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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Media last reviewed: 06/08/2016

Next review due: 06/08/2019

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