How to: keeping the Ramadan fast healthy

A how-to on staying healthy during the holiest month for the Islamic faith

Keeping nutrition a priority during the month-long fast

Want to stay healthy during Ramadan? Avoid fatty or deep fried foods, says the Ethio-Canadian Muslim Association. (Arko Datta/Reuters)

The holiest month of the Islamic faith, Ramadan is a time for inner reflection and time spent with family but it's also a time to watch what you eat.

The Ethio-Canadian Muslim Community recently posted on Facebook reminders for the holiest month of the Islamic faith, encouraging observers of Ramadan to follow their dos and don'ts of keeping healthy during the fast. 

The post discourages foods with sugar and sodium, especially for the pre-dawn meal known as Suhoor.

Ala'a Eideh, a PhD student in nutrition at the University of Manitoba, mainly recommends consuming anything that will not aggravate thirst throughout the day.

"The main things that should be avoided are spices, caffeine and sodium to prevent thirst to prevent fluid loss from the body," she said.

Nutrition PhD student Ala'a Eideh says fasting during Ramadan can be healthy. (Gradgazette)

Muslims started fasting June 7, which means no meals from sunrise to sundown every day until July 6.

Eideh recommended foods high in potassium and magnesium, such as bananas and unsalted nuts. She also warned against snacks high in fibre such as popcorn, which can also be a source of fat.

For herself, she likes to keep her Suhoor meal small and packed with protein and water to keep her going throughout the day.

For the meal at the end of the day known as Iftar, Eideh recommends fruits and complex carbohydrates -- she herself prefers rice and pasta for her Iftar meal.

Longer days mean a longer fast

With Ramadan falling in June, Eideh noted an extra challenge with the longer light hours for fasting, where it can last up to 19 hours. An extra challenge she added, was having to fit fasting into the western lifestyle.

"Here we have to adjust to the working hours," she said, whereas back home in Jordan, school and working hours shorten during the month.

Benefits beyond the fast

The Manitoba Islamic Association claims fasting can have many health benefits:

  • Fasting boosts the natural levels of antibodies, adding to the body's natural forms of protection.
  • Fasting promotes regeneration of white blood cells from stem cells.
  • Fasting is an effective form of healthy weight-loss.

But beyond some of the supposed health benefits to fasting, Eideh noted the spiritual aspect is more important.

"It helps people focus on their spiritual aspects, not the physical … this makes you think more of the spiritual aspects," she said. "Overall, this will give you a spiritual revival as a reward and then you will feel like you have more control over yourself."

Ramadan ends with a three-day feasting festival known as Eid to break the month of fasting.