Ramadan can be seen as a time to develop new habits as well as to slough off unhelpful ones. In this regard thinking about fasting as a way to cleanse and nourish the body, instead of merely denying it food and fluids, can augment the spiritual dimensions of this blessed month as well as its physical benefits.
While it is important to maintain balance in our daily diet, the truth is most of us generally don’t and this balance can become unfavourably tipped during Ramadan, when cravings flare-up and food sales have been known to increase and certain foods being associated with this holy month- meat, pastries, fried foods, dairy-rich foods and sugary beverages.
As tempting is it may be to break the fast by drinking as much liquid as possible followed by a rich meal just to quieten a growling stomach; I urge you to pause and consider the limitations this places on the body to continue a process it starts approximately eight hours after your last meal, when the digestive system has completed absorbing nutrients from food. At this point glucose stored in the liver and muscles is used as a primary source of energy, after which the body starts to use fat. This helps with weight loss and reduces cholesterol, bringing about many benefits – including reduced blood pressure, reduced risk and better control of diabetes, reduced risk from strokes, hardened arteries and heart disease.
A detoxification process also starts that enables the removal of toxins from the body’s fat (which is harder than removing water soluble toxins) bringing about many benefits as long as the body is sufficiently supported during the fasting period.
To enable the detoxification to be effective, the body needs to eliminate the toxins it releases. How, you may wonder, is this possible during the long 17-18 hour fasts Muslims in the northern hemisphere are currently practicing? The answer is to increase optimally hydrating foods and good fats. It isn’t to simply drink as much liquid as possible, which can cause bloating and dilute stomach enzymes.
We obtain approximately 20% of our daily fluid intake from the food we eat, so it makes sense to increase the types of foods /dishes that are high in water especially vegetables, with plenty green leafy vegetables, as well as fruits being the main focus. Soups, various pesto sauces, salads (and I don’t mean the lettuce and tomato variety!), fresh juices and smoothies and sprouts are all ways to increase nutrient dense food and fluid intake. Including protein-rich quinoa; fish; brown rice; pre-soaked nuts and seeds with complex carbohydrates, good fats and wholegrains like beans; legumes; avocado; coconut oil; grass-fed butter; organic ghee; olive oil; laban; plain live yogurts; kefir; cottage cheese; wholemeal spelt; amaranth; millet; oats; buckwheat; rye and barley will also help to maintain a healthy balance and increase variety. Decreasing foods that are hard to digest like red meat, fried food and hard cheeses and fatty pastries or of no nutritional benefit, like sugar, will also help maintain fluid balance in the gut, assist intestinal transit and aid detoxification.
Raw or low-heated foods, along with pre-soaked and fermented foods are rich in enzymes which also assist the body in its detoxifying processes and good fats help to remove fat soluble toxins like (PCBs and dioxins). Using Sea salt or Himalayan pink salt instead of table salt is also a valuable change to make, to help replenish and maintain good electrolyte levels in the body.
With the time in which to eat being so short at this time of year, it’s the perfect opportunity to consider a different approach to eating, especially as it doesn’t take much food to feel satisfied. Of course, I’m not suggestion that we should over-look simply drinking water, but instead of just having a mono-meal with the same standard fare, why not introduce a variety of nourishing foods that will make the fast a deeper experience for the body too?
With some simple changes and inclusions we can elevate our health as well as our spirits this month insha’Allah.
Some suhur suggestions:
Cool Persimmon smoothie:
This is a nutritious drink, rich in minerals, amino acids and antioxidants. Aids detoxification, energy replenishment and helps maintain youthful skin.
1 ripe Persimmon (Sharon fruit), chopped
1 banana, chopped
1 medjool date, stoned and chopped
200ml fresh milk.
1 tablespoon organic flaxseed oil
½ tablespoon raw coconut oil.
Place the chopped date in the milk to soak and soften for around half an hour in the fridge, or after you have had your iftar, in preparation for later.
In a blender place all the ingredients and blend thoroughly. Pour in a glass and serve with or without ice.
Soaked fruit porridge:
This is a favourite of mine, easy to prepare and can be made in advance. In fact, it tastes better the longer it soaks. The measurements are general, feel free to adjust to taste.
1 cup of raw oats
1 apple, fine grated
1 pear, fine grated
1 cup Berries
1 cup of plain, live yogurt
½ cup of mixed seeds (sesame, linseed, sunflower, pumpkin)
Place all the ingredients in a bowl and mix. Add some pressed juice, if too thick. Allow to soak for a few hours. This can be made with any combination of fruits. Kids love it too.
Jasmin Izagaren is a Naturopathic Iridologist, Master Herbalist, Abdominal Sacral Massage therapist and Permaculturist. She has worked in the complementary health field for over 10 years in both Britain, where she has held workshops in London’s Notting Hill, and the UAE with private clients including members of Abu Dhabi’s royal family. She currently lives in London.