‘Pie hole’, colloquial for one’s mouth, is believed to have evolved in the USA in the 1980s from the British expression ‘cake hole’ (coined in the mid 20th century). Pie hole refers to a mouth, as in: Shut your pie hole or, in this case: Put less in your pie hole.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

2015: Food Gets Ugly, Rotten and Delicious

Everyone's all over predicting the new food bandwagons for 2015. Let's look at a few predicted trends...

Apparently ugly root vegetables are in. Root vegetables, ugly or pretty, include taproots like carrot, radish and parsnip, tuberous including yam and sweet potato. Other popular roots include yucca, rutabaga, beet root, potato, ginger, garlic and onion. They're good sautéed, grilled, but in my opinion, they're best roasted. Oh and they're in season year round with their peek in fall/spring.

Literal backflips ensue when I see any vegetable labelled 'trendy' - and more so because this is a collection of vegetables rather than just one 'superfood' like kale - which is apparently trending down next year! I'd be lying if I said I'd miss the "don't you eat kale?" question.

Along with kale in the "don't let the door hit you on the way out" are beer and bacon. Bacon, being a cured meat is associated with many health risks (more on that here.) Beer does hold some interesting health benefits, more on that here. However, just like ugly sweaters, Ugg Boots and Justin Bieber, they're not going away any time soon.

Supposedly hummus is set to knock the laurel wreath off Greek yoghurt. Hard to determine how I feel about this one from a nutritional stand point:
  • Unsweetened yoghurts = protein and calcium 
    • They are a great base for adding fresh fruit
  • Hummus = healthy fats, complex carbs (thus fiber) and has the same amount of calcium gram for gram as Greek yoghurt
    • Is usually paired with vegetables (yipee again!)
This begs the questions, which is better?
The best conclusion is: Both low fat Greek yoghurt and hummus are good choices. Homemade hummus is best, or a commercial version with very few ingredients. Portion size and moderation are what's important. Think of it like playing FarmVille, an hour won't see your real life spiral into chaos, but binge playing might. 

Fermented foods are also hype-worthy because they contain probiotics, translation: Friendly bacteria have already partially digested the food, making it easier for the human to digest and process. Things to know:
  • Fermentation is an ancient art of food preservation using bacteria to convert food sugars into lactic acid or alcohol - thus preserving the food
  • Common fermented foods include yoghurt, kimchi, soy sauce, miso, kefir milk, kombucha tea, beer and wine
  • Fermented foods may improve immune function, irritable bowel, diarrhea and help with weight maintenance - more research is needed to confirm
  • Commercially produced fermented foods are often pasteurized and therefore no longer contain the beneficial bacteria (some add the bacteria back after - use your eyes and read the label)
  • Fermented foods are often high in added sugars and salt - buyer beware
The last backflip-worthy trend is insect protein. Many people are grossed out by this... To them I say "grow some moth balls and get over it". Here's why:
  • Insects are an excellent source of high quality protein 
  • Insects boast brilliant ability to abate greenhouse gas emissions associated with traditional protein rearing (eg: our friends Bessie the Cow, Turkey Lurkey, Henny Penny and Goosey Loosey)
  • So much more on this tremendous trend here
Everyone raise your partially digested cup of kombucha to a year of hummus covered crickets, caterpillars and carrots... you can leave your beer, bacon and kale at the door.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

6 Reasons We Snack

The basic biological basis of eating is to gain energy in response to physiological, internal cues - like your stomach rumbling. So why then, do so many of us (including myself) feel compelled to stuff our already stuffed stomachs?

A snack is defined as food consumed between meals. An unhealthy snack is high in fat and/or sugar.

New research found 6 reasons people commonly scoffed, scarfed, shoveled and stuffed themselves with unhealthy snack foods:
  1. To enjoy a  special occasion
  2. Opportunity induced eating (more below)
  3. To gain energy
  4. To reward oneself
  5. Social pressure
  6. To cope with negative emotions (relatively lower score)
The study included over 1,500 males and females. In line with previous findings, women more frequently reported snacking for a variety of the 6 reasons. Women tend to be more preoccupied with eating bahaviour than do men.

