What comes to mind when someone mentions the term boeka (iftar), is a traditional table laid with soup, samoosas, dhaltjies, spring-rolls, vetkoekies, pancakes and falooda or boebe (milk and sugar with vermicelli mix) before we break our fast in Ramadaan.
But, I decided to break tradition and eat a bit more healthily, cutting out sugar and processed carbs, and focusing on good fats, dairy, protein and good carbs.
I also won’t be touching any deep- or shallow-fried savouries and sugar-filled cakes during Ramadaan, as I wanted to see what impact this would have on my health.
How our ancestors came up with the idea that these delicacies were suitable for sustaining our fasting bodies, was never questioned. We ate, we loved and we enjoyed.
No one really attempted to break the tradition, not even when family members’ ailments, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and ulcers, surfaced.
However, when health and fitness became a fad among Muslims and social media – the go-to place for tips on healthy eating and exercise – people started shifting from tradition.
I cast myself as a newbie fitness fanatic. Just before turning 50, I started running for a club more than a year ago, because my stress levels went up and my health suffered.
Last Ramadaan I was only partially avoiding the unhealthy foods, but this year, after having become some-
thing of a regular at road races, and joining bootcamp, I managed to keep my weight constant and I replaced the unhealthy food with healthier options – with a cheat here and there.
Fasting during Ramadaan, the fourth pillar of Islam, is compulsory for every Muslim and it is the month when the Qur’an was revealed. The other pillars are to believe in Allah, to salaah (pray), to give zakah (charity) and to go on a pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj).
Fasting doesn’t only mean staying away from food and drink from dusk till dawn. Muslims will abstain from certain provisions that the Qur’an has otherwise allowed and to spend more time in prayer and reading the Qur’an.
But food seemed to be an important factor in Ramadaan. Muslims stock up on groceries ahead of time and even shop at expos to fill their pantries. Even my 10-year-old son said to me one day, “Mommy, I love Ramadaan.”
When I asked him why, he said: “Because I love boeka time, when we can eat lekker stuff.”
Traditionally we would have the whole table filled with treats and we wouldn’t even have enough space for the food.
My mother, who is a staunch traditional treat-eating person, said their table used to be filled with treats from neighbours.
When I asked her why the families made all these unhealthy foods, she said she thought the “old people” tried to feed the body soup, a veg, and sweet treats, for energy; thinking that was what the body needed.
However, Rayhanna Gertze, a nutrition expert from Lansdowne, said when fasting, your body actually craves natural food opposed to processed foods that will make you feel sluggish and tired.
“The body is going through a cleansing process so it is advisable to break your fast with a glass of warm water and dates (like the way Prophet Mugamamad – peace be upon him – used to do). Then you leave the table to go and pray and in that time the body has time to kickstart the digestive system.”
So I tried to eat the good stuff.
The first night our table was fully laid out with pumpkin fritters, dhaltjies, samoosas, vanilla loaf and the only two healthy options were the soup as well as dates.
I ate my soup, drank water and ate dates. I went to pray. Then I dished myself some steak, veggie rice, sweet potatoes, stir-fried spinach and tomatoes with avocado on the side. Usually after prayers I would reach out for a pumpkin fritter or two, but I was focused and I opted for a baked pear, sprinkled with cinnamon, walnuts and honey. It was delicious, and healthy.
When one breaks one’s fast by eating healthy foods, it corrects high blood pressure and helps other ailments as well. Recommended foods to eat at breakfast are oats and a banana or dates and yoghurt.
After the late evening prayers (taraweeg) it is recommended to have some protein such as nuts.
Because I am a runner and I had been physically active before Ramadaan, I asked Ms Gertze if exercise while fasting was allowed.
Ms Gertze suggested exercise for seven minutes before Fajr (early morning prayer).
“For example, do 10 jumping jacks, as your body will be in a fat burning state the whole day.”
However, being the fitness fanatic, I decided to do a few minutes of planking in the morning and walk up four flights of stairs at my place of work. I skip after taraweeg to get my blood pumping and on Sundays I walk 8km to 10km. Let’s see what happens next week.
May all Muslims reap all the benefits of this Ramadaan, in mind, body and spirit.
If anyone wants to send in healthy recipes to make during Ramadaan, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org