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With Ramadan fast approaching, I've been getting a lot of questions about eating healthy during the fasting month. From how do I stay hydrated? To is it even possible to lose weight while fasting?
And it inspires me whenever I get another person asking me something about health because it simply means they know the value of their taking care of themselves. As a sports and exercise nutritionist, I take this month to reset my fitness and nutrition goals. There's no better time really. Why? I get to feel healthy so I can fulfil my ibadah better AND fasting is a natural detoxification process.
Even if you don't want to lose weight or do anything healthy for yourself, take some time to take care of your body this coming Ramadan. You need the energy and your health for all the prayers and ibadah you'll be doing. And you will definitely feel better.
Here are 5 simple things you can do during Ramadan followed by 2 very simple recipes you can whip up in 15 minutes! No you don't have to be a nutritionist to eat healthy. ;)
1. Eat Complex Carbohydrates at Sahur and Iftar
If you were planning to skimp on carbohydrates during the fasting month merely to lose as much weight as possible then think again. Yes, you will lose weight if you eat lesser carbs but most of those weight will be water weight of which you will put them back on right after Hari Raya/Eid. See here's the thing that's not so rocket science — carbohydrates in our system retain water. Less carbs = less water = less weight. Not so complicated huh?
Trust me on this, get the unprocessed carbohydrates in. Have more of wholegrains and wholemeal. Choose brown over white rice. Sweet potato is delicious.
You will definitely feel better, which means you'll perform even better doing your ibadah. Win.
2. Don't Avoid, But Have More Of...
Restriction often leads to serious bingeing. When I was losing weight six years ago, the biggest mistake I did was to write down a list of foods that I can't eat. Over a period of time, my brain rewired itself to make it seem like those 'Can't Eat — Red Flag' foods are dirty and unclean when as a matter of fact, they're all foods and it's merely a choice you make.
Instead of avoiding foods like these, make Ramadan a time to adopt a healthy practice of having something more of. It's simple... Have more of brown rice instead of avoiding white rice. Have more of home made fries instead of fries from outside.
You can use the list above to start working out what foods to have more of as oppose to restricting yourself. That way, you develop a healthy relationship with food, something we all need more. Try it.
3. Drink ONLY Water (Or unsweetened tea/coffee)
I know, living in Southeast Asia is tough when all around us are bazaar Ramadan with fountains of barley, soya bean, bandung, air kathira — did I mention air kathira? Let me tell you one reason why we are all gaining weight — sugary drinks. Yes that includes fizzy drinks, syrups, coconut water, vitamin water, anything else that is really not water. It doesn't matter how natural the label says, water should be your only go to drink during the fasting month.
After a whole day of fasting combined with the insane Asian heat, the last thing your body need is sugar. Here's what happen when you drink sugar: Drink sugary drinks = body needs to dilute those drinks so it's less harmful for your system = more water is needed. Ever wondered why you get thirstier when you drink something sweet? Again, not rocket science.
So this fasting month, do yourself and your body a favour and drink just water (or unsweetened teas or coffees). Not fruit juices. Not that healthy coconut drink. Water.
4. Eat In, Not Out
As much as possible, try to have sahur and iftar at home. Even if you do not know how to cook healthy, it's always better to eat at home. Our parents, grandparents, helper, magical cooking fairy at home will almost always use less salt, less sugar and little to no MSG at home than those people who sells their meals to you. We can't blame the restaurant chefs of course. When cooking in restaurants or in bulk, it's almost convenient and better to add in more of those artificial ingredients to make it tastier for you but is it better for your health? Not quite.
5. Rilek Bro, Of Course Can Chill and Makan
Alright alright now this brings me to my last point — of course you can enjoy yourself and eat out during the fasting month!
Some of the Companions of Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: "We eat but are not satisfied." He (ﷺ) said, "Perhaps you eat separately." The Companions replied in affirmative. He then said: "Eat together and mention the Name of Allah over your food. It will be blessed for you."
I personally reserve my weekends to break my fast with my friends and loved ones. Eating together is a tradition back in the days of our Rasul (ﷺ) and it's fun to get together and eat. Eat slowly and enjoy the company. If you like something sweet, like a bowl of ice cream then go for it. Be conscious and know you've made that decision that you want to eat that ice cream, and don't simply eat it because you're forced to. Balance and moderation is healthy for you.
So go ahead, have some churros from the bazaar and make it worth it.
Sharpen Your Kitchen Skills With Simple Healthy Meals
While you're practicing eating at home more, why not learn how to cook simple healthy meals? It took me a couple of experiments in the kitchen before I got a few things right and I believe you can do the same too. I've included two really simple dishes you can try out this fasting month, tweaked a couple of ingredients to make it healthier and best of all? It's super delicious. Give it a go!
300g yellow noodles, dipped in hot water and drained
Heat a wok on medium high with olive oil. Toss in onion, lemongrass and garlic and stir-fry till fragrant. Toss in chicken breast and stir-fry for 5-6 mins. Add in chilli paste, tomato and sea salt and stir-fry till fragrant. Cover for 2-3 mins. Toss in noodles, give it a brief stir and then add in all the veggies. Stir fry for a min or two — you don’t want to overcook the veggies and remove from heat. Serve hot!
2. Mongolian Beef Stir-fry
Serves 4 in 15 mins (plus 30 mins for storage)Here’s what you need:
400g lean beef, cut in small strips
2 stalks leeks, sliced
1/2 red capsicum
1/2 yellow capsicum
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp crushed garlic
1 tsp potato starch
1 tsp liquid aminos
1 tbsp water
1 tsp black rice vinegar
2 tbsp oyster sauce
2 tbsp liquid aminos
1/2 tsp dark soy sauce
1 tbsp white pepper powder
1/4 tsp sesame oil
1 tbsp honey
Begin by preparing leeks and capsicum and set it aside. Marinate the beef slices with the marinade seasonings and store it in the fridge for 30 mins. Heat a non-stick skillet with oil and stir fry marinated beef until they are half-done. Remove from skillet and set aside. Using the same skillet, heat up another 1 tbsp of oil and saute the garlic until golden brown. Add the beef back into the wok, and add in all the sauce ingredients. Continue to stir fry until the beef are almost done. Finally add in leeks and capsicum, give it a few stirs and remove from heat. Serve with brown or basmati rice.
One last note...
If you want more recipes and advice, download my free Healthy Melayu Meal Plan! I've put this together for us living in Asia because, unlike living in other countries, Ramadan is an exceptionally different experience. And you can trust me because I’ve spent the last 10 years fasting in Sydney, Australia. The temptation to super awesome bazaar food is close to none there. The closest unhealthy thing I can get that is tempting is Camel Burger out in Lakemba. Yumz.
There are also 5 more recipes you can try out to sharpen your skills in the kitchen. Win. Click here to download the Healthy Melayu Meal Plan for Ramadan!