Can we help it?
Yes, by thinking about why we are snacking, and understanding our triggers. Unhealthy snacking behaviours may be habit and performed automatically. For example, opportunistic eating (reason #2) includes things like:
  • Because I'm watching tv/a movie
  • Because the food tastes so good
  • Because the food is there
It is out of a lack of understanding people search for a reason to explain away or excuse their behaviour.

Should we help it?
No... But yes. Replacing high fat/sugar snacks with healthy snacks is great. It supplements your diet with nutrients you could otherwise may miss out on. Eg: a snack like yoghurt or a piece of fruit, you're getting fiber, calcium, protein, other micronutrients, etc.

Really understanding and identifying why you're snacking pinpoints your triggers. This allows you to make an informed, conscious decision, rather than an excuse. Being actively involved in your own decision making leads to less 'regretful' eating and allows you to enjoy the food (mindful eating).
Here are some healthy and tasty snack ideas for various situations:

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Your Body Gives Thanks: Cook @ Home

For this special holiday installment, we've got a recipe to accompany some great new research about cooking at home. The image pictured here is from a few Thanksgivings ago as my hubby and I were getting ready to stuff the turkey.

Cooking at home saves money and correlates with a healthier diet. A new study found that people who spend more than 1 hour a day preparing food at home:

  • Spend significantly less money on food and beverages outside the home compared to folks who spend <1hr/day prepping food ($22 and $15 respectively)
  • Ate significantly more fruits and veggies
  • Placed a lower importance on convenience foods (which are typically high in sugar, salt, refined grains and saturated fats)
  • Had a better overall diet quality
Now we move into the recipe phase. And what better seasonal recipe than pumpkin bread? Made with real pumpkin, I might add.

Ingredients:
  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 2 tbsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder* 
  • 3 eggs
  • 1.25 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup canola oil
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 4 cups of shredded pumpkin**
Preheat oven to 325F (150C)
Lightly grease loaf pan or muffin tins
  1. Using your favourite mixer (hand or KitchenAid-syle) beat the eggs on medium for ~1 minute
  2. Slowly add in the sugar and continue to beat on medium for 3-5 minutes until the sugar is incorporated and the mixture is light yellow, slightly thickened and aerated
  3. Slowly add in the canola oil and vanilla, continue to beat ~3 more minutes
    Folding the shredded pumpkin into the wet crew
  4. Turn the mixer off and add the shredded pumpkin, incorporate by gently folding the mixture with a spatula
  5. Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl and stir to combine 
Important note: It's at this point that we mix the dry crew into the wet crew. This recipe is a quick-bread^, so it's important that the wet and dry crews get folded together gently using a spatula until just combined (over-mixing or rigorous mixing deflates the bubbles from the beaten eggs which allow the dough rise).
^Quick-breads use a weak base, in this case baking soda, and a weak acid, the baking powder, to elicit a chemical reaction that releases carbon dioxide and thus causing the bread to rise without yeast.

      6. Place all of the dry crew into the wet crew and gently fold until just combined (see note above)
      7. Quickly place batter in designated (lightly greased) baking vessels and into the oven
      8. Bake loaf in the center of the oven for 75 minutes (30 minutes if you're making muffins)
      9. Remove from oven and cool in loaf pan 15 mins, turn out and cool on rack 1 hour
    10. Devour


Frozen leftover pumpkin

* If your baking powder is older than 6 months, throw in an extra pinch as it loses its potency
** There are two schools of thought re using Halloween or Jack 'O Lantern pumpkins, if they are stored indoors and not carved, they are safe and fine to use. Bear in mind these pumpkins are grown for size and appearance. I used a leftover, uncarved Halloween pumpkin and lived to tell the tale of a delicious baking venture, so it's up to you. Shred using your favourite food processor. Oh, and you can freeze the shreddings to use at a later date.

