Significance of Ramadan

Significance of Ramadan

O you who have believed, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may become righteous (The holy Quran, Chapter 2 Verse 183).

Ramadan is a month in the Islamic (hijri) calendar which is considered sacred by Muslims all over the world. There are many significant features of this month which supersede all other months. These are summarized below:

  • Fasting in the month of Ramadan is the fourth pillar of Islam
  • There is a night in the last third of the month which is better than a thousand months (night of decree)
  • Allah sent down the Quran from the preserved book (Al-lawh al mahfooz) to the first heaven  on the night of decree, after which it was revealed to prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) over 23 years
  • Allah chains the devils, closes the doors of hell and opens the doors of heaven during this month
  • Allah’s mercy and forgiveness are all-encompassing; humans can ask for forgiveness through fasting
  • Fasting redeems people from the sins committed since the previous Ramadan as long as they are not major sins
  • Fasting in Ramadan earns ten times the reward of fasting at any other time
  • Any charity given in the month of Ramadan is rewarded 70 times more

 Entering the gate of Ar-Rayyan

Ar-Rayyan is a special gate of heaven that Allah has designated for those who used to fast in Ramadan. There are eight gates of heaven, all designated for people who earned their reward by different means, such as charity, fasting, forgiving when they were wronged, steadfastness in prayer and for those who remembered Allah constantly.

This is a gate through which only the people who constantly fasted, struggling and striving to please Allah, can enter. There are whole communities in our world at present, who are persecuted for wanting to observe the religious requirement to fast during Ramadan. The freedom to practice religion is not available universally. For example, in the Xinjiang province of China, Muslims have been banned from fasting. The Muslim Uighur community of this region faces government censure, torture and persecution every year for observing the fasts of Ramadan. Several hundred people have been killed over the last few years in clashes with government forces for precisely this reason. Millions of Muslims all across the world, are displaced due to war. They have no homes, no safety, no medical facilities,  no incomes, and in most cases, no hope. Most of the people in this situation might not even have a glass of clean water and a dry date to break their fast. Their only hope is to please Allah as best as they can, in the face of severe adversity.

So, entering the gate of ar-Rayyan is not a simple matter of abstaining from eating and drinking.  It is a matter of “holding firmly  to the rope of Allah” (The holy Quran, chapter 3 verse 103) through the hardships of the world. It is an entrance earned with the highest sacrifices.

Rules of Fasting

The rules of fasting during Ramadan are straightforward.

The fasting person must:

  • Not eat or drink anything from sunrise until sunset
  • Not imbibe, ingest, smoke, or in any way take into the body any form of food, drink, smoke or nourishment
  • Abstain from marital relations while fasting
  • Not do anything that displeases Allah;  this includes lying, cheating, backbiting, using foul language and committing any sinful and prohibited acts

The fasting person must continue with the daily acts of living, worship and work, and devote maximum time to the remembrance of Allah and to reciting the Quran. Eating ‘suhoor’ (a pre-dawn meal) and ‘iftaar’ (breaking fast at sunset) are a part of the process of fasting.

People who are excused from fasting are pregnant, breastfeeding and menstruating women, children, the sick and infirm, elderly and travelers.

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Filling Foods for Ramadan

Filling Foods for Ramadan

  • Whey Protein

Including a whey supplement in your diet keeps you full and satisfied for a longer time than fruit juice or water alone. Juices, even if freshly squeezed with no added sugar, contain high amounts of fructose which is metabolized quickly, leaving you hungry again. Whey is a high quality protein, which is easy to digest and contains an amino acid called leucine. Leucine is very effective in building and repairing muscle tissue. Whey protein, like other milk protein, reduces blood pressure and stabilizes blood sugar levels thus controlling appetite. Whey protein is a highly satisfying protein, which means it activates satiety levels, keeping us full for longer.

  • Oatmeal

Oatmeal is rich in soluble fiber, so it takes a long time to digest and keeps you full for longer. It contains a high percentage of both protein and carbohydrate, making it a balanced choice for breakfast and pre-workout meals as it is digested slowly allowing for a steady release of blood sugar. It offers antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties in addition to trace minerals like niacin, selenium, copper and zinc which promote immunity and healthy skin.

  • Dark Chocolate

It might surprise you to see dark chocolate on a list of foods recommended for energy boosting or for satisfying hunger in a healthy manner. However, dark chocolate, which has above 75% cocoa (not milk chocolate which is high in sugar and low in cocoa), is highly satisfying and curbs sugar cravings. Dark chocolate is actually good for heart health because it improves blood flow and reduces blood pressure; it is also full of different antioxidants such as polyphenols, catechins and flavanols. All up, this is the chocolate you can eat without the guilt, and all the health benefits.

  • Nuts

Including nuts like Almonds, Brazil nuts, Pecans, Walnuts, Cashew nuts and Pistachios increases your intake of heart-friendly fats. They are a good source of protein and minerals. Different nuts offer different nutrients which together provide powerful immunity and satisfy hunger, making them the best choice for nutrient-rich snacking.

