As the saying goes, health is wealth and without it life can be pretty rough. As you can imagine, traveling around the world presented some significant obstacles to staying healthy and eating a balanced diet. Besides exposure to disease and limited medical resources, we also had to take into account the availability of fruits and vegetables. In some countries eating a variety of foods was easy, but in others we had difficulty finding anything remotely colorful or nutritious. The key was getting back to the basics.
Be Conscious of What You Eat. Your body will generally tell you through cravings what it is missing, but be aware of the fuel you’re giving it. Although fresh juices sound nice, they’re often heavily loaded with sugar. Make sure to eat protein, in many cultures the local cuisine is very heavy with starches and grains. Think of the food pyramid at meal times. Soups are a safe and easy way to get vitamins and minerals. On the other hand, don’t eat something spicy or potentially suspicious before you get on a long bus ride.
Eat Local. Your best bet to avoid a stomach bug and stay healthy is to eat the local cuisine. If you don’t see the animal/vegetable/fruit in the market, the locals don’t eat it and probably don’t know how to prepare it. Often local cuisine is more balanced than the “western” food you’ll find at a tourist hotel and in my opinion it’s usually safer. Choose a restaurant or food stall that is busy and where you can see the preparation. We ate street food in 50 countries and never suffered illness from a food stall. We did get sick from a tourist restaurant in Ethiopia. Go figure.
Try a Variety. Try new fruits and vegetables as much as possible. Remember that color is your body’s friend. Get a little out of your comfort zone and try the most colorful fruit in the market, or ask for a sample. Explore the market and see what is on offer. If you have a food allergy or special diet, the market is a great place to get ideas about what is available to eat. Ask someone to write down the names of grains, vegetables and fruits that you can eat. In rural Africa we had a problem finding a variety of fruits and vegetables and ended up taking a weekly multivitamin.
Brush Your Teeth. Ok, so this isn’t food or nutrition, but it is an important factor to keeping you happy and healthy. Trust me, the first time you meet a person missing 90% of their teeth you’ll never forget to brush and floss again. In all seriousness, oral health is really important and a toothache can ruin your trip just as fast as a broken leg. We were able to find international brands of toothpaste everywhere, although we were warned by many other travelers about buying counterfeits. With their misspelled labels and strange packaging, these were easy to spot.