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 stick to your dietary requirements 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!
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?
Mixed-grill skewers, filet of sayadieh fish, or 1 piece of kousa mahshi (look for zucchini stuffed with minced meat and no rice)
Bowl of berries
Tea or Turkish coffee (sugar-free)
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.
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.
To keep your 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, and beans. 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?
Rice-stuffed vine-leaf roll
Tea or Turkish coffee (sugar-free)
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.
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?
Fresh vegetables (carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes)
Sugar-free mint tea
Tip: After a vegan meal, sip on fresh mint tea to aid the digestion of fiber in beans and vegetables.
- Use a small starter plate instead of a big one.
- Don’t go for seconds and try to stick to one plate instead.
- 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.
- 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 and pace yourself.
- Drink at least three 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.