10 Tips From a Doctor on Healthy Fasting for Ramadan

In response to requests from family, friends, and Muslim patients, I am sharing some advice for Ramadan; please like and share if you find the advice useful!

1. If you are a big coffee drinker and were not able to taper coffee in the weeks before Ramadan, try drinking coffee during suhoor. Just be aware that the caffeine can dehydrate you if taken in excess. Coffee withdrawal headache will be the worst in the first week.

2.  Avoid too many sweets/carbs during suhoor; they will make you thirsty and you will get hungrier sooner.  Shoot for high protein foods, fava beans, low fat cheeses, eggs. Fresh vegetables and fruits during suhoor will give you potassium, which will make fasting easier. Good foods are bananas, cucumbers, avocados and most other fruits/vegetables.  Dates are also high in potassium.

3. Avoid a large portion of food (especially carbohydrate-rich foods) during iftar time.  Break your fast with dates per Islamic tradition, as it will give you much needed energy and nutrients. When you feast for Iftar, blood will rush to your stomach, and you will find little or no energy to pray. In addition, your sugar will likely drop further hours later, and you will find you need to compensate by overeating. Small, regular meals are ideal. Eat slowly to help your body digest the food better.

4. Avoid heavy meals/sauces with lots of salt as they will make you thirsty. Make sure you drink anywhere between 32-64 ounces of water a day (1-2 liters). Fill a water bottle of this size to make sure you have reached your goal.

5. If you exercise regularly, you can still exercise during Ramadan, just avoid doing it earlier in the day, since you may get more dehydrated as the day goes on. You can exercise in the one to two hours before iftar, and if you cannot do that, then exercise at least two hours after iftar. Void exercising immediately after iftar.

6. If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, diabetic or taking regular medications throughout the day, remember YOU DO NOT NEED to fast. If you are inclined to fast, ask your doctor is fasting is right for you. If you take once daily medications, such as blood pressure medications, you can take them once during iftar or suhoor. Twice daily medications can be given with suhoor and iftar respectively. (This may be different with different medications so make sure you speak to your doctor.)

7. Fish are generally are nutritious, but avoid eating them during suhoor because it will make you drink a lot of water.

8. Good sources of carbohydrates are those that are digested more slowly.  Think wholegrain bread, brown rice, quinoa, beans. White bread/rice and sweets are digested faster, and are likely to make you hungrier in the hours that follow. If you need something sweet, go for fruits. If you crave a Ramadan treat, have a very small amount and eat it very slowly.

9. Avoid frying your foods and using excessive oil. Bake your foods instead. Try to concentrate on seasoning with fresh herbs and lemons, which are useful for the body, rather than focusing on the butter and salt.

10. Remember, Ramadan is not about food.  It’s about self discipline and worship. Don’t let unhealthy eating traditions/habits get in the way.

Ramadan Kareem!  Share if you find this advice useful, and don’t forget to keep us all in your prayers.

Written by Hoda Eltomi, MD, Family Doctor, Harvard Vanguard; Clinical Instructor at Harvard Medical School.