I first decided to start writing about Ramadan because I was worried that some people’s behavior wasn’t appropriate to the Holy Month of abstinence. They were eating too much of the wrong food, wasting money and spending too much time in the kitchen, all in a period when we are supposed to show gratitude, renounce material belongings and remind ourselves how the poorest in society live.
Moreover, these bad choices have a negative effect on health, energy and productivity. They prevent Muslims from fulfilling their acts of worship, and their daily responsibilities.
I felt there was a real need to go back to basics and prioritise the Islamic traditions of simplicity and restraint, two elements that are useful and beneficial in so many ways.
But, as the years passed and my focus evolved from purely diet to a more comprehensive and holistic approach to health, I realized that the problem went much deeper than just lapses during the fasting month. It occurred to me that our inability to fast properly is just a small part of a much wider problem.
To put it simply, our modern lives are a direct contradiction to the prime natural state that allows us to reach optimal mental and physical health.
This issue is so big it can’t be addressed just during Ramadan. We need to make huge changes and question our lifestyles.
However, Ramadan is a good moment to raise awareness. It can also be used as a stepping stone to a healthier lifestyle in the long term. I want people to realise that good health is not just about what we eat, but also about understanding how our bodies are supposed to function, and finding a balance between progress and physiology.
Start by giving up sugar during Ramadan
Giving up sugar is one quick way of boosting your health and wellness.
Many people know that sugar is a public-health enemy, but the irony is that they seem to forget this during Ramadan.
If we take a look at traditional iftar tables and the groceries that supermarkets promote during Ramadan, we see a lot of sugary foods such as pastries and sweet beverages. The focus seems to be less on the fast and more on the feast, which surely is not the intent or message behind Ramadan. Moreover, this increased sugar consumption is the main reason that many people find fasting difficult.
Increased sugar consumption increases hunger, cravings and fatigue. It weakens the immune system, reduces our capacity to recover, disrupts sleep and makes fasting much harder to cope with.
Sugar is most harmful when consumed during suhoor (the pre-fasting meal). It can lead to an insulin peak, followed by hypoglycemia, a condition that makes you feel weak, hungry and less productive.
For these reasons, avoiding sugar during Ramadan should be a non-negotiable point. It is not just about how it can affect health in the medium to long term. Sugar has an immediate negative effect on all our sensations, and this can last for hours afterwards. Worse still, the more fatigued and frustrated we feel during the day, the more likely it is that we will reward ourselves with sweet comfort foods after breaking our fast. It’s a real vicious circle.
This is why I encourage people to avoid sugar during Ramadan, including sugary hot beverages, pastries, juices and sodas, plus syrups and dried fruits. All these foods can wait until Eid, and for now can be replaced with healthier options such as fresh fruits, dark chocolate and nuts. These types of snacks can help curb cravings and improve sleep, all whilst providing the body with good nutrients.
• This article was first published in 2018. For more healthy Ramadan tips from Fit Sister, visit fitsister.fr.