Beginning this year at the start of a sweltering July, Muslims in Turkey fast for as many as 17 hours, from dawn until sunset, in scorching heat. With the arrival of Ramadan, people who usually eat three times a day begin to eat only twice — once at suhur, the pre-dawn meal, and again at iftar, the fast-breaking dinner.
Experts say fasters should be careful with their eating habits during Ramadan and recommend that fasters do not skip suhur in order to maintain a healthy weight.
“Fasters should definitely wake up to have their suhur in order to avoid gaining weight during Ramadan. Raw vegetables, such as tomatoes and cucumber, are among the recommended suhur foods,” noted Dr. Aliye Duman, a nutritionist at the Median Medical Center in İstanbul, adding that people who fast should avoid eating too much during iftar as they tend to consume more than their bodies actually need. In fact, many people end up inflicting more harm on their bodies in Ramadan than during other times of the year. Eating foods high in fat and in sugar at the wrong times hurts the body more than it heals it. “In order to keep their metabolism balanced, fasters should also exercise after breaking their fast,” she said. Duman also pointed out the importance of eating slowly and chewing carefully and advised fasters to drink lots of water.
Other recommended suhur foods include items like eggs and cheese, which are rich in protein and take a long time to digest. Furthermore, complex carbohydrates during suhur take longer to digest, making you less hungry throughout the day. Dates, which are an excellent source of sugar, fiber, carbohydrates, potassium and magnesium, are also highly recommended. Fasters should avoid foods like honey, molasses and jam, which can make fasters thirstier throughout the day.
During suhur and iftar people should eat foods such as salad and raw and steamed vegetables. People should avoid fried food, sugar and juices and limit sugar intake from items such as cookies and cakes, Duman said.
Moreover, fasting is also not advisable for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, children under the age of 9 and people suffering from a serious psychological disorders or renal failure, Duman noted.
Some think that eating as much as you can during suhur makes you more resistant during the day; however, experts say this is actually not the proper way to eat.
Işılay Reis Yorgun, a nutritionist and dietician who is also a member of the executive board of food company Reis Gıda, notes that during Ramadan in particular people need to be careful with their eating habits. She also emphasized that only healthy eating makes one feel full. Boiled eggs, cheese, yoghurt, olives, bread and crushed walnuts are some healthy foods recommended for the month of Ramadan.
Yorgun also said: “People should not stuff themselves and should eat in small quantities because some of us have the habit of eating in a very short time as we break our fasts. İftar dinner should be divided into two small meals. We should not eat much for iftar. First we should have a small dinner and after about an hour we should have another dinner which will help us to digest our food easily.”
She also noted that fruit and dried fruits also help one to stay full. According to Yorgun, the best way to eat healthily is to regularly have suhur during Ramadan. Noting that it is essential for fasters to wake up to have suhur, Yorgun said it is equally important not to go to bed immediately after suhur. “Waking up at night for suhur or waking up only to drink water is unhealthy. Fasting without having suhur may cause hypoglycemia, hypertension, headaches, sleepiness and dizziness. It can particularly be dangerous for people suffering from ulcers,” Yorgun noted.
“People eating fatty foods at suhur are more likely to get hungry during the day, and this may also lead to weight gain. Equally important is avoiding spicy and salty foods, which make fasters thirsty during the day.”
As people are likely to feel tired and sleepy while fasting due to a decrease in blood glucose levels, experts strongly recommend taking an afternoon nap, which prevents blood glucose levels from remaining too low. She also said one common error is sitting down in front of the television right after iftar. “People should go for a short walk after iftar rather than sit in front of TV, which will also help them to digest the food they have just eaten,” Yorgun said. Yorgun also added that people fasting during the month of Ramadan should drink a lot of water at suhur and even after iftar until they go to sleep.
Popular Ramadan foods
Pide, a flatbread often coated with egg and sprinkled with sesame seeds; güllaç, a dessert made of cornstarch, flour, water and milk; and dates are popular foods during Ramadan. People form long queues in front of bakeries just before iftar each evening to buy freshly baked pide. When it is not Ramadan, Turks rarely buy pide or make güllaç. The demand for pide is so high that bakers have to work overtime during the sweltering Ramadan days, in hot and noisy conditions.
Since Ramadan is also a time to improve and strengthen relations with one’s neighbors, relatives and the poor, people cook iftar dinners and invite others to their homes to break their fast together.