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Wow! What a surprise. Colombia apparently has somewhat of an obesity problem.* In a country renowned for its beautiful, well-proportioned women, surely this cannot be? Throw in the fact that there is much competition among the populace – both male and female – to look the most attractive, it just seems illogical that many here are allowing their waistlines to expand.

Buñuelos; better as an occasional treat.

Yummy! But buñuelos, especially the fried ones, are best not to be eaten daily (photo from holaciudad.com).

Yet a gentle scratch below the surface and you’ll find this shouldn’t come as a major shock. Before we get into this, erm, heavy topic, the obvious must be stated, lest anyone is offended: this isn’t just a Colombian problem. Indeed it’s still far worse an issue in the Americas to the north of here and also, I wager, in my own neck of the woods.

Nonetheless, it is – or at least ought to be – a ‘corpulent’ (OK, that’s enough) concern for people in these parts – especially before it gets completely out of hand. And as an outsider more than just looking in but trying (with occasional difficulty) to mix in, I can see a few areas where little changes could lighten the nation’s collective weight load considerably.

For one, take a standard Colombian almuerzo (lunch); that is one most likely to be consumed by a large number of citizens on a daily basis. Paltry (and/or fatty) meat/fish portions aside – if you’re on an average wage here or less, as I am, decent meat/fish cuts are expensive – you could be forgiven for thinking that the country doesn’t really grow vegetables. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a token salad: a tomato slice, an onion slice, one leaf of lettuce, and perhaps a few carrot shavings; something Bugs Bunny would devour in one mouth-full – if he felt enthused enough to do so that is.

What your dish won’t lack however is plenty of starchy carbohydrates. Rice or pasta (sometimes both), potatoes, yuca (or cassava if you will) and/or a fried plantain, all on the same plate. Now if you’re living a pretty active life, with lots of physical activity in your daily routine, consuming large amounts of these carbohydrates may not be such a bad thing. The problem is, for many of Colombia’s city workers (as it is the world over), this is not the case. After lunch, it’s a short walk back to the office to resume the sedentary life in front of a computer screen. In the meantime, all those excess carbs are jollily converted into fat by your physically underworked body.

So in a land that has an abundance of vegetables, available to buy at cheap prices, why not be a bit more colourful, and by extension healthy, with these ‘regulation’ lunches? Less pasta and rice, more broccoli, celery, lentils, peppers, tomatoes, and the like. They’ll fill you up just as good as the starchier offerings, yet instead of feeling bloated, you should feel more energetic. Also, don’t be afraid to ‘jazz’ them up with herbs and spices – they don’t have to be mundane. From experience, you can knock up a ‘fast food’ mixed vegetable dish here that is both nutritious and tasty for no more than 2,000 COP. If I can do it, surely those basic restaurants can and still make a profit.

Indeed, you have to wonder do those who sell food to the masses here, i.e. the ordinary, everyday value-for-money haunts, street food included, have an aversion to using vegetables? For example, you’ll seldom find the ubiquitous stuffed-arepa (a corn-based snack, something I do enjoy**) street vendors using a hearty salad with their offerings. Their counterparts in neighbouring Venezuela, however, have no such hangups, from what I witnessed in any case.

Colombian lunch.

Fried fish, fried plantain, next just fry the rice. Come on, add some colour to the plate! (Photo from isastudentblog).

Colombian breakfast time can also be a bit ‘top-heavy’ on the carbohydrate front. Cheesy bread offerings in the form of pan de bonos, almojábanas, and buñuelos – all pretty much variations of the same theme – are best reserved for special occasions (especially when they’re deep-fried as opposed to oven-baked), as tasty as they may be. Plus, regularly kick-starting your day with the aforementioned arepas (normally with cheese) is another potential way to pile on the pounds.

As for the vegetables, there’s no excuse in this country not to have a diet full of a host of fresh, cheap, wholesome fruits, a perfect way to set you up for the day (and life in general). Basic cereals that are not already additionally sweetened, such as oatmeal, or even better in these parts (if you want to spend a little more) quinoa, can add some extra bulk to your breakfast. Plus, you then add the extras – such as fruit, honey, unrefined sugar – in controlled amounts.

Heck, all this and we haven’t even mentioned the big love of coke (-a-cola that is) and other ‘gaseosas’ (fizzy drinks) that seems to exist throughout the Latino world. Needless to say, less is more in that regard. And while you’ll always find natural juice sellers on the streets, trying to buy unsweetened juice drinks in shops is impossible – orange juice does not need to be packaged with extra sugars.

Of course, diet is just one part of maintaining a healthy weight, exercise is another. On that score, it does seem many city dwellers here have a strong dislike towards walking. Now I accept a lot of that is tied up in safety concerns but, in many parts of Bogotá for example, that’s not as big an issue as it was a number of years back.

Yes, there’s always the gym, but as in Ireland, I find some people use a gym workout as a license to ‘pig out’ after. Your environment can be one big, free gym; utilise it.

Now before anyone thinks that I’m a health freak, I do enjoy my regular trips to my favourite panaderías – which for now are located in La Perseverancia – for a cheap coffee (or two) and a biscuit/bread (or two). I’m also quite partial to the odd beer. It’s just a case of being more aware of what you’re eating/drinking and the effect it is having on your body; maintain a balance and control.

Wrong Way: Always here to help.
*For a brief low-down on the Colombian weight problem, see (in Spanish): http://www.eltiempo.com/archivo/documento/CMS-13281236 & http://www.publimetro.co/vida-con-estilo/vea-si-usted-es-un-obeso-en-potencia/lmknaw!qH6OTcovFXYxY/.
**For a little more on arepas, see the last point from this piece. http://bit.ly/VQGxxo.


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La vida en Colombia desde la perspectiva de un periodista y locutor irlandés, quien ha vivido en el país desde 2011. El blog explora temas sociales y culturales, interacción con los nativos, viajes, actualidades y mucho más. Escucha su podcast acá: https://anchor.fm/brendan-corrigan.

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