I feel a bit annoyed when I hear people say, “Puerto Rican food is not healthy.” When you take time to analyze traditional Puerto Rican foods and how they were made, you’ll find that in its nature, the food is actually pretty healthy. I’ve been studying nutrition for over 5 years now; the latest research shows, the healthiest diets consist of mainly wholesome foods in their natural state, healthy fats, and a good source of protein.
Now, let’s break this down into the two major diet theories out there; Veganism and Paleo. These two mayor diet theories seem to contradict but are indeed similar. Both enforce consuming more fruits, vegetables and wholesome foods as the main portion of one’s diet. Where they differ is, Paleo relies on animal consumption as their main source of protein, omegas, and fatty acids; whereas, Veganism relies on nuts, seeds, grains, beans and legumes.
Traditional Puerto Rican foods are actually a combination of both. If we learn to choose the right ingredients, and healthiest food combinations; there is no reason for us not to enjoy all our favorite foods.
Before commercialized foods, most people in Puerto Rico and all around the World were eating from the land and whatever was in season. In Puerto Rico, foods like roots vegetables, avocados, mangos, papayas, bananas and plantains, and many other fruits and vegetables are native to the island. Many would grow organically in different seasons, and some would grow year-round. As a tropical island, there was an abundance of wild fruits and vegetables that would grow organically in people’s back yards. Unfortunately, throughout the years, commercialized foods, industries, chemicals, constructions, climate changes, among other things, have caused hardship on the growth of Puerto Rico’s native foods.
Back in the day, most Puerto Ricans fished, and pasture-raised animals in their own land, depending on what part of the island they lived in. Lands close to the ocean would fish, while those up in the mountains raised animals like pigs, cows, chickens, ducks, and even rabbits. Even in the 1990s, when I was growing up in parts of the country, there was still an abundance of wild fruits and vegetables. I still remember wandering with my friends through the wilderness, finding exotic fruits and natural ponds to bath in. We were even chased by a bull one time because people were still raising animals in their own back yards, allowing the animals to be wild and free. One of my neighbors had a whole farm full of grass-fed cows, another neighbor had pigs, and my next-door neighbor had free-range chickens and ducks. Even my dad had a few chickens and ducks that had crossed over. I guess living in harmony and exchanging goods was still a thing in some parts of the island up to the 1990s.
Before commercialized foods and the implementation of the SAD diet (Standard American Diet), most Puerto Ricans were healthy, and there was a huge lack of obesity, cancer, auto-immune diseases, and other major illnesses. In fact, most households would cook fresh foods every day, and schools rarely served processed foods. It wasn’t until the mid 90’s that things started to change. With many climate changes, little by little, I started seeing fewer animals, no ponds, less wild fruits, and lots more other alternatives to foods. I slowly started noticing more and more fast foods, processed foods and less vegetation being served. Of course, as a kid, I adjusted easily to the new ways. I never realized how bad the situation was until I found myself being un-healthy myself and dealing with mayor chronic health issues in my early twenties.
The Change: Once I realized I was stuck in a SAD diet and how bad it was for me, I decided to make a change. Through much research and learning about nutrition; it led me to realize that a traditional Puerto Rican diet was pretty healthy and even the best alternative for me. I started adding wholesome organic foods, wild-caught fish, grass-fed meat, free-range poultry, and healthy fats like avocado. Then I started making all my favorite Puerto Rican foods in a healthier way and realized everyone can do this. They just need to learn what foods to avoid, how to replace them with healthier ingredients and learn to combine foods in a way that it’s easier to digest. I’ll explain these in the next few paragraphs.
First off, learning how to food combine is essential. Before learning this, I was a mess with every digestive issue you can mention. Now, I stick to some basic principles of food combining. I eat fruits for breakfast or on its own as a snack, for lunch and dinner, I choose either a protein with vegetables or starches with vegetables. Vegetables can be eaten with carbs or protein, but all three together can be hard on your digestive system. As a side note: Healing your digestion can be the best thing you ever do for your body. If you didn’t know, 80% of your immune system lives in your gut (digestive system). Therefore, if you heal your gut, you can also heal your body. Food combining is one of the first steps to getting there.
Second, avoid all processed foods. To make it simple, processed foods are the ones made in a factory. Anything, from a box, can, or container has been processed in some way shape or form. If you do find yourself buying something processed, make sure it’s made from wholesome ingredients (that you can read and understand); with 5 ingredients or less.
Third, choose foods that are in season. The best way to do this is to visit local farmers’ markets and see what they have available. You can also do a quick google search to find out what grows seasonally in your area.
Finally, fats. For a long-time fat in the Nutrition-World has been looked at like the source of all evil. It wasn’t until a few years ago that researchers discovered that fat is good for you, even fried foods, you just need to know which ones. Healthy fats can help improve your brain function, increase energy, improve your metabolism and ability to burn fat, and more. Healthy fats are necessary to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Here are some examples of healthy fats; coconut oil, avocado oil, olive oil, grass-fed butter, ghee, lard, and tallow. Studies show that consuming these fats with a large sum of vegetables; can increase your health, prevent and even recover from illness and disease. The reason I mention fats is because Puerto Rican foods are known for their fried foods. When frying, coconut oil is the best option.
As a side note: if you are consuming animals, animal products and fats, avoid the consumption of processed carbs. This combination of lots of carbs and fats is the leading cause of high cholesterol and disease. Ideally, fats are consumed with a large sum of fresh vegetables, including root vegetables.
In summary, the next time you are thinking of eating healthy, just remember it doesn’t have to be boring, and you don’t have to give up on your favorite foods. Consume a large number of vegetables with all meals and fruits as a snack or with breakfast; at least 50% of your daily food intake. The remainder 50% should be divided into whole grains and proteins. Whole grains should be in their natural form and may include rice, grains, starchy vegetables, and root vegetables. Proteins include; animal sources like farm-raised meats, fish, poultry, milk, and eggs, and non-animal sources like legumes, nuts, and seeds. Include healthy fats with all your meals, foods like avocados, coconut oil, butter, nut butter, and more. Remember to buy foods that are in season and/or from your local farmer’s markets.
Keep in mind your bio-individuality when choosing a healthy lifestyle. We are all different and what works for one person, may not work for another. If you are confused or don’t know where to start, seek professional guidance from an experienced holistic health coach or practitioner that has been trained in bio-individuality, and can help you figure out your personal needs.
I’m open to chat if you feel called. 🙂
Wishing you much health and happiness,