Ten Foods to Stay Nourished This Ramadan

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SHAFAQNA - If you are doing Ramadan right, your intake of food will be reduced, but that doesn’t mean you need to be malnourished.

I’ll be sharing ten nutrient-dense foods and herbs that will help deliver the nutrients and support your body needs.

These super foods will help reduce the discomforts of Ramadan fasting and help you adapt, keeping your immune and digestive systems running smoothly.

Ramadan is a time when your body is cleansing because it now has the time and extra enzymes to cleanse and regenerate.

When you’re not fasting, digestion uses most of our body’s resources, including enzymes. By freeing the body of the labor-intensive digestive process, we allow the body to utilize those enzymes.

While fasting, detoxification pathways and the liver are hard at work clearing all the metabolic waste that has built up during the year. But unlike other processes in the body, if the detoxification system doesn’t have the nutrients it needs, it just won’t function (1,2).

This is why it is important to keep the nutrients it needs on your plate during Ramadan.

Here are some ideas on how to add important foods and herbs to your regular cooking routine with a few recipe ideas for you to try.

Hibiscus

Easy to come by, hibiscus is used to make a popular drink throughout the Middle East. It is easy to find as pre-packaged tea bags or a loose, dried flower. Egyptians traditionally serve it as post iftar drink.

Rich in vitamin C, it is an immune system super food.

Vitamin C is easily destroyed by light and heat, so when we cook foods rich in vitamin C, we are destroying the very nutrient we need to be healthy.

This is one reason why it’s healthy to eat a variety of foods prepared in a variety of ways.

Cooking has a huge role to play in our eating habits and is necessary in many instances to make a food more nutritious and, in some cases, safe to eat. Spinach when eaten raw, for example, is a natural thyroid inhibitor. Cooking removes this harmful inhibitory status.

Vitamin C is also a water-soluble nutrient, which means it doesn’t accumulate in our bodies. We don’t keep a stockpile of it for use during times of shortage like we do with the fat-soluble vitamin D.

What this means is that your body requires a regular intake of vitamin C.

Sipping on a cup of hibiscus cooler after a long day of fasting is just the thing to ensure you get the vitamin C your body needs.

Hibiscus Cooler:

16 oz water

1 hibiscus tea bag or 0.5 ounce of loose dried hibiscus flowers (3 or 4).

4-8 ounces of white grape juice.

Method:

Add sugar-free grape juice for a better taste.

Place the hibiscus flowers in a container and pour cold or tepid water over it. You can leave it overnight or for a few hours.

The longer the tea bad remains in the water, the bitterer the drink will be. Add in grape juice to taste and store in the refrigerator for up to three days.

Yogurt

We all know the health benefits of yogurt, but not all yogurts are created equal. Make sure to purchase yogurts with active yogurt cultures to receive the health benefits for your digestive tract and immune system (2).

Extremely versatile, yogurt can be used as a condiment, in salads, main dishes and as a dessert.  Yogurt layered with fruit makes an easy velvety desert that is good enough to serve to guests and easy enough for a family dinner.

Real pickles

Just like yogurt, this fermented food is a super food but only if it’s prepared the traditional way using salt and water, not vinegar (3,4).

To make sure you are getting the real thing, look for these pickles in the refrigerator section of your supermarket.

What makes pickled foods, not just cucumbers, so nutritious is that during the fermentation process the little microbes predigest and absorb the vitamins and minerals (3,4).

Interestingly, fermented food will often produce new nutrients that didn’t originally exist in the food before the fermentation process (3,4).

A good example of this is cabbage and its fermented version in German sauerkraut. Prior to fermentation (no alcohol is produced), cabbage isn’t rich in the B vitamins. But after, sauerkraut is abundant in them (3,4).

Check back soon for parts two and three to learn more about the best foods to add to your diet during Ramadan.

Oils

High-quality fat is about the best investment you can make for your health.

Our brains, nervous and reproductive systems all have large quantities of fats.

Each of our cells is covered in fat. We need fat to make use of fat-soluble vitamins like vitamins A and D.

Fats are an important part of a healthy body. Fats also help us feel full for longer and help regulate blood sugar levels.

There is much misinformation out there regarding what a healthy fat is and how to use them in your everyday cooking.

Oils that are safe for cooking with include coconut oil, butter, ghee, animal fats and palm oil. Then there are oils that are safe to use in their raw forms such as olive oil, avocado oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, sesame seed oil and peanut oil.

Most vegetable oils aren’t safe to cook with, meaning they shouldn’t be heated. When you heat these oils, they become rancid, rotten and will flood your body with free radicals.

Oils like corn and canola, unless you are making them yourself, shouldn’t be consumed at all. They are highly volatile (1,2).

When selecting an oil, make sure it is organic and free from chemicals like solvents. Select oils that are in dark containers, as oils will react to light and cause them to become rancid.