Wishing everyone a happy and delicious Turkey Day.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Milking it is Udderly D-lightful

Hate drinking milk? Maybe that's what your poor unsuspecting child, niece, nephew or other young relation tells you. Many parents worry about their children drinking their mandated allotment of daily cow juice. More on that shortly. Research shows we are putting our children at risk when they stray from milk drinking, but maybe, just maybe there's more to the story...

Vitamin D is a very active area of research due to it's role in human health which, we are learning, is more than what we once thought. The sunshine vitamin plays a well known part in bone health: allowing our bodies to absorb calcium. Mounting evidence also shows its importance in the immune system: clearing dangerous proteins from the brain - more on that here.

'Non-cow milk' is increasingly readily available and has become something of a fad. These milks include oat, goat, almond, rice and soy milks. 
A new study investigated a group of over 2,500 children aged 1-6 and found:
  • Over 10% of children regularly consumed non-cow milk beverages
  • Children exclusively consuming non-cow milk were were over twice as likely to be vitamin D deficient (blood levels of vit D <50nmol/L)
  • Children drinking both cow and non-cow milk were at greater risk of low vitamin D: every additional cup of non-cow milk corresponded with a 5% decrease in blood vitamin D levels

In the US and Canada, cows milk must be fortified (40IU/100ml or greater) and research shows cows milk is the predominant dietary source of vitamin D for young children. But why?

America has a somewhat disturbing culture of 'child food'. Since living in the US, I've witness the prescribed, and strictly enforced allotment of cow juice for children at mealtimes. Simultaneously though, children are given a meal of mac and cheese; breaded, battered and deep fried chicken nuggets; or unidentifiable sticks of breaded, battered, deep fried fish; or other meals mostly devoid of nutrients necessary for growth, development and developing healthy habits.

That scenario is akin to an obese person getting a combo meal of a BigMac, large fries and a diet coke. 

I'm yet to see a parent join their child and both drink a cup of milk together (which, I might add, is an excellent source of protein, calcium and vitamin D that is just as important for adults who want healthy bones when they get old). Parental hypocrisy at its best.

Perhaps contrary to popular parental belief, vitamin D is found in other foods including:
  • 3oz/85g of salmon (~450IU of vitamin D)
  • 3oz/85g drained, canned tuna (~150IU of vitamin D)
  • Eggs (yolk)
  • Beef liver
  • Sardines
  • Fortified foods like orange juice, some yoghurts, some cereals, margarine (always look for ones with 0 trans fat and no hydrogenated oils)
A child requires 600IU/day of vitamin D. Eating a combination of fish, eggs and choice fortified foods throughout the week will get them there without forcing milk down their throats. It'll also remove this ridiculous notion of 'child food'. Perhaps children eating weekly meals of fish, omelets, tuna sandwiches, fruit and yoghurt and other such goodies will improve the outlook of health in this glorious country.

Take home messages:
  • Vitamin D is important: For children and adults
  • Don't force your kids to drink milk if they don't like it
  • If you've got an outlier child who loves milk, give it to them as a between-meal snack rather than filling up their little tummies when you want them to eat a meal
  • Ditch the dated and delirious notion that children need 'child food'

For more info on kids, dairy, calcium and snacks, check out:
Udder Confusion: Are Your Kids Having a Cow Over Milk? 
Lunch Boxes For Picky Pie Holes
We Came, We Snacked, We Conquered
We Came, We Snacked, We Conquered: A Big Day Out

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Walmart Pledges Healthy Plates: Serves Up Heart Attack Ad

On October 8, Walmart CEO pledged himself and his company to health and healthy food. That same week I receive a piece of promotional material completely invalidating the pledge. The ad promises to dish up simple, easy, heart attack-inducing, obesity-causing family meals.

