The second pandemic Ramadan is upon us. Starting on Tuesday, Muslims around the world will observe this holy month by abstaining from food and water from sunrise to sunset each day, engaging in more charitable acts and focusing on heightened spirituality and worship. While Ramadan is typically a time for community, COVID-19 has made that aspect a lot harder. But one thing remains the same—the act of fasting. It can be difficult to maintain the same levels of energy and hydration when foregoing food and water all day, which makes it all the more important to be mindful of what you eat during the hours between iftar (breaking fast) and eating suhoor (the early morning meal).
Huda Amareh, an Ottawa-based registered dietitian, is used to getting a lot of questions prior to Ramadan. Most of them centre on how to eat nutritious and filling foods but, also, whether it’s possible to still indulge in cultural dishes—which remains a big aspect of Ramadan, with various cultures having their own customary meals specific to this month. “It’s all about encouraging people to know that at the end of the day, food is not your enemy. Food is something that makes you happy and is a big part of your life. There are definitely ways to eat what you want to eat by just having a sense of balance,” she says.
Amareh, who provides dietetic care to clients in Ontario through her website Amana Nutrition, broke down what types of foods you should focus on for both suhoor and iftar to stay full and healthy without compromising taste. Read on for her tips, along with some Chatelaine recipes to make it easier for you this season.
What should I eat for suhoor?
“The best practice for suhoor is to, first of all, have it,” Amareh says. Many people opt out of waking up to eat the early morning meal in favour of precious sleep time, but you’re doing yourself a disservice in the long run. There’s a reason why Islamic tradition calls for us to have suhoor, she adds. “There’s a scientific reason. It’s because if you have something to eat, particularly something that has protein in there, complex carbs [and fibre], you’ll feel fuller for longer.”
Drinking water is also very important. Amareh suggests people try to shoot for eight to nine cups of water per day, broken up at various times—two cups at suhoor, two cups at iftar and the remaining four cups throughout the night.
As for specific dishes, she says when she was still a student and had less time, her suhoor would include an omelet with a lot of vegetables, whole grain bread and water. These days she prefers Greek yogurt (which has more protein than regular yogurt) with granola and fruit. “It’s great because Greek yogurt gives you protein, granola would give you whole grains and that fibre you need to sustain yourself [and] I would also have fruits, in particular berries, as they’re not only yummy but also a good source of fibre.” If she’s in a rush, she’ll settle for a breakfast smoothie with protein powder.
What should I eat for iftar?
“We’re all so used to seeing the food prepared right before iftar and wanting to eat it as soon as possible. [But] how often are you actually able to function right after having a huge meal, right after you’ve broken your fast?” While it may be difficult to do, Amareh says iftar should be light. A date, some fruit and water are good before going to pray maghrib and then returning to eat dinner. That break between iftar and dinner allows your body to digest what it’s been given.
For the post-maghrib meal, she tends to refer people back to Canada’s Food Guide, which she says is a great tool for planning meals. As per the guide, each meal should include half a plate of fruits and vegetables, one-fourth plate of proteins and one-fourth plate of whole grains. Having the fluidity and freedom to make what you want is important, Amareh says, because Ramadan is an international occasion. “There’s always this misconception that cultural foods aren’t healthy. And that’s not the case at all. It’s all about figuring out if it’s in line with health recommendations.”
As for particular dishes, she says it could include something like chicken curry with whole wheat naan and veggies, maybe asparagus, spinach and bell peppers. Amareh, who is Somali, recommends chicken or beef paired with sabaayad, or Somali flatbread, and some berries or fruit. “It’s all about finding what works for you, as long as you have those key components,” she says. And, of course, don’t forget to drink water.
We’ve gone through the Chatelaine recipe archives and found some recipes fit for suhoor, post-iftar and snacking in between. Ramadan Mubarak!
Sheet Pan Orange Chicken with Sweet Potato
There is nothing better than a one-sheet quick post-iftar dinner, and this one involves baked veggies paired with sweet and tangy chicken. Get this sheet pan orange chicken with sweet potato recipe.
Hummus is a delicious and healthy substitute for many other types of spreads that tend to be high in fat. (It’s packed with protein, and it’s also a good source of folate and fibre.) Eat with whole wheat pita bread or vegetables. Check out this guide on how to make hummus and get this hummus recipe.