Water

We don’t often think of water as a super nutrient but it is. It is so important that we cannot live long without it (3).

During Ramadan, it’s easy to become dehydrated. An added concern is that if the body is denied water over a long period of time (longer than a month), your thirst mechanism will shut down (3).

This means that your body is thirsty, but it just won’t signal the brain anymore. Just because we are fasting doesn’t mean that our regular bodily functions stop requiring water.

Headaches, fatigue, fuzzy thinking, irritability and illness are often caused by inadequate hydration.

Brown rice

All over Asia, rice is a staple food, the importance of which cannot be overstated. Many nutritional deficiencies occur when white rice is consumed, the most notable being a thiamine (B1) deficiency, which can lead to the disease beriberi or a niacin (B3) deficiency also known as pellagra.

The B vitamins are essential for maintaining health and B3 specifically is important in maintaining heart health.

Interestingly, both beriberi and pellagra were unknown conditions before the introduction of white rice (4,5).

Recipe:

4 cups brown rice, 6 cups water, 1strip kombu, 1 tablespoon butter, 1/2 onion diced, 4 garlic cloves, minced, 1 pinch saffron, 1 teaspoon turmeric, salt, and butter.

Method:

In a stockpot, heat butter and add onions. Fry for 1-2 minutes. Add garlic and fry for 1-2 minutes. Add a pinch of salt.

Pour in the water and add the kombu, 1 tablespoon butter and enough salt to taste. Bring to a boil. Add turmeric, saffron and rice.

Cover (leave a space for the steam to escape) and let boil for 15-20 minutes. Keep an eye on it and add water if need be.  Reduce heat to medium and let cook for 15 minutes.

Reduce heat to a simmer and let cook for another 15 minutes. Remove room heat and let sit until absolutely tender.

Don’t miss the last installment of our new nutrition series for Ramadan. I’ll be sharing foods you always wanted to try, but never knew how to eat, like seaweed!

Astragalus

This is a Chinese herb that looks like a popsicle stick (ice lolly) and is slightly sweet. The root is dried to produce the herb that is very popular in traditional Chinese medicine.

Astagalus is categorized in herbalism as a herb, meaning it aids in the adapting. This could be adapting to change in climate, a life situation or in preventing and overcoming jetlag.

As an adaptogenic, this herb is considered safe for everyone and for everyday use.

Ramadan can be a stressful time.

The body is under physical stress and adding a herb like astragalus to your diet can provide your body with the boost it needs to adapt to the changes and it can help prevent you from becoming ill.

The easiest way to introduce this herb into your diet is by simply sucking on it.

Another way is to add it to anything that includes boiling water.

Add it to your tea, soup and while you cook rice or stew.

It doesn’t add any flavor that might alter the taste of the dish, but it will turn what you are cooking into a pot of stress-busting goodness. (1,2,3,4).

Coconut water

Rich in electrolytes and full of nutrients, coconut water is just about the most perfect drink to quench your post-fast thirst (1).

Fresh is always best, but it isn’t easy to find. Look for coconut waters that have no added sugars or preservatives.

Seaweeds

Many people avoid them because of the fishy smell and taste associated with them. There are many types of seaweeds and not all have a strong taste or odor.

Two such seaweeds are kombu and kelp flakes. These two versatile seaweeds are easy to use and have no adverse after-flavor.

What’s the big deal about seaweed and why are they so important?

Seaweed and other “sea vegetables” are rich in trace minerals and iodine (3).

Yes, iodine is added to most table salts, but the name of the game is absorption.

Sea vegetables provide a type of iodine that is very easy to absorb. Your body can’t use what it cannot absorb (2).

Kelp flakes can be sprinkled on your food like a condiment. Kombu is a very firm seaweed that does not easily dissolve into food when it is cooking.

Add an inch (10 cm) piece of kombu to cooking water to extract the nutrients found in it.

Make sure you purchase seaweed that is ethically and sustainably harvested. Also, look for seaweeds that are tested for heavy metals.

You also might want to avoid seaweeds from locations where there were oil spills or where there might be radioactive contamination.

Water is the universal solvent and seaweed is in the sea, hence, seaweeds can be subjected to different levels of water pollution.

Thus, if you have hypertension or hyperthyroidism, please consult your healthcare practitioner before adding it to your diet.

Cocoa nibs (raw chocolate)

This unsweetened raw form of chocolate has the highest content of magnesium compared to any other food. Magnesium is used in over 200 processes in the body and is half of the magnesium/calcium pump that keeps your heart beating (3).

Magnesium is also called upon when your body is under stress. Boost your magnesium intake by having a few bits of raw chocolate nibs. Your body will thank you.

Ramadan is a great time to add these foods into your diet to stay healthy and well-nourished all month long and beyond.

May your Ramadan be blessed and I hope you and your family enjoy these new flavors and foods!

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