Tips for Healthy Ramadan Fasting

Ramadan kareem!

If you’re one of the world’s millions of Muslims observing Ramadan this month, chances are you’re fasting from dawn to sunset each day.

Fasting is an important part of many religious traditions, and can usually be accomplished safely. However, if you have any health conditions — including pregnancy, breast-feeding, or diabetes or another illness — it’s best to consult with your religious leader and/or your doctor to determine if you still need to fast or you’re able to fast without harm.

And if you are taking any medications, be sure to ask your health care provider if you can safely skip them or whether they can be taken without food and fluids. If you feel unwell during a fast, rest, consider sipping some juice, and consult a clinician if your symptoms do not improve.

Please consider these additional tips from our partners at Cornell Cooperative Extension.

Successful Ramadan Fasting

By Sonya Islam, MPH, RD
Sonya is a former Extension Associate with Cornell Cooperative Extension, and is a Registered Dietitian and a practicing Muslim.

Fasting during the month of Ramadan is as much a mental exercise as it is a physical one. Although we may differ in how we prepare our minds and bodies, here are some tips that can help Muslims adjust to the daily fast:

1. Stay hydrated. Try drinking fluid several times throughout the night, even if you aren't feeling too thirsty—thirst is a signal that your body is ALREADY dehydrated. Choose fluids that don't contain caffeine, because caffeinated drinks can be dehydrating. Remember, breaking your fast at iftar (the evening meal after sunset) with water not only is traditional, it ensures that you get the best source of hydration into your body before becoming distracted with food.

But, be careful and don't go overboard with drinking too much at one time. Trying to drink a few gallons all at once can dilute your body's electrolytes, inducing a potentially fatal condition called water intoxication.

2. Variety is the spice of life. Eat a variety of foods during the evening. Now, more than ever, your body needs good nourishment to compensate for the stress of fasting. Whole grains, vegetables, fruits, lean protein, healthy fat (fat from plants, like olive oil and nuts)—all of these are important to give your body all the nutrients it needs.

3. Portion size is important. It takes the body about 20 minutes to register that it's had enough to eat. So don't go overboard with eating during iftar. Eating mindfully and listening for when your hunger is actually satisfied puts less stress on your body and gives you more energy than eating huge amounts at one time.

4. Keep moving. Though fasting can be physically exhausting, try not to be completely sedentary. If you typically work out during the morning, see how your body feels if you switch exercise to the evening after breaking your fast. Strenuous exercise is not a good idea during the day because you can quickly become dehydrated. Think small—short easy walks (to classes or doing errands) or a few stretches can go a long way in keeping your energy up during the day.

5. A few secrets to a successful sehri (pre-sunrise meal). Together, the components of a balanced meal help your blood sugar remain most stable, which gives you good energy. Some of the elements to include in your sehri:

  • Whole grains—sources include whole grain cereal, whole grain bread, brown rice, and oatmeal.
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables—check out the produce section for dozens of ideas!
  • Protein—sources include milk, yogurt, eggs, nuts.
  • Healthy fat—sources are nuts and olives.

Try these easy combinations in addition to drinking water during sehri:

  • Oatmeal made with low-fat milk and topped with fruit and nuts.
  • A bowl of whole-grain cereal and low-fat milk, topped with fruit and nuts.
  • A piece of whole-grain toast, a boiled egg, and a piece of fruit.
  • A peanut butter sandwich on whole grain bread and a glass of low-fat milk.
  • A banana or apple with peanut butter and a glass of low-fat milk.
  • A bowl of vegetable soup, a piece of whole grain toast, and a glass of low-fat milk.
  • Whole-wheat couscous salad with mixed vegetables, olive oil, and canned tuna.

6. Find what works for you. Depending on your sleeping schedule, you may want to experiment with how often and when you eat to keep your energy up. Which brings me to a (somewhat obvious) point...

7. Trust how your body feels. Every person is individual and may feel best with different ways of eating. If you're having trouble with fasting and these tips don't work for you, talk with a dietitian or other healthcare provider to get more specific advice based on your situation*.

And last, but not least...

8. Celebrate! This is the most joyous month of the year! Enjoy meals with others, exercise goodwill, and be patient with your body and with others.

*Note: The following are usually considered exempt from fasting during Ramadan:

  • Young children
  • Menstruating, pregnant, or breastfeeding women
  • People who are traveling long distances
  • Those who have acute illness
  • Those with a chronic illness who would be harmed by a fast (e.g., diabetes)
  • Those who are not able to mentally comprehend the reason for the fast
  • Frail or elderly people