Traveling to different countries challenges the diet in many ways. The access to certain foods might be limited, the freshness of foods might be lacking, and the balance of nutrients might be tough to find. On the other hand, new flavors might be discovered, access to different fresh produce might be found, and new recipes might be inspired. All have been true in my experience traveling throughout Argentina. It was a challenge to alter my diet, but I found that it was possible to achieve a balanced diet and obtain a variety of nutrients.
Here are my top nutrition takeaways from Argentina:
– Shop at the largest Supermercado in town: You will be able to find more of a variety, better selection of produce and meat and less processed packaged foods. Although in places like Puerto Iguazu you won’t find a large store, so pack what you can from bigger cities. At smaller supermercados they have limited selection, are poorly operated and contain poor produce. The best supermercados were Coto in Buenos Aires and Carrefoure in Mendoza. These were similar to Fred Meyer where you can purchase home decor and dinner in one place.
– Verdulereas and Dieteticas: verdulerias are produce stands found every few blocks throughout every town or city. Be cautious and purchase from the freshest looking one; and of course wash the produce when you get home. It’s a good sign when you see women and children shopping in a certain one. The most common items purchased were: apples, bananas, avocados, carrots, beets, lettuce and batatas (sweet potatoes).
Dieteticas are specialty food stores where bulk and diet specific foods are found. They might be scarce in certain towns, but usually there is one around local supermercados. Some of them are lacking good products, but I’ve always been able to find a variety of nuts, grains, seeds, tea and dried fruit. I even found tortilla chips at one. They have a gluten free section and diabetic section which can’t be found in supermarcados.
– Cooking will always be cheaper than eating out: We’ve managed to cook lots of meals since we stay at AirBnBs. We stick to the basics for meals since we are on a budget, yet health conscious. We have cooked chicken with a side of baked diced carrots and beets, steak with potatoes and salad, veggie ravioli with diced chicken and tomato sauce, and fish over salad with sautéed veggies. When we go out we usually split a large dish and a salad since veggies are hard to fit in our day. Bread is always set out in the table — beware, some of the restaurants charge for it even if you don’t want it or eat it. I have really liked the smoked salmon salads that often come with brie cheese, walnuts and capers. Eating out usually costs about double than cooking ourselves since we usually order water too (no tap water is provided).
– Sin Gas or Con Gas: Like Europe, the water will arrive to your table carbonated unless you ask for “sin gas”. I like both, although it’s faster to drink sin gas and I end up burping a lot with con gas.
– To Drink or not to Drink: Every country has their specialty or specialties when it comes to alcoholic beverages, and Argentina is no different. In our post about Bariloche we told you about the beer culture there, and in Mendoza it’s all about the vino. We knew coming on this trip that alcohol wasn’t going to be must-have for a couple of key reasons: it’s expensive and doesn’t provide any nutrients for our bodies. Don’t get me wrong, we have enjoyed a few wines and drank some beers, but it’s more of a treat than a casual occurrence. We savor a glass of wine like a rich dessert. If we drink we choose to share a glass of tasty Mendoza Malbec, Will tries a craft beer, or sometimes we get real thrifty and buy a locally made wine and bring it to our nice restaurant dinner in a water bottle to save money! Even back home I don’t drink much because I find it to be a waste of money and lack of nutrients. Will made it a 2014 resolution to have 3 sober days per week, which eventually stretched to 4 by the end of the year and now has less cravings for a cold one. No man of mine is going to have a beer gut :).
– Most common foods: steak, pizza, pastas, empanadas, tortitas, cafe con leche (espresso shot in milk), Yerba Màte (traditional tea drink), wine, alfajores (cookies with dulce de leche/caramel in the middle), apples and bananas. The diet is very similar to the Italian diet which is high in simple carbohydrates. It took me a while to find multiple sources of lean protein and whole grains, but they are there, behind the colorfully packaged processed foods. Most Argentinians eat a bread product (croissant, pastry or tortita) with coffee or tea in the morning which makes me cringe. Where is the protein?! Eggs with an avocado or yogurt, granola with fruit have been my go-tos. Lunch is typically empanadas or sandwiches, but we found a great vegetarian buffet restaurant run by a Taiwanese family that we saw many others eat lunch at. It served a variety of quiches, salads and other interesting veggie creations. For dinner, which is usually around 9 or 10pm, pizza, pasta or steak (parillas/BBQ) are common. Thankfully chicken, fish, salads are usually on most menus. We’ve run into a few (very few) Mexican, sushi and German or Irish pubs.
– Foods missed most from the US: Almond butter (or any nut butter), Fuji apples, kale, spinach, tortilla chips and salsa (probably good they don’t have them), Greek or plain yogurt (way too much added sugar in AR), soy milk, fresh salmons, turkey and coconut water. I’m truly so thankful to live in a place where proper nutrition is valued and accessible. Anyone want to send me some almond butter and coconut water?
– Foods better here: Avocados are more flavorful! Steak, when cooked right, is so delicious and affordable. Pizza, from a nice restaurant, is a delicacy to be savored with some wine. Gelato is the go-to dessert and is much better than any store bought ice cream from back home. Meat rellenas, which are portions of meat sliced open and stuffed with your choice of cheese, veggies and sometimes other meats. We were inspired to cook our own chicken rellenas stuffed with cheese and ham for dinner. Mucho bueno!
Argentinians, like many Americans, struggle with obesity and heart disease due to the overconsumption of prepackaged processed goods and/or lack of complete nutrients in there diet, but I found eating healthy was not that hard. Being educated and aware of what you’re eating would help one make better shopping decisions or menu selections and would lead to a better diet. The Argentinian foods are fairly different from the US, but are not too different and some are more enjoyable.