Frustrations on eating healthily in Rio

Try eating organically in Rio outside of your own home – it’s pretty much impossible.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love Brazilian food. It’s delicious.  But for the most part, it is also far from healthy. It is something that I would love to indulge in maybe once a month, if that.

My eating habits in Rio 

I’ve noticed that my eating habits tend to be much worse in Brazil – and it’s a lot harder to be healthy!

Recently, I found myself ordering pizza once a week (ok, that’s probably my fault – but ordering in any other type of food is so darn expensive!), eating fried, meaty food or white cheesy bread off the street (because those are the only options when I’m on the run and starving), and feasting on pure starches, much more meat than I would normally prefer, and processed foods.

I went home to the US for a few weeks and my diet did a complete 180 (even when eating out at restaurants) to almost nothing but fish, fresh vegetables, whole grains, organic food…But maintaining that diet in Rio seems like mission impossible…

Lack of healthy options

After a few months of living here, I have become extremely frustrated with the lack of healthy options for eating out.  From the small juice bars on the street, to (what seem to be) the majority of restaurants, everything is sugary, fried, meaty, starched and processed.  Vegetarian? Pretty much non-existent. Organic? Forget about it.

The “healthier” options are white rice and more meaty things.  I recently read that white rice and white bread are two of the worst foods that you can eat. Well, these are staples in Brazil.

Typical on-the-go food here  (photo taken at a juice bar)
Typical on-the-go food here (photo taken at a juice bar)

Loaded with sugar, the drinks are not much better – from the extremely popular (yet dangerous!) coca cola and guaraná soft drinks, to the Brazilian Matte (a Brazilian sugary iced tea).

My personal go-to drink is fruit juice – but even the fruit juices are often loaded with sugar (I always ask for mine sugar-free if I remember).  Side note: I will never understand why people feel the need to add sugar to fruit, which is already teeming with natural sugars and tastes delicious on its own! Someone please explain that to me.

Yes, we have a lot of fast food in the US. But in most places, you are also able to find healthy options while eating out, whether it be a salad, fresh fruit or some type of vegetarian food. The other night, I walked an entire restaurant-filled street of my neighborhood looking for a vegetarian (or at least a healthy) restaurant – or at least some place that offered a healthy option on the menu – I did not see a single one.

So my boyfriend and I finally settled on a Brazilian boteco (bar)/restaurant.  But I became exacerbated when I saw that literally, there was not a single healthy option on the menu (think: once again, lots of meat and fried foods). I asked the waiter if they had a vegetarian option and he responded with a curt “no.”  I ended up settling for what seemed to be one of the healthier options on the menu (white rice, chicken and a black bean casserole).

Fortunately, I am not a vegetarian (although I am trying to cut down on my meat intake)- my sympathies go out to all vegetarians in Rio, because I honesty question how they survive! I met a vegan from Austria, who felt the same way that I do  – she said that in Rio, there are no options for vegans…fried bread or white rice is probably your best bet.  Where are the salad bars?? I have not seen a single one in Rio since being here.

Culturally ingrained eating habits 

Even so, it sadly seems like many people here just do not care about eating healthily or maintaining a healthy diet – which probably explains the growing obesity rate in Brazil. Obesity is not the only problem stemming from poor diet, however- people wonder where cancer and other diseases derive from – non-organic or processed foods are major culprits.

But since Brazilian cuisine is a tradition for many people and something that many people grow up with, these eating habits are clearly ingrained in the culture and are extremely difficult to change.

Yet for all of the rest of us out there – or for those who are trying to become healthier – please Rio, get some organic options.

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