Without further ado, here's the ad in question:


Here's Walmart's CEO talking about promoting healthy foods and health for children.
Here's Walmart's "pledge to you" that details their plan for 2015 to improve the healthfulness of the Walmart brand.

Don't get me wrong, Walmart has pledged some admirable changes, but backflipped in a matter of days.

So here's me calling you out, Mr Doug McMillon, Walmart CEO, would you feed your family these 14 meals for 14 days?

Several of these meals feature zero vegetables. They all, however, are chock full of highly processed, fat-filled, sodium saturated, fiber-failing foods.

Mr Doug McMillon, which of this smattering of 'Texas Toast', 'Pillsbury Biscuits', 'Ultimate Chicken Helper', 'Velveeta Mac and Cheese', 'Original Manwich', 'Mozzarella Sticks', 'Curly Fries' and 'Dinner Yeast Rolls' are healthy options for the families and children you care about? Which of these meals "allow millions of families to eat fresh fruits and vegetables, instead of relying on foods high in fat, sodium, and preservatives"?

As a dietitian and educator, I would not recommend my clients or students feed any of your meals to their families, and I certainly would not feed them to my own.

Let's get a closer look at that front page and the quote on it:
Allow me to point out the quote featured on the front page.

Let me simply draw your attention to the so-called 'Mom blogger' who states "simple meals make my life easier and my family happy". Hmm, here's a link to her page on the interwebs.

Mr Doug McMillon, CEO, can you explain why such a quote is being used to promote meals that are neither healthy, nor health promoting?

Mr CEO, could you please explain why your company is linking highly processed, unhealthy meal ideas with the notion of 'simplicity' and 'happiness'?

Mr CEO, there are lots of simple meals that are easy and happy. How about two 20 cent eggs scrambled with a slice of whole grain toast, a sprinkle of cheese, and side of lightly microwaved zucchini or peas? Is this an expensive or complex culinary concoction? Let me answer that... No.

If President Obama pledged today that he would bring 1,000 soldiers home from war, and then tomorrow coyly deployed 1,000 more and sent out a memo to every home in the US stating this... Would we call him a liar? Allow me to answer that... Yes we would.

So, Mr Doug McMillon, Walmart CEO, what does it make you if you pledge yourself and your company to health and healthy food, then send out the ad I received?

Simply, I am outraged and disgusted. Allow me to adapt your marketing quote to: "Walmart's simple meals do not make my client's lives easier and they don't make their families happy".

Mr CEO, I challenge you to restore my faith and trust in Walmart's quest to improve the health of Americans. Based on this ad, "Save Money, Live with Diabetes" is a more truthful catchphrase than "Save Money, Live better".

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Artificial Sweeteners: Not So Sweet After All

The FDA has come under much scrutiny in the last few months regarding their lax requirements for accepting food additives by manufacturers. One such food additive, non-caloric artificial sweeteners (NAS) has been around for a while, but research is showing it's neither sugar, spice, nor 'all things nice'.

The FDA lists 5 approved NAS, sometimes called non-nutritive sweeteners, the most common ones are:
  • Aspartame (Nurtasweet or Equal)
  • Saccharin (Sweet'n'Low)
  • Sucralose (Splenda)
There are a few theories about NAS causing weight gain, from "you're tricking your body with fake sugar so it will eventually crave real sugar" to "I had a diet Coke with my burger, I'm ok to have a piece of chocolate cake". Before we determine if these NAS are truly 'Splendid' or 'Equal' to sugar, let's look at some real science that's also real interesting.

Animal studies found a curious link to NAS causing altered metabolism - in specific that NAS were causing glucose intolerance, meaning the body isn't able to restore/maintain blood glucose levels within a normal healthy range.

They compared blood glucose levels (BGLs) of mice who were consuming diets containing regular sugar vs NAS. Amazingly, they found the NAS mice had significantly higher BGLs.

