Ramadan fasting 2023: best foods to eat for Iftar and Suhoor, how to stay hydrated - and foods to avoid

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People eat very differently in the month of Ramadan, but what should be consumed to have a healthy fast?

The Islamic month of Ramadan is predicted to start on 23 March 2023, where many Muslims around the world will fast for 30 days. Those who are taking part eat two times a day, before sunrise, in a meal known as Suhoor or Sehri and after sunset, in a meal known as Iftari or Iftar.

As food is cultural, what people eat for Suhoor and Iftar varies and can have different affects on the body. We spoke to a dietitian to see what foods would be best to eat during the holy month.

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What should you eat for Suhoor?

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Ghazala Yousuf, a lead dietician at Harley Dietitians, recommends certain foods for opening and closing your fast.

She said: “[People should] definitely have more complex carbohydrates rather than refined foods and go for more whole-grain versions of any bread that you’re having.

“Complex carbohydrates have a lower glycemic index (GI) because they release glucose slowly throughout the day and you won’t get hungry soon after eating - then you can go throughout the whole day feeling more comfortable. Food like porridge is very good from that perspective.

“Keep your morning meal light and have nothing fried or nothing fatty as you may get reflux throughout the day trying to digest a heavy meal.”

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Ms Yousuf also recommends having a form of light protein, such as eggs, fish or nuts.

Since Ramadan is 30 days of dry intermittent fasting, it’s important to keep hydrated throughout the day, she added.

“Cut out the caffeine if you can, because it can be dehydrating, especially things like coffee or too strong cups of tea. Tea would be fine but try to avoid too much caffeine.” Ms Yousuf warned.

Ms Yousuf fasts herself and after being asked what she eats in the morning, she said: “I tend to have porridge in the morning with the fruit, and perhaps a boiled egg.

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“I like to keep it light at that time and it helps me through the day. I don’t feel hungry, particularly most days.”

What should you eat for Iftar?

Iftar is the evening meal, and after a long day of not consuming anything, many people opt for a heavier traditional feast.

However, Ms Yousuf said: “Keep slow so you’re not eating a large meal very quickly, as you can get a shift in your electrolytes after not eating all day.

“Start slowly perhaps with some fruit or some dates, then go onto maybe your starter and then your main meal so you’re breaking it down.”

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What type of foods should we avoid? 

Many people opt for heavier traditional foods when preparing their Iftar, as after a long day of not eating, having something dense sounds delicious. But is that a good idea?

Ms Yousuf said: “Processed food isn’t a great idea because of all the salt content.

“You’re probably already dehydrated and then you’re putting more salt into your system, so that is not a good idea. Keep it to more simple foods, whole-grain foods if possible.

“Regulating your eating and eating the same way as you would normally do, like the same calories, the same amount of protein, but do it over two meals rather than three meals. You shouldn’t be eating a big feast at the end of every day.

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“We want to get people to think about what they are eating - if you’re eating a big meal very quickly, you’re not going to allow yourself to drink anything as you’re probably going to be a bit dehydrated so think about your fluid intake alongside your solid.

“Just think about what you normally eat, but in a healthy way rather than a festive way, so not having too many foods with salt and sugar and additives - keep it simple in the healthiest way possible by involving lentils and beans and protein.”

Sometimes, eating the wrong food after fasting can lead to avoidable issues, Ms Yousuf warned.

She said: “We can’t underestimate complex carbohydrates as people can suffer from simple things like constipation when they’re fasting because they are eating very refined foods and not drinking enough.

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“So think through what you’re eating and try to keep it on a level to what you would normally eat, but take extra focus on food, timing and drinks to help you to be effective with your fasting.”

In terms of her Iftar, Ms Yousuf said: “I have a small date or something along those lines, and drink water - sometimes I would also have coconut water. Then I would have my main meal and if I was craving something sweet I’d have a small tiny bit of sweet of some description and that would be me done.”

How to stay hydrated during Ramadan

Sometimes it can be hard to drink a lot of water in a limited amount of time.

Ms Yousuf recommends pacing yourself with drinks and food, but also to go for fruits such as watermelons and soup.

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She said: “Coconut water is also quite re-hydrating, so when you’re thinking about what type of juice to have, ask, is it something that hydrates you?

“By thinking of the food and fluid you’re having and planning your meals properly, that helps with your fasting so you can focus throughout the day and get through your day.”

Ms Yousuf warned that her advice is for people without any long term health conditions.

She said: ‘If you have any conditions or are diabetic but want to fast, speak to your GP or dietitian and read resources around.

“Definitely plan, it’s not that you can’t fast, but you do need to plan as fasting depends on the individual.”

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