Nourishing the Body & Soul in Ramadan

A talk by Mausumee Hussain, MD,MS  - April 2018

Effects of fasting on the body:

  • Mild ketosis towards the end of the fast, where fats are burned more than glucose. This has many beneficial effects, especially on the brain
  • Tendency to dehydration (higher uric acid)
  • Cholesterol profile will not change much in the majority of people; this depends on dietary change in Ramadan
  • Sleep is shorter, with more stage 2 (light sleep), slow wave (deep) and REM sleep is decreased.
  • Pattern of alertness is reversed in some
  • Reaction time is decreased particularly in the beginning of the month- higher rates of accidents
  • Stress on the body is increased (higher cortisol)
  • There may be higher levels of circulating toxins from fat breakdown
  • Metabolism may slow down, resulting in rebound weight gain after Ramadan

Practical health management considerations

Stress management

1) Analyze your time

  • Do not take on more than can be managed
  • Avoid sports in the heat
  • Think about anger management in advance
  • Media management-Cut back on unproductive demands (conglomerate e-mail accounts, decide on set times to return phone calls/texts/social media, decide on affirmative action when channel flicking)
  • Record how you spend your time, (diary/family observations)
  • Aim to complete tasks in large chunks of time, and protect that time. Avoid multitasking.

2) Declutter your mind:

  • 1) Du’a. “You alone do we worship, and you alone we seek help from.”
  • 2)Know the initial stage of all your thoughts and plans.  Listen in on your thoughts from “the outside”
  • 3) Practice focusing your mind, start temporarily for the duration of salah.
  • 4) When a negative thought comes to you- fight it! Write down or act on good thoughts.
  • 5) Be constantly watchful over your mind, ready to “pounce” on undesirable thoughts.

3) Ramadan Planning:

  • Make a written goal list and post it somewhere visible. Involve the children
  • Inform colleagues at work ahead of time. Have supplies ready, mouthwash etc
  • Pre-plan your daily schedule, especially weekdays. (See sample schedule)
  • Evaluate your pantry and decide on grocery needs. Select new recipes if necessary and shop accordingly. (Extra credit: post a daily menu ahead of time) REDUCE MEAL PREP TIME

4) Combating higher levels of the stress hormone, cortisol

  • High cortisol levels can be reduced with acts of worship, e.g. salah with khushu’ and dhikr
  • Reading Quran- importance of tajweed, vocal resonance helps vagal stimulation (anti-stress)
  • Remember the balance of deeds in Ramadan!

Supporting Detoxification

  • Cut down toxin exposure; smoking, caffeine (reduce or cut out before Ramadan), dirty dozen foods, personal care products, heavy metals
  • Ensure you are drinking enough high quality water
  • Breathe and oxygenate!
  • Avoid rapid weight loss ( max. 2lb per week)
  • Increase high quality proteins: lean white meats and fish, yoghurts, kefir, high quality whey protein, eggs, soy
  • Cruciferous vegetables, garlic and onions- support liver phase 2
  • Increase your antioxidants (diet vs supplements)
  • Optimize your bowel function with fiber


Eat organic! Especially dairy products. Visit

Dirty dozen: Peaches, Nectarines, Grapes, A

Cooking methods to avoid Alternative cooking methods
Deep frying Lipid peroxides, harmful to heart and vessels. Shallow frying- usually very little difference in taste, spray and bake
Frying Light broiling or baking is healthier and helps retain the taste and original flavor of the food (avoid chargrilling)
Dishes with excessive oil Start with measuring the oil used in curry and try to bring the oil content down gradually, e.g.5 tbsp to 4 tbsp.  Use more onions and tomatoes in the curry base
Grilling Avoid open flames- heterocyclic amines, add rosemary/citrus/ green tea in marinade. Keep temp below 325F, avoid direct flame, reduce grill time, Steaming & blanching are alternatives
Roasting Advanced Glycation Endproducts formation- “AGEs” the body!. Bake at lower temperature. Pressure or slow cook as alternative.

Dirty dozen: Peaches, Nectarines, Grapes, Apples, Strawberries, Pears, Cherries, Sweet bell peppers, Lettuce,Celery,Potatoes, Spinach

Clean fifteen: Avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, cabbages, onions, sweet peas frozen, papaya, asparagus, mangoes, eggplants, honey dew melons, kiwis, cantaloupe, cauliflower, broccoli

Harmful cooking methods:

My General goals of a healthy Ramadan diet:

  1. First, do no harm- Are you exempt from fasting? Are you eating for harm or for health? Cut out processed and junk foods (If it’s in a package, box or a can, or anything made by man- avoid it! How long is the ingredient list if you must buy?) and eat whole foods (Think- is this food how Allah (swt) made it or has it been altered?). The terrible triad: foods that combine saturated fat, refined sugar and absence of fiber (think donut!) This combination is unhealthy.
  2. Keep blood sugar as steady as possible- give up sodas, and refined sugars and carbohydrates, have fiber before sweets.
  3. Promote ketosis- length of fasting day, healthy fats
  4. Support detoxification- high quality protein, cruciferous veggies, antioxidant bright colored fruits

Eat food. not much. mostly plants. ~Michael Pollan

Vegetables & Fruit:   Reduce starchy vegetables, Increase leafy greens, Increase crucifers, Present a rainbow of colors, Consume whole fruits instead of juices, Lower glycemic index fruits (berries, stone fruits)

Proteins:  Eggs, soy, fish (SMASH : Sardines, mackerel, anchovies, salmon, herring), beans & legumes, lean chicken/turkey, grass fed beef

Healthy fats:  Nuts & seeds, avocado, olive oil, careful with coconut oil and ghee, they are saturated fats.

Fiber rich foods: whole fruits and vegetables, dried fruits, soluble fibers (oats and beans), seeds (chia, flax), bulking agents (psyllium, isphagula, linseed, guar gum, all with water)

Herbs & Spices:  Be generous in use e.g. turmeric, saffron, paprika, anise, caraway, cilantro, cumin, dill, rosemary, fennel, parsley, mint

Balancing meals in Ramadan:

  • Suhoor (stock up for slow energy release and ketosis) - Can take more fat, good protein, dairy (organic), fiber, nuts and seeds, whole grains
  • Iftaar (replenish and repair)- fresh antioxidant whole foods (veg), good quality protein, olive oil, warm, nourishing slow or lightly cooked meals.
  • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!


Exercise- do not begin a new strenuous program in Ramadan, start or maintain from ahead of time and modify repetitions, duration and intensity at reduced rates during the holy month.

Two main times to exercise are after suhoor when body is replenished or just before iftaar when oxidative damage reversal  and energy repletion can occur. My preference is for the latter.

Lighter regimes, stretching, yoga, tai chi, short walks may be beneficial and well tolerated in the early morning.

Sleep- this will require a lot of planning to fit in naps. The period from 10pm to 2am is supportive to the immune system, avoid prolonged socialization at this time.

Oral hygiene - a large source of inflammation in the body may begin in the mouth. Follow the sunnah and clean your teeth often, ideally as often as you use them.

The physical body is a gift from God, an Amanah.  The food you consume affects your personality and behavior.

How much food and choice of food has a direct impact on the spiritual and physical well being.  Islam sees health as much more than bodily health.  Tranquility requires a strong relationship with one’s spirituality, physical health, mental happiness, sense of purpose, good character and relationships. Let us put thought and effort into welcoming the blessed month and give ourselves the opportunity of maximum benefit, Insha’Allah.