  • Eggs

Eggs are nutritionally a powerhouse of protein, amino acids, vitamins and trace minerals. They contain vitamins A, B2, B5, B6,  B12, D, E, K as well as folate, selenium, phosphorus and zinc. While eggs are high in cholesterol, recent studies have shown  that an intake of eggs does not cause high blood cholesterol. Eggs also contain HDL (High Density Lipoprotein), also known as the “good cholesterol”, decreasing the risk of heart disease. The Lutein found in eggs protects eyes from macular degeneration and reduce the risk of cataracts; the vitamin A in eggs also protects eyes from blindness due to vitamin A deficiency, the most common cause of blindness.

  • Avocado

Eating half an avocado supplementing your main meal will you keep you full for longer. Avocadoes are rich in heart-friendly monounsaturated fat, they lower cholesterol and provide an amazing array of vitamins- K, C, B5, B6 and E, as well as folate and potassium.

  • Beans and Lentils

Pulses and legumes like beans, lentils and chickpeas provide high quality vegetarian protein, iron and antioxidants. They are rich in fiber which keeps you full while absorbing toxins and waste products and moving it smoothly through the digestive tract.

  • Apples

Apples are high in both fiber and water, so they fill you up without a high calorie intake. They are high in antioxidants, and contain compounds which research is linking to decreased risk of cancers such as pancreatic, colorectal, breast, liver and colon. The ‘phenolic’ compound in apple peels is shown to slow the buildup of plaque in arteries, thus decreasing risk of heart disease. Studies have also shown a 28% decrease in risk of type 2 diabetes in women who regularly ate apples. So if you want to keep the doctor away, an apple a day is truly your best bet!

Ramadan: The Ultimate Detox

Ramadan: The Ultimate Detox

Detox, or detoxification, is quite simply, getting rid of the toxins in our body that negatively affect metabolism, energy, mental health and acuity, and any of the bodily functions vital for life.  Many chronic conditions develop as a result of toxicity in our hormones, nutrients, and external environment. “Detox” has become quite a buzz word in health lately. Celebrities to common people, all undergo various detoxes and publicize the benefits they have experienced through it.  During detox, the body eliminates toxins, fats and chemicals from the body. Our organs such as the kidneys, colon, lungs and skin, all work to eliminate toxins from the body every day. This process is accelerated during fasting.

During Ramadan, the fasting person cannot eat or drink anything from sunrise to sunset. Depending on the geographical location, the period between dawn to dusk may vary from 12 hours to 16 hours. This also depends on whether you are located in the southern or northern hemisphere and what season it is.  As the body does not receive food or drink, it needs to use stored reserves of energy for functioning. Excess energy is stored in the body in the form of fat which is accessed only when all other energy sources are depleted. The chemicals and toxins stored in fat are released and eliminated during fasting. Bad addictions (such as to sugar and tobacco) are removed, and as the digestive system is rested, energy is used for metabolic and immunity-building functions. Abnormal tissue growths such tumors are also starved of the nutrients they need, leading to breakdown of such cells and excretion from the body. Other changes during fasting include decrease in blood sugar levels and a decrease in the body’s core temperature due to a corresponding decrease in metabolic rate. The lining of the digestive tract repairs and replenishes, increasing its ability to absorb nutrients more efficiently.

Some common side-effects of fasting, especially in the first few days, include disrupted sleep, headaches, dehydration, dizziness and fatigue.

Ramadan High

Having been a long-distance runner a few years ago, I can tell you through experience that the “runner’s high”, the feeling reported by runners, is very real. It is a natural high, brought on by the release of endorphins which are the body’s natural pain killers. Chemically, endorphins are opiate proteins. Endorphins are neurotransmitters which block pain and allow runners to feel pleasantly relaxed, where they feel a heightened sense of awareness and clarity. With an increase in exercise, the feeling has been reported as euphoric. This state is usually achieved after a certain distance of running, beyond the threshold of pain and discomfort.

Similarly, to reap the benefits of Ramadan, one must go through the threshold of feeling the pain, discomfort, lethargy, dehydration and all the other symptoms we experience initially. This is natural, as we withdraw from our normal routines of eating, drinking and being in our comfort zone. Once we traverse this threshold, the high of Ramadan is evident. There is an enhanced sense of wellbeing, a restored energy level, heightened senses, more clear thinking and mental acuity and a well-rested digestive system more capable of absorbing the nutrients we need for optimal functioning.

Here we are reminded of the Quran’s Ayah:

For indeed, with hardship [will be] ease [relief].

(The Holy Quran, Chapter 94, Verse 6).

