Healthy Eating During Ramadan

*This post was contributed by my sister-in-law, Cheryl Ainslie-Waldman, who now has a PhD in Nutrition from University of Minnesota, back in 2009. It appeared on a blog Jehanzeb Dar and I co-published called Islam on My Side (now someone else’s blog). I like to repost this every year because the information is important, especially during a summer fast! Cheryl recommends increasing your liquid intake this year as the days are hot and long. Pay attention to that third paragraph for some tips on caffeine and juice intake while fasting. Please post questions in the comments section, and Cheryl will do her best to respond.


Hello, my name is Cheryl, and I am Shawna’s sister-in-law. I am a foods and nutrition student at Purdue University, and Shawna asked me to provide some dietary advice for the month of Ramadan. I hope to offer good advice to meet all nutritional needs and take care of the body during this time of fasting. All recommendations are for a typical 2000-calorie diet and can be modified to meet individual needs or preferences.

Pre-Dawn Meal
At the before sunrise meal, include most of the protein for the day. Protein is digested more slowly and will help maintain blood sugar throughout the day. Rapid rises and falls in blood sugar will result in increased hunger, irritability, and fatigue. Refined carbohydrates should be limited during this meal to avoid problematic changes in blood sugar. Include 4-6 ounces of lean meat, such as eggs, turkey bacon, or white-meat chicken. Beans or hummus are also good protein choices for breakfast. (Beans also count as vegetable servings.)

It is also important to include at least 4 cups of fluid during the first meal. Water, tea, coffee, and juice all contribute to fluid intake, but I would caution against drinking too much caffeine as it is an appetite stimulant and can also cause decreases in blood sugar. One hundred percent juice is a good source of nutrients but is also a concentrated source of sugar. Try to limit juice to one cup during this meal.

Fruits, vegetables, grains, and dairy should also be included in this meal. Aim for at least 3 servings of fresh fruits or vegetables. One serving equals 1 medium piece, ½ cup raw, or 1 cup of leafy vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are a good source of fluid, fiber, and a balance of nutrients that will help to sustain energy. Whole grains are also a good choice for breakfast; try to eat at least 3 servings of grains, like oatmeal, whole wheat bread, or whole grain cereal. One serving of grains equals 1 ounce, which is usually 1 slice of bread, ½ cup of cooked cereal, or 1 cup of ready-to-eat cereal. The meal should also include 1-2 servings of low-fat dairy foods. One serving of dairy equals 1 cup of milk or yogurt or 1-½ ounces of cheese.

Fat contributes to satiety or a feeling of fullness, so it is a good idea to incorporate a moderate amount during breakfast. The healthiest fats come from vegetable sources, like olive oil, canola oil, or soft-tub margarine. Fry an egg in some olive oil, and spread some margarine on whole wheat toast. This will help prolong the energy from breakfast throughout the day.

In summary, the pre-dawn meal should include:
• 4-6 oz. lean protein (meat or beans)
• 4 c. fluid
• 3 servings of fresh fruits or vegetables
• 3 servings of whole grains
• 1-2 servings of low-fat dairy foods

The following is a sample meal following these guidelines:
• 2 egg omelet with ¼ c. each mushroom and spinach and 1 ½ oz.
part-skim mozzarella cheese
• 2 slices turkey bacon
• ¼ c. hummus with ½ whole wheat pita
• 1 c. oatmeal with ½ c. blueberries
• 1 medium banana
• 1 c. skim milk
• 1 c. coffee
• 1 c. orange juice
• 2 c. water

After-Sunset Meal
At the evening meal, it is very important to regain fluid losses from fasting. This meal should include an additional 4 cups of fluid and should emphasize vegetables because of their fluid content. Try to eat at least 4 servings of vegetables and 1-2 servings of fruits. Vegetable-based soups are an excellent choice for this meal. Try bean or legume-based soups for extra protein and fiber, which will promote satiety.

An additional 5 grain servings will help stabilize blood sugar. Having something sweet for dessert will also help sustain blood sugar throughout the night but eating too many sweets will have the opposite effect. The important thing is to make up for lost nutrients from fasting, not lost calories. A good dessert would be a few stuffed dates, oatmeal raisin cookies, or a nut-based confection. An additional 1-2 servings from the dairy group will also be needed to consume a total of 3 for the day.

In summary, the meal to break the fast should include:
• 4 c. fluid
• 4 servings of vegetables
• 1-2 servings of fruits
• 5 servings of grains
• 1-2 servings of dairy

The following is a sample meal based upon these guidelines:
• 2 c. black bean soup
• 12 whole grain crackers
• 1 c. tomato salad with olive oil and 1 ½ oz. feta cheese
• 1 whole wheat pita
• ½ c. hummus
• 5 dates
• 2 oatmeal raisin cookies
• 2 c. herbal tea
• 2 c. water

Eating During the Night
The previous guidelines included all the food servings needed for the day. If you happen to wake up hungry in the middle of the night, choose a small snack that combines protein and whole grains, like bread and peanut butter. Try to not get in the habit of eating a great deal in the middle of the night.

If you are continually hungry during the night, one helpful tactic may be to break up the first meal into two smaller meals. Eat a few choices, go back to bed, and eat the remaining choices during the second meal before sunrise. It is important to not “double-up” and overeat because of eating during the night.

One Final Note
There are endless choices of meal combinations following these guidelines. Increasing the variety of foods will help balance the nutrients that you are eating. Feel free to switch around the foods from meal to meal if it will better suit you. Remember to feed your body well.

Shawna Ayoub

Shawna Ayoub is an essayist, fiction writer, poet and instructor with an MFA in creative writing from Indiana University. Some of her work has been published in The Manifest-Station, Role Reboot, [wherever], The Huffington Post, The Oxford Review and Exit 7. Her writing explores the intersections of race, place and survivorship. She writes with honesty about her own experience in order to transform pain.

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