What to eat for Suhoor

Sehri, also called Suhur, Suhoor, Sahari and Sahur in other languages, is an Islamic term referring to the meal consumed early in the morning (pre-dawn) by Muslims before fasting.

Benefits of Sehri or Suhoor

Our Holy Prophet ﷺ said: “Eat suhoor as there are blessings in suhoor” (Bukhari and Muslim).

Ibn Umar (Radhi Allaho anho) relates: Rasulullah (Sallallaho alaihe wasallam) said: ‘Verily Allah and His Malaa’ikah send Mercy upon those who eat ‘Suhoor’ ”

Rasulullah (Sallallahu alaihe wasallam) said: ‘The difference between our fasting and that of the Ahlul-Kitaab (Jews and Christians) lies in our partaking of food at “suhoor” which they do not.” The Prophet has said, “Eat suhoor, because in it lie great blessings”

In his commentary on “Sahih Bukhari”, Ibne Hajar has mentioned various reasons for the blessedness of “suhoor”:

  1. Because in it, the ‘Sunnah’ is followed.

  2. Through “suhoor”, we differentiate ourselves from the ways of Ahlul-Kitaab, which we are at all times called upon to do.

  3. It provides strength for “Ibaadah”

  4. It promotes greater sincerity in “Ibaadah”

  5. It aids in elimination of bad temper, which normally comes about as result of hunger.

  6. ‘suhoor’ is the time when prayers are accepted.

  7. At the time of ‘suhoor’, one gets the opportunity to remember Allah, makes Dhikr and lift up the hands to Him in prayer.

Fasting has been ordained for us primary in order to develop Taqwa. There are health benefits that also occur from fasting however and these have been prescribed for us out of Allah’s ﷻ mercy and is part of the ni’mah(bounty) of Islam upon us.

Medically speaking fasting it does have a detoxification/purification effect on the body and it is not meant to weaken the body or induce the process of protein breakdown (catabolism) that occurs with long periods of starvation, this is prevented by having suhoor or suhoor as it moderates the time period that the body is without food keeping it within the optimum zone for health promotion.

While most healthy individuals can manage to do a Ramadan fast without suhoor, the physical effects of the fast are different without having partaken of suhoor and it is indeed devoid of the “barakah” that our Beloved Holy Prophet ﷺ mentioned for having the suhoor meal.

In medical terms there are 2 distinct processes that can occur when a person goes without food and this depends on how long and how often they do so.

  • In intermittent fasting for shorter periods as with the fast in Ramadhaan between suhoor and iftaar, there are many beneficial effects on the body, including

  • autophagy (clean up of cellular waste products),

  • improved brain function,

  • reduction of insulin levels,

  • lipolysis (burning of fat stores for energy). Etc.

  • With longer periods of fasting however the body goes into ‘starvation mode', referred to as the famine response, this is a detrimental process that slows down the body’s metabolism to try and save as much energy as it can, proteins (especially from muscle tissue) are broken down for energy in this state and a person will actually gain weight quicker once they do eat again, since their metabolism has slowed down.

What to eat for suhoor

What you eat for suhoor will depend a lot on where you live in the world and what is available, what your cultural background and preferences are etc, but there are some general principles for the suhoor meal that can be followed by all Muslims in this month.

The best suhoor would be one that gives us energy for the whole day and generally makes it easy to cope with our daily activities and ibaadaat until iftaar. For this it would be necessary to have a combination of carbohydrates, protein, fats and water for suhoor.

Good carbs give you the necessary energy

Carbohydrates are broken down into glucose and easily used by the body for energy but can play havoc with blood sugar/glucose levels and cause cravings and hunger pangs if the wrong type of carbohydrates are consumed.

There are two types of carbohydrates, simple and complex.

Simple carbohydrates are refined sugars that have very little nutritional value to the body, and therefore, it’s advisable that their consumption be limited to small quantities. In comparison to complex carbohydrates, simple carbohydrates are digested by the body more quickly, because they have a very simple chemical structure. Foods that contain simple carbohydrates include table sugar, products with white flour, honey, milk, yoghurt, candy, chocolate, fruit, fruit juice, cake, jam, biscuits, molasses, golden syrup, soda, soft drinks and packaged sweet cereals. These foods give a quick spike to glucose levels in the blood and provide an immediately available burst of energy. This is normally not needed at the time of suhoor unless you start your marathon training before fajr, which I doubt you do, so in response your body releases the hormone insulin.