Detox is More than Physical

As Muslims, we are constantly reminded to lead a wholesome life and to cultivate holistic health- physical, mental and spiritual. The negative habits we cultivate such as envy, jealousy, backbiting, degradation of others, criticism, intolerance of others’ values and viewpoints- these collectively sap our energy, creating divisions and factionalism. We become negative, critical instead of accepting, of others, and our well-being takes a hit, stressing out our immune system. Repeated and chronic stressors can permanently damage our physical and mental health.

In Ramadan, we consciously “detox” from the toxins named above. As we detoxify our emotions, our energy is freed to focus on more positive features, such as being thankful for the benefits we enjoy in life. We become more aware of the blessings we take for granted, such as food, drink, the presence of our spouses and children, the ties of kinship and brotherhood, and we feel the collective bonds we forge through fasting together. 

Maintenance is Key

As with any good detox program, there is no point to undergoing it unless we can maintain a healthy standard of life afterward. Sustainability comes from making a note of the benefits you experienced when detoxing, and this gives you the momentum to hold on to these as part of your life rather than a random, or annual, event.

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Shake it up this Ramadan!

Shake it up this Ramadan!

It can be difficult to incorporate all your servings of fruit and vegetables in the window between Iftar and Sehr during Ramadan. However, with a little organization and creativity a healthy diet can be maintained.

Here are two green smoothie ideas which can boost your intake of fruits and vegetables while providing the much-needed fluids your body needs after iftar. These smoothies are low in calories, and high in good quality fats and fiber.

 

Smoothie 1

Serves 2

2 Kiwifruit

1 Apple (I use granny smith)

2 Dates

3-4 Kale leaves

1 Avocado

 

Smoothie 2

Serves 2

2 Sticks Celery

2 Tsp Chia seeds soaked in ½ cup water

1 Mango

3-4 Spinach leaves

1 Tbsp Organic peanut or almond butter

 

Add required quantity of water to the above ingredients and blend in a high speed blender. You may add ice if you like, using the ‘frozen drinks and smoothies’ option.

These drinks are a delicious, healthy and convenient addition to your iftar menu.

 

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Do’s and Don’t’s of Ramadhan

Do’s and Don’t’s of Ramadhan

As we prepare for the Holy month of Ramadhan, one of the most looked forward to things is food! Pakoras, chips, samosas, rhoo hafza, and sodas are some of the foods that run through our minds all day. While these foods may give instant satisfaction, they are not the best choices for a healthy and enduring Ramadhan. In terms of nutrition in Ramadhan, our goals should be to eat natural, healthy and wholesome foods that help optimize our health. To start you off, below are some Dos and Don’ts for nutrition in Ramadhan:

DON’T:

  • Don’t over indulge during iftar; it should be like a regular meal. Instead snack on some fruit/yoghurt/nuts after iftar.
  • Don’t skip meals. The evening and early morning meal are crucial during Ramadhan. It may be hard to wake up to eat early morning for suhoor but skipping this meal may set you up for a tough day as you will likely not have enough energy to fuel your body.
  • Don’t drink sugary drinks like rhoo hafza, sodas, kool aide, capri-sun and the sort. These will fill you up with ‘empty calories’ and your body may actually retain less fluid.
  • Don’t eat fried and junk foods like pakoras, french fries, chips and cookies. These may provide you with instant energy, but are unhealthy and will most likely cause your energy levels to drop soon after; also these lack essential vitamins and nutrients that we need.

DO’s:

  • Eat balanced meals: ½ your plate fruits and vegetables, ¼ lean protein and ¼ whole grains; and one serving of dairy.
  • Choose:
    • greens such as spinach, kale, romaine lettuce;
    • choose lean protein such as baked chicken, heart healthy fish, lamb, lean beef, eggs, beans,chickpeas, lentils
    • choose whole grains such as millet, barley, oatmeal, whole wheat flour, quinoa
    • choose dairy such as milk, yoghurt and cheese….to plan your meals
  • For breakfast, aim to eat a meal that contains protein rich(eggs,nuts) foods and complex carbohydrates (oatmeal, whole grain cereal, wholegrain bread) to help keep you full for longer and promote the slow release of energy.
  • Aim for 2-4L of fluid between iftar and suhoor.
  • Eat dates during Iftar, in honor of the prophet’s (SAW) tradition and to help you gain quick energy along with some magnesium, potassium and fiber. Use caution, if you are a diabetic or have kidney disease.
  • Plan your meals ahead of time so that you are not forced to resort to ‘quick-fixes’ or order food from outside which is less likely to be healthy. Refer to the following link for some healthy suhoor and iftar recipes: http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Healthyramadan/Pages/fastingdietplan.aspx
  • If you feel that you are not getting enough fruits and vegetables in your diet, then take a daily multivitamin to help meet your nutritional needs.

If it sounds overwhelming, make small changes one at a time, and reward yourself for making a good change. You will benefit by feeling better and having more energy. Remember what you eat, makes your body. Lastly, if you do have any significant past medical history or are on any medications, make sure you check with your doctor before making any changes to your diet.