How to Eat Healthy at Iftar This Ramadan

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How to Eat Healthy at Iftar this Ramadan

Ramadan Iftars, while being an entirely pleasurable experience, can be daunting for those of us being conscious about what we eat and drink. Whether you want to keep up your diet plan while attending the office Iftar party or simply find a cleaner, healthier way to break your fast every day, we’ve put together a few healthy plate ideas to help you navigate any buffet table with ease. Ramadan Kareem!

PALEO – LOW-CARB PLATE

The paleo diet focuses on eating whole foods and eliminates grains, sugars, processed food, legumes, and starches. With a focus on proteins and healthy fats, it’s a low-carb lifestyle with a mindful approach to eating natural foods rather than calorie counting – and it’s entirely gluten-free too.

Eating Paleo style at an Iftar is rather challenging, as most traditional Arabic and Middle Eastern meals are wheat- or bulgur-based. Even the popular Lebanese salads, fattoush and tabbouleh, contain wheat and bulgur and are off the cards. As are kibbeh, fattayer, shawarma, arayes, Arabic pita breads, malfoof, harira, ouzi, and harees.

Ma’anek and sujuk are gluten-free sausages, but may be prepared in sauces that contain wheat – in general, there’s hidden wheat or gluten in most sauces and marinades, so avoid all the pre-cooked meat curries, rice dishes, and vegetarian dishes in gravy.

We know it’s tempting to dig in to the Umm Ali, kunafeh, and baklava on offer at the dessert buffet, but your best bet is to skip dessert entirely and to focus on your main meal.

The perfect Paleo plate? Paleo Plate

6 black olives
1 mixed grill skewer or 1 filet of sayadieh fish or 1 piece of kousa mahshi (stuffed zucchini)
1 tbsp yogurt
1 tbsp moutabal
Green salad
Bowl of berries
Tea or Turkish coffee (sugar-free)
Total calories: 600-700

Tip: Black olives have less than half the salt of green olives, and also contain more healthy oils. Choose black olives to fix any post-Iftar bloating that can be caused by excess sodium.

VEGETARIAN PLATE

In its simplest form, a vegetarian diet eliminates meats of all land and sea animals, while still including milk products and eggs.

Any traditional Iftar table will include plenty of vegetarian options – soups, salads, legumes, pastries, nuts, and sweets – and while skipping heavy meat dishes might seem like a perfect solution to “keeping it light”, it’s important to remember that vegetarian does not necessarily equate to ‘healthy’ or low calorie.

To keep your fat, carb, and overall calorie intake under control, avoid all deep-fried foods such as samosas, white-rice dishes, and pastries, and instead load your plate with vegetables, whole grains, beans, and low-fat dairy products. Keeping your main course simple (yet filling and nutritious) will leave you space for a small portion of your favorite dessert at the end of the meal.

A balanced vegetarian plate? Vegetarian Plate

1 small serving of lentil soup
5 tbsp tabbouleh
2 tbsp baba ganoush
1 rice-stuffed vine leave roll
3 tbsp shanklish
1 atayef pastry
Tea or Turkish coffee (sugar-free)
Total calories: 700-800

Tip: It’s important to be well-hydrated when you face an enticing Iftar buffet, as we often confuse thirst with hunger. Drink an organic coconut water to replenish electrolytes before you dig into the food – this will help you make more mindful choices and avoid overindulging.

LOW-CALORIE PLATE

While new research in the health and fitness industry shows that calories in do not equal calories out, calorie counting is still a good way to be mindful of your food intake if you’re trying to lose weight.

Low-calorie winners such as baba ghanoush and halloumi are full of fiber and protein, and will keep you fuller for longer. Hummus is high in calories, but eaten in moderation will give your meal so much more flavor.

What does a light plate look like? Low Cal Plate

2 pink pickled radishes
2 tbsps baba ghanoush
Green salad
1 slide of halloumi
1 tbsp hummus
1 piece makdous (pickled baby eggplant)
1 date
Tea or Turkish coffee (sugar-free)
Total calories: 300 – 400

Tip: Break your fast with a date or a small piece of fruit. This will also stabilize your blood sugar levels so that you can focus on making sensible choices!

VEGAN PLATE

When it comes to dietary choices, veganism is the most restricted form of vegetarianism, where an individual does not consume any products of animal origin such as meats, eggs, dairy (milk, cheese, ghee, butter, ice cream), and even honey.

Sticking to a vegan diet at an Iftar can be quite tricky, as you have to watch out for hidden animal by-products such as eggs, butter, and honey that are commonly used in preparation of desserts. Although some halawa recipes are vegan, most restaurants use processed sugar syrup or honey to bind the ingredients together, so we recommend skipping sweet dishes entirely and focusing on your main meal.

With limited vegan options, it can be quite easy to load up on carby rice dishes and bread (Arabic bread is vegan), creating a massive insulin spike for very little nutritious value in return. Luckily, most Iftar buffets will display a generous amount of vegetable and legume dishes, so you can assemble a balanced plate by opting for lentil soups, foul meddames (a traditional fava bean dish), hummus, baba ghanoush, falafel, and salads such as fattoush and tabbouleh to get your daily dose of protein and fiber.

What does a perfect vegan plate look like? Vegan Plate

5 tbsp fattoush
2 tbsp hummus
5 tbsp foul meddames
1 piece of falafel
Fresh vegetables (carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes)
1 date
Sugar-free mint tea
Total calories: 600-700

Tip: After a vegan meal, sip on fresh mint tea to aid the digestion of fiber in beans and vegetables.

General Tips on Healthy Iftar Eating

  • Use a small starter plate instead of a big one.
  • Don’t go for second rounds.
  • If you must have dessert, wait 30 to 45 minutes until after your meal, and then eat only fruit with some honey if you like.
  • Download MyFitnessPal and enter items as you eat them to keep you accountable for your consumption.
  • Don’t punish yourself the day after an Iftar indulgence by trying to do more exercise: calories in do not equal calories out; it just isn’t that simple.
  • Don’t drink your calories: Even a glass of orange juice can rack up 100 calories and contains more than 10 grams of sugar. Stick with water, tea, and black coffee.
  • Skip starters and desserts and focus on eating a balanced main meal.
  • Don’t succumb to peer pressure to eat more or to sample dishes. Be firm with your choices.
  • Eat slowly and mindfully, and chew your food thoroughly.
  • If you are breaking your fast, start slow with the traditional date and a glass of milk. Pace yourself throughout the evening and aim to eat no more than 1,200 to 1,500 calories in total each day.
  • Drink at least 3 liters of water to rehydrate if you’ve been fasting.
  • Don’t do high-intensity workouts if you are fasting. Be kind to your body during this time.

 

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