkey with lentils, or your favourite bean and if you feel adventurous, use your favourite spice mixture in place of the one in the recipe
- cook large batches of some meals and snacks like: curry, jollof rice, hummus, tagine, groundnut (peanut) soup, doro wat, naan, biryani, tikka masala, or vegetable soup with a traditional spice mixture and, if the food freezes well, store smaller portions in freezer-safe sealed containers and freeze for a quick meal
- freeze bananas that are getting too ripe and keep frozen fruit in the freezer to make a quick smoothie (include milk or yogurt for calcium) to drink for suhoor or as a snack
- talk to people in your local Muslim community to find a local source for Halal meat: several local farms raise goats, lamb, chicken, and turkey
During the fast:
For the first few days, people observing Ramadan may feel tired and grouchy because their body is not used to the fast, however, this usually ends after a day or two.
- it is common to break the daily fast by eating a snack, taking a prayer break, and then meeting with others to share the iftar meal. Common snacks to break the fast include dates with water, tisane/herbal tea (like ginger tea) or milk. For variety, this snack could also include apple, watermelon, cantaloupe, and other non-citrus fruits (citrus fruits can be too acidic for some)
- shortly after this snack, it is common to have a small meal that includes protein (like fish, eggs, chicken), complex carbohydrates (brown rice, lentils, peas/beans, oats, etc.), nuts, seeds, and vegetables
- prepare the suhoor in advance to ensure a good night’s rest
- prepare a nutritionally-balanced suhoor to have sufficient energy for the day, for example, be sure to include protein to feel full, and stay hydrated by drinking enough fluids (like water) and eat foods that are high in fluid content such as fruits, vegetables, yogurts
- in a traditional meal, try a adding a vegetable or fruit that you have never eaten before
Tips for people wanting to support their Muslim friends, acquaintances, and colleagues during the fast:
Non-Muslims can support their Muslim peers, colleagues, and friends by learning about Islam and Ramadan to dispel widely-held myths and misinformation about the religion.
- especially at the beginning of Ramadan, being sensitive to the fact that transitioning to a different eating schedule might be difficult for some and they might need some time to adjust
- some people fasting might not wish to be close to others who are eating, while others don’t mind
- generally, don’t ask a Muslim person specifically about their personal fast, because not all Muslims will be fasting (some, for health reasons) and asking would be an invasion of their privacy
- teachers can be supportive of their Muslim students by being supportive and encouraging and asking general questions about their traditions. In 2022, Danya Atta, a grade 2 teacher in Louise Arbour French Immersion school in London, Ontario supported young Muslim students in her school by creating a “Ramadan Club” to help students from being tempted to eat during lunchtime when other students were eating
- like any other religion or practice, different people appreciate different things, generally, Muslim people are happy to answer respectful questions about Ramadan and feel included when others show interest to learn more about Ramadan and Islam
- dietitians and other health professionals recognize that common concerns for fasting Muslims include feelings of hunger through the day, sufficient fluid intake, and constipation. Providing tips for feeling full throughout the day, maintaining hydration status, and promoting bowel regularity may be useful for Muslims during this month. It is also important to note that if someone has a chronic health condition like diabetes or heart disease, they need to consult their health care practitioner for advice on fasting. For more information, see Fasting during Ramadan from the Dietitians of Canada.
Contributors: Jannatul Ferdaus (senior nutrition student at the University of Manitoba), Seidu Mohammed (retired footballer, public speaker, newcomer), Hana Dakkak, MScFN, RD, PhD (c), Laurel Martin, MSc, PHEc