Family friendly recipes and real life adventures by a mom/nutritionist

Adventures in Spain: 5 tips for healthy living

Hi honey, I’m home!  For the last two weeks I’ve been exploring the Mediterranean coast of Spain with my family.  It was a monumental adventure for us, one that we will always remember.  Spain has so much to offer:  historic ruins, fabulous palaces, endless beaches, a bidet in every hotel bathroom (why don’t we have these in North America??), bold and luscious red wines and more baguettes slathered with olive oil and stuffed with salami than I could ever imagine.

Friends, I have to admit to you that I found Spanish cuisine to be a bit of a challenge.  Any extended stay away from home can be difficult on the digestive system – there are only so many restaurant meals a person can handle.  But I was expecting a lot more fruits and vegetables on the menu, and a lot less bread (if I never see another crusty bun I will be okay with that).   We did employ many strategies for eating and staying healthy, I will share those with you in my next post.

After a few days of watching people eat breakfasts of coffee and pastries, three course lunches that most often involved a glass of wine and light on the veggies, and late night dinners (and a surprisingly large number of smokers!), I got to wondering why I wasn’t seeing many overweight or out-of-shape folks.  Despite some of my first impressions, I came away with some wonderfully healthy observations:

1)  Food is fresh and in season – the markets and restaurants are full of fresh, locally grown and made food.   There just isn’t the vast array of highly processed foods readily available that we seem to enjoy so much in North America.  Mealtime is a pleasurable occasion and not just a convenience to be eaten on the run.

2) People spend their time outdoors – every park, point of interest, plaza and beach that we visited were full of local people jogging, biking, swimming, kicking around a soccer ball, socializing and just plain old walking – walking everywhere.

3) Take out coffee – not so much!   I’m not a huge coffee drinker anymore, but I do enjoy a good cup and I found the coffee in Spain to be perfect – one small cup of individually brewed java, no refills (not once did anyone ask if we wanted “más café”.)  But try to get a cup to go – no lids!  You just don’t see people rushing around with a grande cup of joe, talking on their cell phones.  Coffee, and pretty much everything else, is to be enjoyed sitting down and chatting, usually outside, with friends and family.

4) Healthy fat – There isn’t the same fear of fat in Spain that there is in North America.  And two of the staples of the Spanish diet are sources of healthy fats:  fish and olive oil. They are plentiful and consumed often.  I admit that I am not an adventurous fish eater, but I was determined to try the local specialties.  I tried sardines, fresh anchovies and cod – and surprised myself by really enjoying them all!

Extra virgin olive oil is everywhere and gets poured over everything.  I even watched a man at a restaurant use the olive oil on his table as a moisturizer for his hands and face after his breakfast one morning.

5)  It’s okay to indulge once in a while:   It is impossible to ignore the heaps of buttery, delectable breakfast pastries; the dark and delicious, real hot chocolate; the copious amounts of affordable, available and amazing bottles of red wine; or the impressive gelato stores on every corner.  I took my queue from the Spanish people around me and let myself indulge in moderation.  Even though these are extravagances, they aren’t the artificially flavoured, processed, preserved junk that we are so used to.  A little indulgence is good for the soul, you just have to know when to stop!

I loved travelling in Spain, but I’m really grateful to be home and putting some of the things I learned into practice.  I’m also really happy to say goodbye to sandwiches and hello to lots and lots of beautiful vegetables again (it’s true what they say that you don’t truly appreciate something until it’s gone).

We’ve had most of our dinners at the table outside since the trip; the old coffee maker is history and when I feel like a cup, the stove top espresso maker is now in use (and I sit down and enjoy my small but delicious cup rather than drinking it in the car or while I’m running around doing chores); I returned our cable tv box and we’re looking forward to even more outdoor play – maybe with a really good ice cream!

Agree?  Disagree?  What awesome tips have you picked up in your travels?

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