Enter: your gut bacteria. It is quite well established that different kinds of diets (eating patterns) result in different kinds of bacteria present in your gut. Here's what the scientists did next:
  • Wiped the gut bacteria from the mice using antibiotics
  • What did they find? It eliminated the higher BGLs seen in the NAS mice
Next, a fecal transplant (yep, exactly what it sounds like)
  • From the NAS-fed mice to mice that had never consumed NAS
  • What did they find? The mice who received the transplant, developed glucose intolerance
 Next, the scientists rounded up 400 willing human participants and found:
  • The bacteria in human guts differed significantly between those who consumed NAS and those who didn't
  • NAS consumers exhibited certain biological markers linked to obesity and disease (like increased BGLs)
  • When non-NAS consumers were put on a 7 day controlled high NAS-containing diet, they found that after 4 days, 50% had elevated BGLs and altered gut bacteria
The conclusion: NAS may contribute to, rather than alleviate metabolic conditions associated with obesity and type 2 diabetes by altering the function and composition of gut bacteria. You can fool your taste buds, but your gut bacteria know the truth.

Take home points:
  • When you eat tofu turkey (tofurkey), a few misguided souls may proclaim it tastes like turkey, but your body is still digesting tofu... not turkey
  • Substituting sugar for NAS, doesn't make cake a healthy meal
  • Be thankful you can alter your gut bacteria without a fecal transplant

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Prevent Brain Decay with Vitamin D

Low levels of vitamin D, often called the sunshine vitamin, was recently implicated in the development of Alzheimer's Disease and other forms of dementia. So here's an article about how a sunny day (and some diet adjustments) can help keep dementia away.

First off, in case you're asking 'who cares', here's why you should give two hoots about vitamin D:
  • It helps your gut absorb calcium
  • Calcium and vitamin D are your body's Batman and Robin superhero tag-team that keep your bones strong, healthy and osteoporosis-free
  • Vitamin D is involved in cell growth, reducing inflammation and has important immune functions (more on this shortly)
 
Your body makes vitamin D when your skin is exposed to sunlight. Factors like season, time of day, length of day, cloud cover, smog, skin melanin content, and sunscreen affect the body's ability to synthesise vitamin D.
Because vitamin D is fat soluble and stored in both the liver and fat tissue, the amount accumulated in sunny times is often enough to see us through the dark months...when the sun don't shine.

A new study looked at 1,5000 adults and found those who were moderately vitamin D deficient were 53% more likely to develop dementia. This risk increased to 125% in those who were severely deficient. I hear your internal struggle: Vitamin D... Dementia, I don't get it.

Vitamin D is well known for it's part in bone health, but most people don't know just how important it is in the immune system. Vitamin D is involved with clearing a class of proteins called beta-amyloid from the brain. When these are not eliminated, amyloid plaques form between neurons in the brain, and are a hallmark in people with dementia and Alzheimer's Disease.

Before you self-diagnose and stock up on a mega dose supplement of vitamin D, too much is problematic too, unless you like heart arrhythmias. Excess vitamin D also increases the calcium in your blood, which results in the calcification of blood vessels, the heart and kidneys... About as fun as walking into an electrocution chamber.

Instead, here are some foods that are good sources of vitamin D:
  • Cod liver oil (wait, it gets better)
  • Certain seafood like salmon, swordfish, tuna and sardines
  • Vitamin D-fortified foods like milk, OJ and yoghurt
  • Eggs (specifically the yolk)
It is difficult to give general recommendations for time spent in the sun due to variables like skin colour, time of year, cloud cover, air pollution, etc. It is also prudent to limit sun exposure, unless you're into skin cancers or looking like a leather bag.

In the end, the best offense is a good D (defense). Think: smart sun exposure and a side of vitamin D-rich foods.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Diets: Low Carb, Low Fat or Something Else?

"Which diet is best?" Such a depressing question, but one that is still being studied because people are still asking. It's big business too, with so many boutique and 'brand' name diets available.

