For those not used to observing a religious holiday like Ramadan, fasting from sunrise to sunset may sound daunting — especially if you cook for a living. But for Muslim food creator Ahmad Alzahabi, founder of The Golden Balance, preparing delicious recipes for his 5.2 million TikTok followers and 877,000 YouTube subscribers this holy month is a welcome challenge.
Raised by Syrian immigrant parents in Flint, Michigan, Alzahabi first began fasting for Ramadan at the age of 10. According to the chef, it was easiest back then because the holy month occurred in winter, when the sun went down just after school. Already at this age he was passionate about food and did not let fasting distract him from watching his favorite food channels or helping his mother prepare meals for Suhoor (the pre-dawn meal) or Iftar when the family was together gathered to break the fast and enjoy each other’s company.
In his teenage years, when the lunar calendar moved Ramadan to the summer months, the tenacious young athlete discovered the discipline required for this spiritual experience. Among his peers, many of whom were non-Muslims, he found a way to balance his religious tradition with the daily demands of a young athlete. He drank fluids often, ate nutritious meals before and after fasting, and devoted himself to staying mentally and physically fit throughout high school and soccer practice.
When Alzahabi turned 20 in 2017, he told his father he wanted to start a YouTube channel to teach others how to cook and how to foster that balance he had learned from his Muslim faith. The Golden Balance is a resource for home cooks and seasoned chefs alike to enjoy easy recipes that honor their culinary roots. Alzahabi highlights a range of cuisines and dishes, from Middle Eastern to Indian to Italian, from high protein dinners – both meat-centric and vegetarian – to creamy smoothies and soups, while making preparation quick, easy and fun.
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“My last name in Arabic means ‘the golden one’ — maybe there was a history of gold dealers in my family,” Alzahabi told TODAY Food. “Fitness, diet, health and love for the food I eat – everything has to be balanced.”
While The Golden Balance features in a variety of healthy recipe videos, Alzahabi’s favorite time to create food content is, perhaps surprisingly, during Ramadan while he’s fasting. He does his grocery shopping during the day and gets to work in the late afternoon to cook his favorite holiday meals.
“There is something in the air during Ramadan. I feel much more motivated, much more driven to produce these recipes. I have an audience that participates in the same religious month as me and other people who want to learn about it,” Alzahabi told TODAY. “Of course it’s a challenge, but for me I have to do my best. My best recipes come from always from this month, from more of my origins, from looking back at other recipes that went well, from deep dives into refreshing drinks, date nights. I’m in my zone.”
During Ramadan, which this year begins April 1 and ends with Eid al-Fitr on May 1, Alzahabi advises focusing on recipes high in protein, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats. He eats in moderation, especially sweets, and drinks plenty of water. One of Alzahabi’s favorite foods to break the fast is his mom’s stuffed peppers — and his fans love it, too.
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The food creator finds his work most rewarding when his followers say they learned something, found his advice helpful, or post their own versions of his dishes. Midwestern Alzahabi promotes a global community through his channel, especially during this sacred time.
“When people see me fasting for Ramadan, I’m a 240-pound man who works out every day. You think it’s impossible, but once you try, your body is able to adapt, your mentality adapts. It’s a good gut check, a discipline check,” Alzahabi said. “It keeps me grounded and brings me back to who I am. It’s you against yourself. It’s not as impossible as it seems. I have the feeling of becoming a better person.”