Guide to healthy fasting during Ramadan

Don't break your fast with a feast or you may put on weight instead of losing it.

If you are not careful, food eaten during the pre-dawn and dusk meals can cause some weight gain. 

Dr Razeen Mahroof, an anaesthetist from Oxford, says feasting during the non-fasting hours can be unhealthy. He recommends approaching the fast with discipline, or an opportunity to lose weight and be healthier could be wasted.

“The underlying message behind Ramadan is self-discipline and self-control," he says. "This shouldn’t fall apart at the end of the day".

A balanced diet

Those observing the fast should have at least two meals a day – the pre-dawn meal (Suhoor) and a meal at dusk (Iftar).

Dr Mahroof says your food intake should be simple and not differ too much from your normal diet. It should contain foods from all the major food groups:

Complex carbohydrates are foods that help release energy slowly during the long hours of fasting. They are found in foods such as barley, wheat, oats, millet, semolina, beans, lentils, wholemeal flour and basmati rice.

Fibre-rich foods are also digested slowly and include bran, cereals, whole wheat, grains and seeds, potatoes with the skin on, vegetables such as green beans, and almost all fruit, including apricots, prunes and figs.

Foods to avoid are the fast-burning, heavily processed foods that contain refined carbohydrates (sugar and white flour), as well as fatty food (such as cakes, biscuits, chocolates and sweets such as Indian mithai).

It's also worth avoiding caffeine-based drinks such as tea, coffee and cola. Caffeine is a diuretic and stimulates faster water loss through urination.

Wholesome foods

Suhoor, the pre-dawn meal, should be a wholesome, moderate meal that is filling and provides enough energy for many hours.

“Suhoor should be light and include slow digesting food like pitta bread, salad, cereal (especially oats) or toast, so that you have a constant release of energy,” Dr Mahroof says.

“It’s important to have some fluids with vitamins, such as fruit juice or fruit. Some people have isotonic drinks (such as Lucozade) to replace any lost salts.”

It's customary for Muslims to break the fast (Iftar) with some dates, in accordance with the Prophetic traditions.

Dates will provide a burst of energy. Fruit juices will also have a similar, revitalising effect. Start by drinking plenty of water, which helps rehydration and reduces the chances of overindulgence. Avoid the rich, special dishes that traditionally celebrate the fast.

Foods to avoid

  • deep-fried foods – such as pakoras, samosas and fried dumplings
  • high-sugar and high-fat foods – including sweets such as gulab jamun, rasgulla and balushahi
  • high-fat cooked foods – such as parathas, oily curries and greasy pastries

Healthy alternatives

  • baked samosas and boiled dumplings
  • chapattis made without oil
  • baked or grilled meat and chicken
  • homemade pastry using just a single layer
  • milk-based sweets and puddings, such as rasmalai and barfee

Cooking methods to avoid

  • deep frying
  • frying
  • excessive use of oil

Healthy cooking methods

  • shallow frying (usually there is little difference in taste)
  • grilling or baking is healthier and helps retain the taste and original flavour of the food, especially with chicken and fish

Avoid carbon monoxide poisoning while cooking

Carbon monoxide is a poisonous gas that has no smell or taste and which, when breathed in, can make you unwell and can kill. Cooking for large numbers of people using oversized pots on gas stoves has been shown to cause the build-up of carbon monoxide in some homes, particularly those that aren't well ventilated.

Therefore, if you are planning to cater for large numbers of people at your home – for example, at a pre- or post-Ramadan gathering – it's important that you don't use oversized pots on your gas stove and don't place foil around the burners.

Page last reviewed: 21/07/2014

Next review due: 21/07/2016


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The 5 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

uazhar said on 10 July 2013

@ pinkprincesscat21

Thanks for the advice.

Do you have a reference for when you said...

'However Sleeping the day's during Ramadan are not permitted and invalidate your fast.'


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User192980 said on 16 January 2013

So how come the NHS is slating fasting in this article?

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pinkprincesscat21 said on 03 May 2012

There is so much advice given The Prophet PABUH concerning the correct way to fast. And we have many scholars whom have written various articles and books concerning the correct way to approach and follow Ramadan.

If we beforehand prepare well start to fast two days in the month before Ramadan on the prescribed day's which where also followed by the Prophet PABUH then we will be able to make adjustments to our fast. However Sleeping the day's during Ramadan are not permitted and invalidate your fast.

Eat porrage and drink plenty of water for the early morning meal with toast & fruit and break you fast with dates and water then a light salad or light meal with a protein base and more water (not tea or coffee) Is best. We should be spending our days increasing our faith not our thinking of our bellies! There are people in parts of our planet starving think of them!

Ramdan can be sucessful if you plan well ahead and arm yourself with information. Ramadan is not meant for loosing weight or sleeping!!

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rjwood said on 01 November 2010

I'm really struggling with water fasting! I'm finding juice fasting much much easier.. My goal is to complete a 40 day juice fast. I just seem to get stuck at 10 days. I've found a great community website that has really helped me out.

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BigLoveFTW said on 26 July 2009

A good tip for when you're fasting is to go to sleep for part of the day - i.e., if you have to get up really early, go back to sleep when you've finished eating. This helps stop you being tired and irritable because of lack of sleep due to staying up late and getting up early (in summer, at least). I find it also helps reduce dehydration headaches, because you're not losing so much water by being up and about, talking and sweating.

It's a good idea to make sure you eat healthily when at home by yourself, so visiting relatives (who think if you eat less than three servings of rice you'll starve to death, and that fat is the food group you need to eat most of!) doesn't outweigh all your good work!

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