A new study set out to strip down the evidence and see what was left underneath. This meta analysis analysed 48 randomised control trials (kind of the gold standard when we talk about study design) that included over 7,200 people. The median age was 45, median BMI was 33 (obese).

They divided the diets thus:
  • Moderate macronutrient (55-60% of calories from carbohydrates, 15% from protein)
  • Low carb (<40% of calories from carbs, 30% from protein)
  • Low fat (60% of calories from carbs, 10-15% from protein)
One note is that most government guidelines recommend ~45-65% of daily calories come from carbs (the US recommends >50% of that come from whole grains).

Just like my labrador, who swears by her monotonous duck and legume diet, people swear black and blue about their diverse, and often dubious diets.

The analysis found that low fat and low carb dieters had the greatest weight loss success at 6 months, about 8kgs. However, at 12 months, 1-2kgs of this effect was lost (aka, people gained it back).

If you're thinking lower carb, think glycemic index (GI). Good quality, whole grain carbs are a better choice than refined foods that are high GI. For example, oats are high in fiber and harder to digest than white bread... Make your intestines work for a living. Low GI foods aid weight loss and improve blood glucose/insulin regulation.

The study also found that exercise and education on behavioural changes enhanced weight loss. Kind of like how taking swimming lessons and staying in the shallow end of the pool decrease your chances of drowning.

Even though only minor differences were found between brand name diets (eg: Jenny Craig vs Atkins vs Southbeach vs Weight Watches vs Ornish vs Nutrisystem), we can take solace in that any diet/modification resulted in weight loss compared with no changes at all.

Many such 'organised diet programs' are expensive, have high attrition rates, and a high probability of regaining 50% or more of lost weight in 1 to 2 years. You're better off spending your money on fresh food rather than fancy, fad diets fraught with fleeting and frustrating results. After all, in my class, 50% is an F... Just saying.

Take home:
  • Behaviour changes form habits, rather than short term change
  • Making changes you can actually stick to in the long term will improve weight loss

An article from earlier this year about how different brand diets stack up.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Overload, Overeat, Overweight

We all think we are excellent at judging. Whether it's the next door neighbour's lawn, Angelina Jolie's dress, our spouse's taste in clothes, or the fact that our best friend watches Glee. The fact of the matter is, we may be great at judging those things, but we're pretty pathetic at judging how much food we need.

There's all this hubbub about how grown-ups eat almost everything on their. There are many theories as to why this may be. And yes, there's a slew of research that says larger portions means eating more calories, which leads to weight gain, yada yada yada (1, 23)

But, this isn't always a bad thing. Packing your plate with large portions of nutrient dense, calorie sparse foods like salads and vegetables will actually improve health. Veggies are full of fiber, vitamins and minerals. Two recent publications add to much evidence already showing high vegetable intakes reduce weight gain, increase longevity and reduce chronic diseases (1, 2).
Not a balanced meal either

Packing your plate with plentiful provisions of peppers, peas and pumpkins will prevent piling on the pounds while positively protecting your health (P-word for health?)

Another study shows eating large volumes/satisfying portions of lower calorie food is an excellent way to feel satiated and prevent weight gain.

However, I'd say you're lying if you said you saw people stashing carrot sticks rather than fried chicken. 

It's large portions of 'discretionary' or 'sometimes' foods that are problematic. More on your plate means more in your belly. In the short term, this often means intestinal discomfort, reflux or heartburn. Long term, this means weight gain, disease and, ultimately, as always, death.
Maybe after a Michael Phelps workout
What about those pint-sized pie holes, aka the kiddies? According to this new study, children on average ate 59% of food on their plate. Parents often see this as 'bad' and coerce their children into finishing their meal. This is most definitely a problem, a big one.

I'm going to preface this next paragraph with an important proclamation: No healthy child self-starves.

