Staying physically healthy is an important aspect of living an overall happy life. With issues like chemicals/GMOs in food and the rising cost of health care, many people are looking for alternative ways to stay healthy.
Before arriving in Belize, I assumed that Tropical Paradise = Totally Healthy Lifestyle. True? Hmm… Yes, and no.
My opinion: it’s possible to eat healthy here, but it’s also very easy to slide into some bad habits when it comes time to fill your bucket. In general, it’s always best to know where your food comes from, start with the most basic, whole ingredients for preparing meals, and strive for a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables.
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I LOVE the cuisine, which is as varied as the people who settled here. As a result of this amazing diversity, Belize foods can have the flavors of Caribbean, Mexican, African, Mayan, and Spanish cultures. Since becoming more of a melting pot with the arrival of North American, European, and other expats, additional options are available, like American burgers and pizza and spicy curry dishes from India.
If you’re thinking about moving to Belize, either permanently or for a temporary travel break like ours, you should know a few things about the food here. I’m not a farmer, doctor, or nutritionist – just someone who eats. Here are some of my humble observations:
1. Products are sometimes limited – but things are getting better.
Sometimes it’s difficult to find healthy, unpackaged foods. Products are limited so it’s unlikely you’ll find “organic” items on the shelves. Many items available are the very canned and boxed products I was trying to avoid as I ‘detoxified’ my family’s food system this past fall. I’ve been told by expats who have been here for years that, though food options were once very limited, now you have so many more choices, especially in the larger cities of Belize City or Belmopan.
As far as prices go… I’ve been surprised at how inexpensive some things are, like tortillas and bananas. But other items that have to be imported from the States or beyond are understandably more expensive. My advice would be to eat as locally as possible and save your extra grocery budget for once-in-awhile treats.
The last time I was in the “big” grocery store in Belize City was around Christmas.[On a side note, I somewhat enjoy the simplicity of having limited products to choose from. I remember feeling so overwhelmed in U.S. supermarkets as I stared, bewildered, at 17 feet of peanut butter choices.]
2. Vegetables are widely available at the local markets but surprisingly not always in stores.
In food stores across the country, you won’t find a huge supply of vegetables. Produce is limited to a small shelf in most of the stores I’ve visited. So, if you’re looking to head to one large grocery store for one-stop shopping, you’ll be disappointed.
It takes awhile for the Super-Wal-Mart mentality to leave you and for you to realize: the vegetables are not in the stores because they’re for sale in the markets. Duh. In the U.S., we have 100s of feet of refrigerated vegetables because they were most likely shipped from a long distance and/or will freeze outside most of the year. Here, why not sell fresh vegetables at the outside markets? After all, this is where they were born!
There’s a huge market in San Ignacio and smaller markets all over the country. Roadside produce stands are also very common. If you’re willing to shop for veggies frequently and/or spend some time canning or preserving, you should be able to sustain a regular diet of fresh foods.
3. Beware of pesticides!
Just as in the United States or anywhere in the world, you should know your farmer and know how he/she uses chemicals. I’ve heard that the use of pesticides in Central American countries like Belize, Guatemala, and Panama isn’t well-regulated which can lead to over-use of chemicals that are harmful to human health. Ask around about the best place to buy the least-sprayed produce. And definitely, as always, thoroughly wash anything you eat.
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4. Take a treasure hunt to fresh dairy products.
With a toddler who drinks her share of “buppy-buppas” (her term for milk cups), we have found the dairy case in most stores to be lacking. Fresh milk is hard to find – many locals I’ve talked to buy powdered milk. As an American family used to serving our kids pasteurized, homogenized milk from a jug, we’ve had to switch to boxed or powdered milk, with a “treat” every once in awhile of fresh milk, when we can find it.
However, many Mennonite farms in Belize offer fresh milk. As I had to do in the States, here I must go on a food treasure hunt. Fresh milk, eggs, and cheese are available. It just takes a bit of legwork to find out where to get them. I’ll let you know when I find my farmer.
5. Dining out is typically cheap and easy – but not always healthy.
It is relatively inexpensive to eat many of our meals out, especially here in San Ignacio Town, where we can easily walk or drive to fifty restaurants and street vendors. Most food for sale is hearty and filling. You can’t beat 3 tacos for $1BZ ($.50US) but you do have to make a stop at the produce stands to be sure to get your servings of fruits/veggies since most meals are carb- and meat-centric. I just ate a burrito for lunch – a delicious tortilla filled with ground beef, cheese, sauce, and a sprinkling of cabbage. Yes, it was delicious, filling, and cheap at $1.50US – but girl cannot live by burrito alone. I need more than a few shreds of cabbage to have a balanced diet.
Are you an expert on eating in Belize? Or are you dreaming of moving to Belize and have questions about what food is available here? Please comment below to keep the conversation going about healthy eating in paradise!
About the Author
Writer, mother of four awesome kids, and free thinker, Domini Hedderman is the author of the book, Exit Normal: How We Escaped With Our Family and Changed Our Life, which tells the story of her family’s six-month sabbatical in Belize. Since the trip, she and her family are homeschooling and traveling extensively. Her soul mission is to inspire others to live the life of their dreams. Check out her other website at http://www.ExitNormal.com.