by Nazima Qureshi
“There is nothing wrong with being rich for one who has piety, but good health for one who has piety is better than riches…” [Ibn Majah]
When people think of healthy eating, the first thing they usually think of is weight loss or going on a diet. Healthy eating goes beyond a restrictive way of eating just for weight loss, but rather it is a way to use your food to help enhance multiple aspects of your life. When you eat healthier you will not only feel more energized (you might even skip your coffee), but also feel more focused to be more productive in your day.
When you move away from looking at healthy eating as a diet to a lifestyle, you realize how integral it is to kickstart your health today. It can be overwhelming knowing where to start when it comes to healthy eating. One way to get started is to analyze what you are currently eating that isn’t providing significant health benefits to you and swapping it with a healthier option.
5 Sunnah Food Swaps
Some of the healthiest foods are foods from the Sunnah of the Prophet SAW. With the right intention of consuming these foods, not only will you get physical benefit but also spiritual benefits as well! Try swapping these 5 foods with Sunnah foods to kickstart your health in shaa Allah:
1) Swap Refined Carbohydrates with Barley
One of the biggest problems with the way many people eat is an over consumption of refined carbs (carbohydrates), which are highly processed and of low quality. Examples of refined carbs are white bread, breakfast cereals, instant oatmeal, and white rice. White rice has become a common staple in many households and is often consumed in large quantities at one meal. A plate full of rice usually equates to 2 to 3 cups of rice, which is well over the recommended amount of carbs per meal. These refined carb options have very little fiber, which means you can eat a large amount without feeling full and satisfied.
Instead, swap your white rice with barley.
Narrated Abu Hazim: I asked Sahl bin Sa`d, “Did Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) ever eat white flour?” Sahl said, “Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) never saw white flour since Allah sent him as an Apostle till He took him unto Him.” I asked, “Did the people have (use) sieves during the lifetime of Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ)?” Sahl said, “Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) never saw (used) a sieve since Allah sent him as an Apostle until He took him unto Him,” I said, “How could you eat barley unsifted?” he said, “We used to grind it and then blow off its husk, and after the husk flew away, we used to prepare the dough (bake) and eat it.” [Bukhari]
Barley is a whole grain high in fibre and beta-glucans, resulting in many health benefits such as:
- Lowering blood sugar levels
- Reducing blood pressure
- Lowering cholesterol levels
2) Swap Sweetened Beverages with Water
Although this technically isn’t a “food”, what you drink is just as important as what you eat throughout the day. Drinking sweetened beverages such as juice and pop can significantly increase your sugar consumption throughout the day. Not convinced? A can of pop (soda) has approximately NINE teaspoons of sugar. You wouldn’t add nine teaspoons of sugar to your coffee, tea, or anything you’re eating, so why would you drink that much?
Instead, swap your sweetened beverages with water.
The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said, “Allah is pleased with His slave who says: ‘Al-hamdu lillah (praise be to Allah)’ when he takes a morsel of food and drinks a draught of water.” [Muslim]
A large percentage of your body consists of water so drinking adequate amounts of water is one of the most essential aspects of a healthy lifestyle. Drinking adequate amounts of water prevents dehydration and provides many benefits such as:
- Avoiding muscle cramps and strains
- Maintaining regularity
- Improving skin
3) Swap White Sugar with Honey
The World Health Organization recommends adults and children to consume a maximum of 25g or 6 teaspoons of sugar per day. Sugar is found in almost every processed and packaged food, making the average diet difficult to meet the sugar recommendations. One way to minimize sugar is to use smaller amounts but also use a natural source that also has health benefits.
Swap your white sugar with honey.
When purchasing honey, look for raw honey, which is unprocessed. This means that it was bottled directly after the honey was removed from the beehive, providing more nutrition benefit. Raw honey is likely to be closer to the Sunnah form and contains antioxidants as well as antibacterial benefits.
Since honey is sweeter than sugar when using the exact amount, you can actually reduce the amount you are using in your tea, coffee, and desserts. Remember, that even though honey is considered a beneficial food, it should not be consumed in large amounts but rather be a part of a balanced diet. Honey has many benefits such as:
- Providing rich antioxidants
- Building immunity
- Aiding sleep
4) Swap Desserts with Dates
When it comes to eating healthy, many people struggle with cutting down on sweet snacks and desserts. This contributes to excess calories, sugar, and fat with very little to no nutrition benefit. The good news is that you can still satisfy your sweet tooth while fulfilling a sunnah!
Swap your desserts with dates.
The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “If somebody takes some `Ajwa dates every morning, he will not be affected by poison or magic on that day till night.” (Another narrator said seven dates). [Bukhari]
Dates go beyond the sweet flavor and are packed with fiber, potassium, and iron. When a sweet craving hits, reach for dates instead of a sugary, processed snack. Be sure to experiment with a variety of dates until you find the kind that you enjoy the most. Medjool is a sweet date larger in size while Ajwa dates are less sweet, firmer, and smaller in size. Dates have many benefits such as:
- Improving bone health
- Promoting digestion
- Boosting energy
5) Swap Vegetable Shortening with Olive Oil
Vegetable shortening contains trans fat that are detrimental health, contributing increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. Vegetable shortening looks like butter but in fact is solidified vegetable oil. All fats don’t need to be eliminated from your diet though. In fact, healthy fats are an essential part of your diet.
Swap your vegetable shortening with olive oil.
It was narrated from ‘Umar that the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: ‘Season (your food) with olive oil and anoint yourselves with it, for it comes from a blessed tree.” [Ibn Majah]
Olive oil contains monounsaturated fats, polyphenols, omega-3 and omega-6, fatty acids, and vitamin E. The benefits of olive oil include:
- reducing the risk of heart disease
- controling blood pressure
- decreasing cholesterol
It’s important to note that the most benefit comes from habits, rather than just eating these foods for one day. Instead of trying to incorporate all of these foods at once, use the Ayeina Productivity Journal Health Goals tracker to make it a goal to incorporate one food at a time, until it becomes a regular part of your lifestyle. Make the intention that you are following the Sunnah of our beloved Prophet ﷺ when you eat these foods. This way, you can get the spiritual reward alongside the physical health benefits, in shaa Allah.
Author’s Bio: Nazima Qureshi is a Registered Dietitian (RD, MPH) and Muslimah Nutrition Expert at Nutrition by Nazima and is dedicated to helping Muslimahs live healthier and happier lives. She is the author of The Muslimah’s Meal Plan, which is a 4-week meal plan to help women kickstart their journey to a healthier lifestyle.