Eating for a Long, Healthy Life In Latin America Part One: Fountain of Youth Found In Latin America   Leave a comment

This is the first in a three part series on “Eating for a Long, Healthy Life in Latin America.”

No, this is not a give-away to ending of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.  Besides, from the movie’s reviews it would be the beginning of a very bad blog post.  What I want to talk about is why Costa Rica has  one of the highest life expectancy rates in the world?  Why “Pura Vida” is that country’s theme,  meaning living life to the fullest.  Colombia’s tourism theme: “Colombia is Passion.”  Could it be that in Latin American there exists the mythical fountain of  youth?  And it is right before our eyes, for the taking?  I think so.  Surely not living for eternity at age 24, but  living life healthy and to the fullest longer than most.

Two of the things that attracted me to Latin America, quite frankly, are the food and cultures that characterize a more healthy approach to living.  Both Costa Rica and Colombia are countries rich in vegetables, herbs, fish, fruits and seafood of many varieties.  As importantly the approach to living life emphasizes balance, family and caring for body.  A little known fact about Costenos, people living on Colombia’s northern coast, is their
knowledge and reliance on natural medicines and herbs that promote vigor in one’s life.  My family has a history of high blood pressure and diabetes with the resulting health problems traumatic.  My brother and father both died in their early sixties.  My brother and one of my aunts had amputations because of their diabetes.  I have no desire to succumb to the same fate.

In both Costa Rica and Colombia, fresh vegetables and fruits are plentiful.  From the super markets to road side stands and street vendors, whose stands can be as elaborate as those in the supermarkets or simply crates on the sidewalks, I have found a range of items I knew and much I had no clue existed.  The fruits I have come to know are maracuya, guayaba, nispero, guanavana, ciruela, and granadilla.  As well as giving me a variety of different flavors, I have learned that many have medicinal value.  In Barranquilla, azuca mangos, one of three different varieties of mangos that grow locally, are so plentiful in the neighborhoods that a recent newspaper article cited their abundance as a problem.  Coconut water, served cold in the coconut, can be found at road side stands.  Low in carbs, sugar and mostly fat and cholesterol, aside from having the same electrolyte level as our blood, coconut water is known to boost the immune system, raise the metabolism, promote weight loss, detoxify the system and aid in the fight of viruses.  Arroz con coco is a typical side dish in Colombia.  Every morning here in Barranquilla I hear the street vendor’s voice, “Aguacate, Aguacate,” selling avocados, which is a heart healthy food.

Fish and seafood are widely known to have heart healthy benefits, as well as possess powers to increase one’s vitality if you get my meaning.  At restaurants in Jaco, Puerto Viejo and  Manzanillo, Costa Rica, as well as in Cartagena, Santa Marta and Barranquilla, Colombia “fresh catch” does not mean flown in that day.  The fish on your plate was likely swimming freely in the river or ocean that morning.  In Colombia, de agua salada, meaning from the ocean, you have robalo and sierra (which are very popular in restaurants) mojarra, tilapia, lebranche and more.  De agua dulce, meaning from the river, principally the Magdalena, you can get mojarra, cuatrojos (very popular), arenque, bagre, barbul, corvinata, bocachico and more.  In Costa Rica, meaning rich coast, flounder, grouper, corvina, and several types of snapper are widely available.

They say the best place to hide something is to put it in plain view.  Perhaps the “Fountain of Youth” is turning knowledge into a lifestyle.  In Latin America the knowledge that a healthy diet is the key to a long and youthful life is lived.  I marvel at a Costa Rican friend’s parents, who just left their working farm in their late seventies.  Now in their early eighties they look like, talk like and enjoy life like they are in their sixties.  Understanding what to eat, its effect on one’s body and turning that information into action seems to be the key.  And because people in both countries live inter-generationally, often with three generations in the same house, knowledge about foods, herbs and their benefits are easily passed on, even without the internet.  All one has to do is ask.

Pura Vida!

Posted June 6, 2011 by Wayne in Uncategorized

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