By Sara Elnakib, RD
During the holy month of Ramadan, which occurs on the ninth month of the lunar-based Islamic calendar, all Muslims are required to abstain from food and drink from dawn to dusk for 30 days. Because Ramadan shifts approximately eleven days earlier each year on the solar-based Gregorian calendar, Muslims experience Ramadan in different seasons throughout the course of the lives.
The act of fasting is meant to remind Muslims of the less fortunate and to reinforce the need to be thankful. As one of the five pillars, or duties, of Islam, fasting during the month of Ramadan is mandatory for all healthy adult Muslims. Children who have not reached puberty, the elderly, those who are physically or mentally incapable of fasting, pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers and travelers are exempt.
Fasting during Ramadan means abstinence from all food or drink, including water and chewing gum, from dawn to sunset. It is recommended that before sunrise, Muslims eat a pre-fast meal known as suhur. This meal often resembles breakfast, but in some cultures it may include more dinner-like foods. After sundown, Muslims break their fast in a meal iftar, which usually starts with dates and water or milk, followed by a dinner meal. Muslims are permitted to snack at night between those two meals and hydration is encouraged, especially when Ramadan falls during summer.
For suhur, iftar and snacks, Muslims can more easily make it to sundown by eating high-fiber meals to sustain satiety over longer periods, fruits and vegetables to maintain electrolyte stores, and plenty of fluids to maintain hydration. Muslims should also limit fried foods and sugary sweets, the latter of which is a common cultural tradition among many ethnicities during the holy month.
After Ramadan, Muslims celebrate a three-day holiday called Eid-ul-Fitr. After this Eid ("celebration"), Muslims pray the holiday prayer in congregation in the morning, visit family and friends, and celebrate over food, gifts and activities for children.
Reviewed April 2013
Sara Elnakib, RD, is a clinical dietitian at St. Michael's Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey.