An easy guide on how to provide culturally sensitive eating advice during Ramadan
Food and religion have been closely tied for centuries. Nearly every major religion has a practice of fasting or feasting to observe. What do dietitians need to know about Ramadan?
Ramadan is an Islamic holy month where fasting is practiced. Dietitians can help Muslims honor Ramadan while also providing responsible dietary counseling and being culturally sensitive. With a few helpful tips, navigating religious rituals and celebrations won’t seem so intimidating.
Read on for an easy guide to providing culturally sensitive Ramadan eating plans as a dietitian.
What is Ramadan?
Ramadan is a holy month observed by Muslims. It is an observance that lasts for 30 days and adheres to scriptural text.
When is Ramadan?
During the ninth month of the Islamic calendar (which is lunar-based) is when Ramadan occurs. This differs from the Gregorian (solar-based) calendar used in Western society.
This means that Ramadan shifts by about 11 days on the Gregorian calendar each year, and that Ramadan will occur during different seasons for Muslims during their lifetime.
Why is fasting involved?
Fasting is said to remind Muslims of the less fortunate and reinforce gratitude. Dietitian and Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spokesperson Rahaf Al Bochi summarizes the significance perfectly in this quote:
“The fasting is not only a physical fast but involves a spiritual and social aspect. It is a time marked by increased worship, nightly prayers called taraweeh, readings from the Quran, charity, and family and community gatherings. The intentions of Ramadan include increased spirituality, self-discipline, compassion and gratitude.”
Is fasting mandatory?
Considered one of the five pillars of Islam, Ramadan fasting is mandatory for healthy adults.
Are some groups exempt from fasting?
Yes, the following groups are generally considered exempt from fasting during Ramadan:
Children who have not reached puberty
Those physically or mentally incapable of fasting
Those with acute or chronic disease
When does the fasting occur?
Fasting for Ramadan occurs from dawn to dusk during the 30 day observance.
Why is the fast broken with dates and water?
Dates and water are used to break the fast during Ramadan because Muslims follow the Prophetic tradition.
Minerals (i.e. potassium, copper, manganese)
Energy (natural sugars)
Fiber (help with digestion and satiety)
Ramadan Terms to Know
A pre-fast meal resembling breakfast, but in some cultures includes dinner-like foods
Eaten after sundown as a meal to break the fast; usually starts with dates and water or milk, then is followed by dinner
A three-day holiday after Ramadan including celebration over food
General Nutrition Education for Ramadan
Common & Nutritious Food Ideas for Ramadan Meals
The following ideas are common yet nutritious options for eating healthily during Ramadan.
Suhur, The Ramadan Pre-Dawn Meal
High-fiber to sustain satiety over longer periods of time. top with berries for increased electrolytes and and almonds and flaxseeds to sustain satiety levels. They also provide healthy fats and protein.
Whole wheat varieties paired with nut butters or healthy fats (i.e. avocado) provide protein and a feeling of fullness. Other ideas:
Use in whole wheat French toast recipes
Add nut butter or bananas
Try making avocado toast
Cooked Dinner Dishes
Depending on the individual's food customs, dishes like rice and meat provide a nourishing balance. Vegetarian favorites include lentil soup or a barley or quinoa-based salad.
Milk, Dates, and Nuts
A favorite if you wake up last minute is milk, dates, and nuts. Fiber and protein to fuel you throughout the day can help keep you full even if it’s just before sunrise.
Iftar, The Ramadan Sunset Meal
Community meals shared with family and friends provide a variety of healthful foods for replenishing and refueling during spiritual journeys.
Fried Pastries & Syrup-coated Desserts
Foods like samosas are also served at iftar.
You can make pastries and desserts more nutritious by:
Using lean meat (i.e. chicken)
Baking instead of frying
Adding kale or spinach to meat dishes
Using cauliflower, chickpeas, lentils, or quinoa as an ingredient
5 Ways to Provide Culturally-Sensitive Ramadan Nutrition Education
Suggest counting taraweeh (nightly prayers) as exercise- Taraweeh involves repeated cycles of rising, kneeling, and bowing; exercise during fasting hours is generally advised against.
Encourage hydration between meals -Especially important when Ramadan occurs during the summer
Know what Muslims abstain from- All food, drink, water, and chewing gum
Understand that snacking is permitted between meals- Suhur is the pre-fast meal and iftar is the meal the breaks the fast; hydration and snacking can also happen in between
Work with your patient’s healthcare providers and local religious leaders- Working closely with religious community leaders and healthcare providers is an opportunity to ensure client-centered care.
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Ramadan The Practice of Fasting. Eatright.org. Published April 12, 2021.
Bochi RA. Fasting During Ramadan: What Every Dietitian Needs to Know. Food Nutrition.org. Published April 29, 2019.
Bochi RA. Suhur Meal Ideas for your Healthiest Ramadan Yet. Olivetreenutrition.com. Published May 20, 2017.
British Nutrition Foundation. A healthy Ramadan. Nutrition.org.uk. Accessed April 2021.
Cornell Health. Tips for Healthy Ramadan Fasting. Health.cornell.edu. Accessed April 2021.
Devje S. Ramadan 2020: How To Eat Healthy | Desi~licious RD. Shahzadidevje.com.
Gange AM. Eating According to Religious Practices: Kosher and Halal. Gfs.com. Accessed April 2021.
Nazeema Thasneen. Ramadan Recipes - Snacks for Ramadan or Iftar. Thasneen.com. Accessed April 2021.
Zibdeh N. Ramadan Meals For Sustained Energy, Hydration, and Fullness. Nourzibdeh.com. Published May 27, 2017.