Beginners Guide to a Healthy Suhoor
Ramadan is a time of worship, and during the night, the mosques are filled with believers and our bellies are filled with food. Suhoor or the predawn meal is arguably the most important meal in a fasting person’s day. It allows you to have a source of energy for the upcoming day of fasting and has immense blessings, as the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) said:
What Not to Eat at Suhoor
We have all had those days; barely waking up for suhoor, walking to the kitchen with one eye open and, like a zombie, munching on any food available; whether it’s sugary cereal, those fried pastries, cheesy manakeesh or some syrup covered desserts. We have all made poor choices at suhoor and it is important to know the types of foods we should avoid, ensuring we are full, energised and hydrated throughout the day.
Basically, there are three main types of food that should be avoided:
1) Salty Foods
Not only can salt raise your blood pressure, but it can also make you feel very thirsty during the day. Common salty foods that are eaten at suhoor include instant noodles, processed foods such as chips, salty cheeses such as haloumi cheese, and pickles. Try sprinkling less salt over your food and compare brands of packaged foods to see which contain less salt. You can do this by checking the nutrition label for sodium and aiming for 120mg or less per 100g.
2) Foods That Are High in Fat
Fats are essential in our diet however, we are often consuming the wrong types of fats and in very large amounts. Fried foods are very popular at suhoor; from fried pastries to falafel to plain old hot chips. Other foods that are high in fat, commonly eaten at suhoor, are foods with large amounts of cheese, butter and processed meats. These foods cause heartburn, aggravate acid reflux and inflammation and have extremely large amounts of calories, so it is common that people gain weight during Ramadan.
Additionally, avoiding saturated fats found in animal products such as high fat dairy, processed meats and butter, as well as coconut oil and palm oil (which is found in many processed foods) can also help improve heart health and reduce your risk of high blood lipids and heart disease. As an alternative, try replacing these types of fats with healthier sources of fat in limited amounts. These healthier sources include unsaturated fats such as olive oil and avocado, and your omega 3s and omega 6s from fish and nuts.
3) Simple Sugars
A common practice during Ramadan is to have sweets such as qatayef or pancakes drenched in syrup for the pre dawn meal. Although these sweets are loaded with energy i.e. calories, they do not keep you energised throughout the day and often make you feel incredibly lethargic only 1 or 2 hours after suhoor. This is because these foods contain simple sugars which release energy very quickly and over a short period of time. They also rapidly elevate your blood sugar levels causing a large release of insulin which makes you feel tired.
This also means avoiding other foods such as refined cereals like cornflakes, rice bubbles and coco pops as well as refined carbohydrates such as white flour, bread and rice as they also contain simple sugars and are low in fibre, so they are going to make you hungry very quickly.
So, What Foods Can We Have at Suhoor?
Just as there are 3 types of foods you should avoid at suhoor, there are also 3 types of food that should be included to help keep you full of energy, satiated and give you the necessary vitamins needed every day.
1) Wholegrain Carbohydrates
Carbohydrates are the main source of energy for the body and replacing refined carbohydrates with wholegrain carbohydrates can help keep you feeling energised for longer. This is because wholegrain carbohydrates are broken down into glucose in the blood more slowly, releasing energy over an extended period. This also means that your blood sugar levels do not shoot up and take a dip very quickly, which is extremely important for diabetics who are fasting during the day. Wholegrain carbohydrates also contain good sources of soluble and insoluble fibre which pass through your digestive system relatively unchanged, helping slow down the digestion of food (making you feel fuller for longer), as well as improving your gut bacteria and adding bulk and fluid to your stools, reducing your risk of that irritating constipation that just happens to appear every Ramadan. Soluble fibre also helps regulate your cholesterol levels.
So, what are some examples of wholegrain carbohydrates?
Whole grain carbohydrates include multigrain and wholegrain breads, long grain brown rice, oats and high fibre cereals such as All-Bran and Weet-Bix. You can also choose bread, cereals or grains which are labelled as low GI (glycaemic index) as they are generally wholegrain and have the same effect.
2) Protein Rich Foods
Protein is important in helping our bodies build and repair our muscles and organs as well as regulate our metabolism. Protein is also very significant in keeping you full during the day as it generally increases satiety more than carbohydrates and fats. It is important to choose good sources of lean or low-fat protein as well as plant-based protein at suhoor to reduce intake of too much saturated fat. Good sources of protein include lean meat, fish, legumes such as beans and lentils, tofu, tempeh, low fat dairy products and nuts and seeds.
3) Fruits and Vegetables
In many cultures, fruits and vegetables are the afterthought of every meal. The reality is, these foods (particularly vegetables) should be making up at least half of the plate you eat. Fruits and vegetables are high in fibre and rich in essential micronutrients needed for your body to function. Vegetables are also generally low in calories and high in water content, allowing you to eat more to keep you full for longer. Some fruits and vegetables that can be eaten at suhoor include bananas, oranges, dates, cucumbers, lettuce and tomatoes. Having fruit and vegetables from a large variety of colours can also help you obtain many vitamins and minerals needed for the body and assists in reducing inflammation.
So how do I easily apply this information into my suhoor?
Obviously, you aren’t expected to wake up at suhoor, half dead, and start grilling salmon and steaming vegetables half an hour before dawn. Many foods that are available in our houses and within our cultures can be perfectly fine to eat for suhoor. It is just a matter of simply modifying some foods to help make your meals healthier.
Here are some basic examples of how to modify your suhoor:
- Replace refined cereals such as coco-pops with wholegrain or high fibre cereals such as All Bran, oats or Weet-Bix. Use milk as a source of protein and fruits such as bananas or dates as a source of fibre.
- Replace Lebanese bread or manakeesh with multigrain bread and have some cottage cheese, labneh or fool (fava beans) as a source of protein with cucumbers and tomatoes as a source of vegetables.
- Make a simple yoghurt parfait using low fat yoghurt, oats or muesli with reduced sugar, and fruits such as berries or dates.
- Add vegetables such as spinach, mushrooms and tomatoes into your omelette and replace butter with a spray of olive oil.
- Reheat healthy leftovers such as lentils, tofu, tempeh and brown rice and add vegetables.
- Have a tuna/smoked salmon sandwich using avocado rather than butter, multigrain bread and vegetables such as lettuce and/or tomato.
- Replace Nutella with low sodium, low sugar nut spreads on multigrain toast with fruits such as banana slices, dates or berries.
These are just some simple ideas for a healthier suhoor to help reduce hunger and dehydration during the day, allowing you to spend your time thinking of what Ramadan is really about; worship and increasing your connection with Allah. This general advice can be applied by most people, however if you have specific conditions, allergies, intolerances or particular goals, speaking to a doctor or dietitian about what to eat can be very helpful in maintaining your health. Feel free to BOOK ONLINE with our Dietitian. We would love to help!