Green Guide to Fasting
Who’s been fasting? I have! Right now, millions of Muslims around the world are fasting daily (no food or water, sunrise to sunset) during the lunar month of Ramadan. Even if you don’t celebrate Ramadan, fasting has many proven health benefits and can be beneficial to do at any time of the year.
Benefits of fasting and nutrition in US diets
Major benefits include decreased cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure, fat breakdown and weight loss, increased self-restrain, improved brain function, decreased stress levels, and detoxification of the body.
One especially noteworthy benefit is the body’s increased metabolic efficiency as a result of fasting throughout the day. This, along with an increase is adiponectin release, increases nutrient absorption. This means the vitamins and nutrients from the healthy foods you eat are more effective than ever!
This point highlights the importance of maximizing vitamins and nutrients in your fasting diet. But, for many people, the hardest part about fasting is balancing your diet and eating healthy. After a long day of fasting, it is often more tempting to reach for calorie-rich, nutrient deficient food choices. And, considering the current shift towards nutrient-deficient obesity in the US intentionally adding nutritious food choices in your diet is always a good idea, regardless if you're fasting or not.
Did you know the leading sources of calories in the US are desserts, breads, chicken, soda, and pizza? Unfortunately, "traditional" Ramadan menus mimic this trend. Visit a mosque in Ramadan, and you will find carb-heavy options (rice or pita bread) coupled with meat (kabobs, curries). How can we reverse this trend in our own diets?
For me, I especially value staying sustainable in my grocery shopping and eating habits despite the added difficulty of meal-prepping in Ramadan. After years of adjusting my Ramadan diet, I now have one that works amazingly for me. Simplifying my diet, having nutritious options readily available and prepared in advance, and adding good options to my diet (rather than trying to ban bad ones) all help me eat both HEALTHILY and SUSTAINABLY.
My system for Ramadan saves me tremendous amounts of money compared to eating without so much planning. Without this plan, I would over-purchase groceries, that often end up in the waste. My simple diet now is limited to a few dozen ingredients that I love and that are filled with vitamins and nutrients that my body needs. Most of these ingredients go well together, and I can easily prevent leftovers from going in the trash, because I combine my unused veggies at the end of the week for a soup, salad, stir-fry, or casserole. These nutritious combinations help me feel better, sleep better, and look better. (I used to experience breakouts throughout the month, as I would break my fast with carbohydrates and meat based meals, and have little room for anything healthy!).
Most importantly: In the last week of daily fasts, I haven’t experienced any symptoms more than mild hunger towards the end of the day, or any headaches or fatigue. On the contrary, I have plenty of energy (on Wednesday, I gave my mom a walking tour of Boston, and over the weekend, I visited DC and walked up to 6 miles each day). I work throughout the day, cook in the mornings and evenings (and clean up after), and even have enough energy to do yoga while fasting on most days.
My tips may not work for everyone, but I hope that you can use the themes from my diet and meal prepping to implement healthy and effective eating in your life! These recipes and food combinations can be incorporated into any diet, fasting or otherwise. Along with this diet, I try to split my sleep evenly before and after waking up for breakfast (approximately 11pm-3am and 4-8am). Some recipes are included below. Please let me know in a comment which others you would like me to share.
Why My Diet Works
My diet is nutritious, provides me with energy, leaves me hydrated and feeling light. I also minimize time thinking or stressing about what I will cook, reduce cooking time, and minimize my food waste.
1. Filling on good nutrient-filled foods is easier than eliminating calorie-rich foods.
2. Eating a heavy breakfast provides energy throughout the day, and prevents from over-eating at Iftar (when breaking the fast). Non-starchy vegetables (which are filled in my smoothie), sweet potatoes, oatmeal, fruits, and nuts are all slow-release carbohydrates, which keep blood sugar levels more stable between meals.
3. Hydrating with water, coconut water (in my smoothie), and caffeine-free tea, along with hydrating fruits and vegetables (like cucumber, tomatoes, spinach) is much more effective than drinking caffeinated beverages, like coffee and black tea, as they have a mild diuretic effect. I prioritize hydrating over eating, and this helps me avoid headaches, fatigue.
4. I eat slowly, and give my brain time to register that my stomach is full. This prevents overeating, and symptoms like bloating and discomfort.
5. I waste very little food. My bulk ingredients are changeable (I can add sweet potato to my lentil soup, the veggies in my smoothie to my omelette, and my omelette can be broken up and added to stir-fry). This saves me money and the environmental impacts of food waste. Whatever food does go uneaten is generally donated to the homeless or composted. I shop locally and in bulk (with no options in plastic packaging) to reduce the energy cost related to the transportation and distribution of food.
6. I save time by chopping up produce in advance, and mixing ingredients together ahead of time. I have food containers filled with everything but the eggs that go in my omelette. Same for smoothies (everything but the milk or coconut water), and stir-fry/curries. Sweet potatoes can be baked in advance and warmed up when ready to eat.
7. Most of my approach is embedded in the same Islamic traditions that encourage fasting in Ramadan. Eating slowly, moderately, and with minimal environmental consequences are reccomended in my faith. For me, this is extremely spiritually fulfilling.
My Ramadan Diet
1 glass of warm lemon water (filled the night before so I have no excuse to skip it!)
Most days: Greek omelette (2 eggs, tomato, mushroom, spinach) topped with avocado and served with rye bread; Oatmeal and banana pancakes; ;Whole baked sweet potato topped with avocado slices
Lazy days: Smoked salmon or lox bagel topped with cream cheese, capers, avocado, and red onionl 2 eggs sunny side up served with rye bread; Overnight oats topped with banana, berries, granola, and/or cacao nibs/unsweetened coconut flakes
1 glass of water
My super green smoothie (recipe coming soon!)
2 dates with 1 glass of water
1 bowl filled with mangoes (or any fruit of choice)
1 glass of water
Whole baked sweet potato topped with avocado slices or lentil based snack, with sliced tomato and/or cucumber: Lentil soup, Chili, Hummus, Chickpeas, Pakistani options like daal, eggplant curry, and dhai baray (lentil cakes in yogurt)
1 glass of water
Salad: usually spinach based, topped with nuts, quinoa, berries/apple slices, feta cheese, or whatever is in the fridge with my easy DIY dressing of apple cider vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper
Side of cooked veggies (these Brussel sprouts are my favorite these days)
Rice, quinoa, naan, or whole wheat tortilla with protein based meal: Tofu/veggie stir fry, Pakistani chicken dish like chicken karhai or chicken jalfrezi, Falafel or lentil based option from above
Optional: Green tea, dessert (usually chocolate and/or fruit), additional green or almond milk/banana smoothie
1 glass of water
Digestive tea (ginger or equal parts of cumin, cloves, and fennel seeds)