This hormone brings down glucose levels rapidly after the meal and leaves you with some serious hunger pangs and food cravings. People who eat a lot of simple carbohydrates for suhoor can become very hungry early in the day, though later there is a dip in energy levels and the metabolism slows down to compensate.

Complex carbohydrates consist of a chemical structure that is made up of three or more sugars, which are usually linked together to form a chain. These sugars are mostly rich in fiber, vitamins and minerals. Due to their complexity, they take a little longer to digest, and they don’t raise the sugar levels in the blood as quickly as simple carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates act as the body’s long term fuel, and can be compared to diesel vs petrol, in that it burns slower so provides energy for longer.

This brings us to the Glycemic Index, commonly referred to by the letters GI. The glycemic index is a measure of how quickly blood sugar levels rise after eating a particular type of food.

The effects that different foods have on blood sugar levels vary considerably. The glycemic index estimates how much each gram of available carbohydrate (total carbohydrate minus fiber) in a food raises a person’s blood glucose level following consumption of the food, relative to consumption of pure glucose.

Pure glucose has a glycemic index of 100.

So in essence, the higher the GI rating of a food, the quicker blood glucose will be raised and the more hungry you will feel during the fast. That is why some people opt for Low GI bread for suhoor and other low GI foods as they give a more stable constant release of energy throughout the fast and reduce the hunger pangs and cravings that can be experienced with high GI meals. Many GI tables are available on the internet.

But GI is not the whole story, so lets get to protein and fats. Both proteins and fats have the ability to keep you full for longer and are essential in any healthy diet or meal, and therefore in suhoor as well.

Proteins maintain body strength, prevent starvation mode and keeps you full

Protein consumption for suhoor is extremely important since it prevents excessive breakdown of muscle during the fast. Proteins are necessary in every stage of ones metabolism and without it, the metabolism slows down.

This is normally experienced by most people as a slump in their energy levels especially between mid morning and the afternoon. If one is fasting without having sufficient protein for suhoor then it will manifest in a greater feeling of weakness and lack of motivation to do anything which may or may not be accompanied by hunger pangs.

This doesn’t bode well, as you will find physical work more demanding, and you may also experience laziness in other ibaadaat such as reading quraan, giving da’wah and performing salaat as well.

Fats allow your brain to function properly

Did you know that your brain is about 60 percent fat? The fats you eat strongly influence your level of brain function. Saturated fats, obtained either from animal products such as butter, cheese, whole milk, ice cream, cream and fatty meats or found in some tropical plants and vegetable oils such as coconut, palm and palm kernel, are not as bad as you think, and in fact also play a vital role in maintaining healthy skin and hair, insulating body organs against shock, maintaining body temperature, and promoting healthy cell function.

When you eat saturated fats as part of your suhoor meal, they slow down absorption so that you can go longer without feeling hungry. In addition, they act as carriers for important fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Dietary fats are also needed for the conversion of carotene to vitamin A, for mineral absorption, and for a host of other biological processes. Not having enough fats for suhoor or in your diet in general can manifest in the following:

  1. Mental fog

  2. Depression

  3. Memory problems

  4. Poor sleep

  5. Lack of concentration

  6. Fatigue

  7. Allergies

Sound familiar? If you’re experiencing brain fog or any other of the symptoms above during fasting, you may be lacking in good saturated fats. Note that I said good fats, i’m not talking about savouries fried in vegetable oils here, or the hydrogenated vegetable oil found in crisps and other junk foods. These fatty acids can cause major clogging of your arteries, type 2 diabetes and other serious health problems.

Water keeps you hydrated

Nobody has to extol the benefits of water, we know that it is essential for survival and it should be consumed with the suhoor meal in moderate quantity to prevent dehydration.

What are the best foods for suhoor then?

Summarising I would say that a combination of the following is the best for suhoor:

  1. low gi wholegrain breads (or brown rice), plus

  2. a low GI fruit (such as apples, strawberries, berries, banana etc),

  3. some protein in the form of eggs, meat, beans or cheese,

  4. fat from butter, nuts or meat

  5. with the addition of dates and

  6. water

and Allah ﷻ knows best.

#suhoor #fasting #ramadan #glycemicindex