Posted by: Jena Davison | December 20, 2011

Healthy Eating in Quito

Amid all the fried pork, mounds of white rice and sugary sodas that are Ecuador almuerzo staples, it can be hard–and more expensive–to stay healthy in Quito. But this past year I have tried to lead a healthier lifestyle and have thus pinpointed some ways to do so in this city.

Pitahaya

The good news is that fruits and vegetables are plentiful and cheap here. You can get a bag of about eight tangerines for $1, a mango for $0.50 and a banana for $0.05!!! There are all sorts of exotic fruits, enough to keep your palate excited day to day. Some include mango, papaya, passionfruit, naranjilla, granadilla, uvilla, pitahaya and orito. Fresh fruit juices ($0.50-2) are on almost every menu (just beware of the added sugar), and most breakfast places have fruit salad with the option of adding natural yogurt and granola.

Buying fish or seafood in the grocery store is significantly cheaper (except for salmon) than in the U.S. as well, so it is easy to prepare yourself a healthy dinner without busting your budget. Fish is also on nearly every menu here, but is often fried or served with white rice and fried plantains or French fries. I have found that in more upscale places, you can ask to replace the fried sides with a salad (es posible de cambiar las papas fritas por una ensalada? or puedo tener una ensalada en vez de las papas fritas?). Ceviche is usually a good choice, since it is only pieces of fish or shrimp marinated in lime juice with onions and tomatoes. Just skip the chifles (fried plantain chips), tostados (toasted corn) and popcorn that usually come with it on the side.

Quinoa, which is grown here, is readily available and costs $1.50-3 for a large bag, enough to make several meals. This versatile earthy seed is high in protein and dietary fiber and cooks much faster than rice or lentils, making it a perfect accompaniment to stir fries. I make quinoa at least once a week and tend to mix it with fresh vegetables, shrimp or beans, and spices like cumin, curry powder and tumeric.

Additionally, Ecuadorian restaurants don’t greet clients with a heaping basket of freshly baked bread, so you won’t have to sit on your hands to avoid filling up on empty calories before your meal even arrives. Most restaurants don’t put anything on the table prior to the meal, though many cheap restaurants put a small basket of popcorn on the table instead. Almost all fixed-priced lunches start with a bowl of soup, and it is possible to just order soup if you want to join friends or colleagues for lunch but want to avoid the typically more unhealthy mains and dessert.

If staying healthy is truly your overall goal, do not order the following in restaurants serving Ecuadorian food: hornado (baked pork), fritada (fried pork), churrasco (thin steak topped with a fried egg, served with rice and French fries), anything apanado (breaded and fried), llapingachos (fried potato pancakes topped with meat and fried egg), salchipapas (French fries with sausage and cheese), patacones (fried plantains) or locro de papas (a creamy, cheesy potato soup).

Overall, each place has its own challenges when it comes to eating healthily. In the U.S., I constantly struggle with gigantic-sized restaurant portions, abundantly available processed foods and fighting the cravings for snack foods that are not available in Ecuador. Here, I find it challenging to avoid the white rice and fried sides that take up half the plate at Ecuadorian restaurants, and unhealthy foods like empanadas, tamales and pan de yuca that are cheap and convenient.

However, I think it is important to adjust diets according to what is locally fresh and available, and I feel lucky that I currently live in a place that produces so much of the stuff we consume in the U.S. (bananas, quinoa, coffee, chocolate, shrimp, etc.).

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Responses

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