Eating Healthily in Portugal
The happy news that we are expecting our first child has meant some significant changes to our eating (and drinking) habits. I knew that alcohol would be off-limits once I was pregnant and that other foods should be avoided, but I was not quite aware of the extent of the limitations that would be imposed upon my diet!
It is now advised that I should avoid certain foods, including gooey cheese (perhaps the thing I miss the most), rare meat, smoked fish, pâté, raw eggs (no more eating the mix while I bake cakes) and certain kinds of fish. This means that the secreto pork from my favourite takeaway, which is covered in about a bucket’s worth of salt and cooked until just pink in the middle, is off the menu. Sushi is also out, though thankfully the recent discovery of vegetarian sushi has given me some comfort. Steak and lamb have become rather pointless, as it pains me to see them served well done.
After a week or two of bemoaning my restricted diet, I realised that this is an opportunity to make some changes and eat more healthily than I ever have before. The process has reawakened me to the wonderful simplicity that is Portuguese food at its best. Last night we ate plump, tender chicken thighs served on a bed of coriander-infused couscous and locally grown vegetables. The night before, I cooked salmon fillets and served them with brown rice and mango salsa. As a snack, I baked cereal bars, packed full of nuts and dried fruit and sweetened with a little rosemary honey bought from a stall at a local market.
Eating healthily in Portugal is a true pleasure. It’s also extremely cost effective. Our weekly food bills have definitely reduced as our emphasis has shifted to a simpler diet. Of course, the reduced number of bottles of wine in our shopping basket has impacted on that too!
With many staple Portuguese dishes consisting of fish or meat, salad and boiled potatoes, or perhaps in our area coming with an á Algarvia sauce of tomatoes and onions, healthy eating is an easy choice here. Many richer and more complex dishes are of course on offer (I enjoyed a fabulous pork and clams cataplana at Brisa do Rio a week or so ago), which make a wonderful treat, but even those are typically made from locally produced, fresh ingredients. Highly processed foods and ready meals have never caught on in a big way in Portugal.
Although I do lament the lack of beautiful, soft, mould-ripened cheese in my diet, I’ve found that healthy eating in Portugal is easy, cheap and enjoyable. The plethora of local markets and fresh produce really does leave us spoiled for choice when it comes to eating healthily. I’m looking forward to spending the next several months eating for two and feasting on the simple and delicious bounty that Portugal has to offer.
Image credit: Robert Herring