Children are excellent at regulating their food intake based on internal cues of hunger and satiety, much better than adults. If a child is not hungry, they're not hungry. Forcing them to eat teaches them to ignore their internal cues which gives rise to problems like overeating, weight gain and mindless eating. Not to mention, if someone is yelling at you to finish eating, eating might not be a particularly pleasant experience...

What to write home about:
  • Adults are inherently poor at judging how much food they need
  • Adults who overload their plates ultimately over-stuff their pie holes
  • Children are good at self regulation where food is concerned  
Tips:
  • Fill your plate with extra veggies or salad -> this allows you to eat more and feel satisfied without consuming copious calories
  • Provide your kids with healthy choices and appropriate portions -> then listen to them, if they're full, they're full...

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Food Adventures of Costa Rica

"Globesity": the term used to describe the predominance of obesity throughout the world. No longer only a #FirstWorldProblem, but something far reaching to all corners of the globe. Here are my experiences from a recent adventure through Costa Rica as both a foodie and dietitian.

Selfie in San Jose, Costa Rica
But first, let me take a selfie... And give some background stats: In Costa Rica, 60% of women aged 24-45 are overweight or obese, compared to only 2% in 1982. Women 45-64 have an incidence of obesity 128 times greater than in 1982. Overall, 62% of women and 60% of men are overweight or obese.

In the USA as of 2011-12, 69% of adults were overweight or obese. Australia is in hot pursuit with around 63% of adults overweight or obese in 2011-12. The life expectancy in Costa Rica is almost 78 years, which is about the same as the US. Australians are living an average of 82 years.
Sodas and fruit markets in San Jose, Costa Rica
But back to Costa Rica: The traditional 'soda' (small market-style eatery) was typically empty. Instead, urban Ticos were swarming American fast food stores like Mc Donald's, Pizza Hut, Quizznos, Wendy's, Subway and KFC. The interesting aspect of this is many menu items adapt to embrace local food culture, for example a KFC plate often comes with beans, rice and plantains (see below).

How the menus change.
In all our previous travels, we live by a couple of simple rules:
  1. Eat street food where there's a line
  2. Eat where the locals eat
Fast Food in Costa Rica
If we had done this in CR, we would have found ourselves dining on Mc Donald's ice creams, KFC, burgers, hot dogs and pizza. Needless to say, we're not the type who travel abroad to eat low-quality American food.
Daily rain in Costa Rica

CR produces and grows so many beautiful fruits and vegetables- it's hard not to given it rains daily. Yet, the majority of meals comprise mostly of (oily) starches and meat with a small side of shredded cabbage salad or stir fried veg.

We definitely got the feeling that urban Ticos love desserts. Pretty much every block in downtown San Jose and Herradura was home to numerous Panaderias (bakeries) and lots of advertising for desserts like ice cream, cakes and pastries.

Because I love sweets and admiring beautiful cakes and desserts, I stopped at many of them to look (and sample) some of the sweet, flaky offerings (which were quite delicious). The dietitian part of my brain immediately noticed the absence of whole wheat or whole grain bread- something worth mentioning.
Cakes, dulce de leche/crema pastries, meat pastries, bread
Fruit on the other hand, was everywhere. Fruit venders were all over the San Jose streets, at bus stations (even the rural ones) and most meals we ate included fruit. This was rambutan season (a Malaysian fruit related to the lychee). We pretty much bought a bag of them everywhere we traveled.
In terms of traditional Costa Rican fair, here's the best of our food porn pictures:
A collection of fish, fried yucca/plantains, vegetables, meat and rice.
To me, the picture below best captures the cycle of obesity we saw in CR and is also the unfortunate truth for most of the world: The unhealthy habits of parents, often from outside influences like persistent advertising of convenient food, transferring through the generations.
Costa Rica is a wonderful, lush, beautiful country. This article only focuses on our food experiences, not all the other tremendous encounters we were fortunate enough to experience.
Beautiful countryside in Costa Rica
And finally, it wouldn't be a proper trip without a couple of circus pictures: