Start your fast on a healthy note
The Prophet Mohammed favoured moderation when it came to eating. The Quran is abundant with examples of the Prophet promoting a healthy lifestyle and eating quality produce. He once said: “The worst vessel to fill is the stomach, but leave one-third for food, one-third for water, and one-third for air.”
The Prophet’s diet, which consisted of simple, naturally occurring fruits and vegetables, has proven to have modern-day benefits as well, including maintaining a healthy heart and bones, improving digestion and reducing the risk of cancer.
Nabih Al Momaiz, a trained chef from Canada who runs Nabz&G, a Dubai-based healthy-food catering company, with raw-food chef Ghalia Alul, says people can easily adopt such a diet for overall well-being. “Today, Ramadan follows a cycle of deprivation and then overeating at iftar, but that isn’t what the Prophet Mohammed proposed,” says Al Momaiz.
“Also, in the Arab world there is a lot of emphasis on meat products during iftar and suhoor, when, in fact, there are Hadiths that say the Prophet Mohammed was more inclined to a vegetarian diet to stay healthy.”
Here are five foods recommended by the Prophet Mohammed, and why they should be on your plate at iftar and suhoor.
Dates are mentioned 22 times in the Quran. According to the Hadiths, the Prophet used to break his fast with dates and water, before having a full meal. Muslims all over the world follow the Hadith that mentions the Prophet Mohammed ended his fast with two to three dates. The Prophet said: “Break your fast by eating dates as it is purifying” (Ahmad). Another Hadith mentions: a Muslim “should break his fast with dates, but if he cannot get any, then with water” (Abu Dawud).
After going without food and drink for several hours, the simple sugar and fibre in dates help ease the body into proper digestion at iftar, explains Al Momaiz. “After 14 to 16 hours, introducing food can shock the body,” he says. “Dates help regulate the blood sugar and help wake up the digestive system.”
The fibre in dates promotes colon health and is a good remedy for constipation. They help clean out the gastrointestinal system and reduce the risk of colitis, colon cancer and haemorrhoids.
Dr Anita Das Gupta, chief clinical dietitian at Burjeel Hospital, says the vitamins and minerals contained in dates make them a superfood. “Along with being high in fibre, dates provide a complete package of minerals, including magnesium, potassium, zinc and vitamins such as folate, A and K.” The minerals support bone health and alleviate soreness. Potassium reduces the risk of a stroke and other heart-related diseases.
The Prophet Mohammed said: “Eat the olive oil and apply it [locally], since there is cure for 70 diseases in it, one of them is leprosy” (Abu Naim).
The most important benefit of adding olive oil to your meals is for heart health, says Banin Shahine, clinical dietician and nutrition fitness manager at Fitness First Middle East. “It is rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, which prevent heart diseases.”
Shahine says the omega-9 fatty acid in the oil raises HDL, or good cholesterol, which prevents heart issues and reduces blood pressure. “People should not be afraid of eating good fats, and about two tablespoons of this oil is enough for a healthy diet.”
More than 25 studies analysed by researchers at the Mario Negri Institute for Pharmacological Research in Italy also show that the regular consumption of olive oil can reduce the risk of cancers of the breast, respiratory tract and digestive tract.
Alul of Nabz&G says most chefs cook in olive oil because of its benefits, not just internally, but even for skin and hair. “Vitamins A and K are anti-ageing vitamins that are found in olive oil,” she says. Olive oil is also used for the treatment of skin issues and dry hair and nails.
The Prophet used to pair dates with watermelon, saying: “The hotness of this substance [dates] neutralises the coolness of that [watermelon]” (Abu Dawud and Al Tirmidhi). He also encouraged women to eat watermelon during pregnancy for a healthy delivery.
“Watermelon is 92 per cent water and helps combat heat,” says Alul. “It is easily digestible.”
Watermelon is a phytonutrient that keeps the heart, bones and prostate healthy. Das Gupta says the low-calorie fruit is good for combating the heat and staying hydrated. “The lycopene and antioxidants, such as anthocyanins, reduce inflammation and neutralise free radicals.” The amino acid citrulline can reduce symptoms of arthritis and soreness. According to a study published in The Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry in 2013, athletes who were given watermelon juice before extreme workouts experienced less muscle soreness and better heart-rate recovery.
The Prophet was known to drink a glass of honey and water on an empty stomach. He considered honey to be shifa (having healing properties). One Hadith quotes the Prophet as saying: “If a person eats honey, a thousand remedies enter his stomach and a million diseases will come out.”
Shahine says that honey is still used as a natural medicine for common ailments, such as throat irritation, because of its anti-inflammatory effects. A study by the American Academy of Paediatrics involving 300 children with an upper respiratory tract infection found that honey reduced night-time coughs and sleeplessness.
Alul says honey is a great substitute for sugar, and a better option in moderation for diabetics.
“The glucose in honey gets absorbed faster than sugar sources, so it gives a quick energy boost.” With about 17 grams of carbohydrates in a tablespoon, honey can be added to workout shakes and meals during Ramadan.
She says desserts during Ramadan are often dressed in sugar syrup, which is bad for health. “People should try replacing sugary syrups with honey for sweetness. Even for diabetics, honey in small quantities can regulate blood sugar levels.”
Shahine says the antioxidants and flavonoids in this natural sweetener support brain health. Honey is also used in beauty treatments, for acne, and on burn wounds as a disinfectant and to relieve sores. A 2005 study published in The British Journal of Surgery found that most participants who suffered from wounds and leg ulcers found relief and improvement with the topical application of honey.
In addition to watermelon, the Prophet would combine dates with cucumber to break his fast. Adding vegetables that are packed with nutrients and phytochemical substances, helps fight diseases and flush toxins.
“It is a good cleanser and detoxifier,” says Shahine. “It is very high in fibre and will keep you full for longer without adding significantly to your daily calories.”
Cucumbers are also a source of magnesium and potassium that promote bone health. The vitamin K in the vegetable helps in blood clotting, while the vitamin C boosts immunity.
Alul says a cucumber salad would make for a light meal during iftar. “Cucumber is mostly water, so it restores hydration after a long fast.”
• Don’t miss #healthyliving magazine on June 16 for more on Ramadan health.
Updated: June 9, 2016 04:00 AM