Ramadan: the Month of Eating?
It’s a testimony to the flight of time that Ramadan has rolled around again already. Ramadan is the 9th month of the Islamic calendar, and particularly special to us. For 29 or 30 days, Muslims abstain from all eating and drinking, speaking or doing ill in any way, and marital intimacy, during daylight hours. When you fast, it isn’t that you deny hunger itself. You deny it mastery over you. Do you get hungry? Yes. But are you ruled by it? No. Ramadan is a time when you cut yourself loose from your physical connections, the things that tie you to your body and you attempt…an ascent.
Muslims follow a lunar calendar. The lunar year is about ten days shorter than the solar year, which means that the months rotate through the seasons, moving back by about ten days each year, therefore completing a full cycle every 36 or so years. And so, for us younguns, who’ve been fasting for the last 5, 10, 15 or even 20 years, Ramadan has been very much consonant with Winter: short fasts and cold days, long, dark nights, and…something in the air. Some extra brightness of the moon, the stars seeming closer, a lot of frost, and a sense of connection with the rhythms of the earth and air.
And now – here is something new: Ramadan in August…imagine (you’re not in Australia) Christmas or Thanksgiving in Summer. It’s that kind of weird. So: Summer fasts! However will we survive, we all ask each other.
My family have made a resolution that this Ramadan, we will eat more plainly than we ever have. It is common for Muslims to go way to town about food during Ramadan – to the point it’s more like the month of eating than the month of fasting – and although we ourselves have not done it, we’ve seen enough of other people doing it that we definitely worry THUS ANOTHER PUBLIC HEALTH WARNING.
The way I see it – and we should have latched onto this long ago, fellow Muslim folks – it’s about time we started to do some strategic eating (as opposed to gorging on samosas and pakoras, and anything else you can deep-fry, until sunrise). It would be particularly smart now, because unlike in our Winter fasts, these will be physically more challenging, and it’s our responsibility to look after our health especially when we are fasting. Let’s not get knocked out by a handful of fasts at the beginning because we were too dumb not to work out how to eat properly, okay?
Common knowledge amongst dieters and people committed to losing weight: low GI (i.e. slow-release) foods are known to reduce appetite, and often score high on the satiety index. The satiety index is like all those other indices – in this case, high is good, and low is bad (unlike BMI – high BMI is bad, folks. But so is low).
Specifically, recent studies show that the satiety signals from low GI foods are linked to the rise of certain gut hormones. If you’re interested (and you might not be XD), the satiety centre – the part of your brain that tells you when you’ve eaten enough – is thought to be located in the hypothalamus (ventromedial nucleus, in case you wanted to know). However, GI and SI are not the same thing. The glycaemic index refers to the effect of carbohydrates on blood glucose, whereas the satiety index is to do with (duh) satiation (i.e. how FULL you feel, two hours after you’ve eaten), and includes other food groups, i.e. proteins, fat, and fibre.
So, I think the balance to aim for should be moderate-low GI/high satiety at sahoor (the pre-dawn meal), and after your initial iftar*-dates to give your blood sugar a kick, maybe we should revert to the suhoor plan to make sure we have enough energy for standing the night in taraweeh** and any other qiyam*** or night-time devotions.
In short, the foods to go for should ideally be high in fibre and protein, and low in fat. And avoid refined sugar – that one’s the devil (in fact, refined and madly processed food in general is bad for you so you should only eat mud and dandelions, with a worm or two for protein). According to the original index, high satiety foods include boiled potatoes, fish, porridge, oranges, apples, eggs, wholemeal pasta, and…popcorn. Who knew?
And whaddyaknow, that sounds like what the nutritionists and dietitians have been saying since time began: a balanced diet. I guess we just have to keep on saying it because we Indian-types love our rich food and we can’t cook without oil (WHO COOKS WITHOUT OIL?). So every Ramadan, the health warnings roll out again, in twelve different languages from eight different agencies to make VERY SURE everyone gets the message…but we foodies Indian-types are a stubborn breed, very resistant to good advice and changes in diet.
If you’re missing your samosas**** already: you’re not missing out – really. If we aren’t so hungry, we’ll spend less time eating. And less time eating means more time to get the best out of Ramadan – and the best out of our time in general, Muslim or not.
So you see, you win.
Ramadan mubarak, Ramadan kareem!
- Read more: What happens to your body during a fast?
* Iftar: break-fast, the time of fast-breaking
** taraweeh: a special night-prayer prayed in Ramadan
*** qiyam: literally, ‘standing’, i.e. in prayer.
**** But it’s probably okay to have the occasional samosa, let’s not be extremists, okay? Let’s just not spend more time cooking and eating, worshipping food and deifying our appetites, than we do worshipping God.
This semi-scienceish piece of writing was brought to you by a semi-conscious person who has now gone off to sleep.