South American Lifestyles: The Galapagos Islands Diet

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 (Photo by Marina Komolova)

As our readers may have noticed, Travis has been solely carrying the Obesity Panacea load, while I have been a bit absent since my PhD defense. As some of you may know, I am taking the summer off to travel through South America with my partner, Marina, who also just defended her PhD thesis. While you can follow our adventures on our travel blog, I am also keeping notes during the travels that may be of greater interest to the readers of Obesity Panacea. Here is the 1st in the series of posts on lifestyles throughout South America: Galapagos edition.

We have just spent the past 2 weeks exploring the beautiful Galapagos islands, visiting a total of 5 of the 17 islands: Santa Cruz, Isabela, San Cristobal, Floreana and North Seymour. While only 4 of the islands are populated, the word populated in this context is used very liberally; the most populous island, Santa Cruz, has a total population of about 15000, and the total population on all the islands totals about 20 000. In addition to viewing a dizzying array of animal species, I also noted some points on the lifestyle on the inhabitants of the islands.

Today, I'll be covering the local diet - or at least what I witnessed while dining at the local establishments - generally not the touristy eateries.

The locals LOVE their arroz or rice! I am hardpressed to recall a single meal - aside from breakfast, which was not composed of at least 50% of white rice, with many meals reaching almost 70-80% rice. As someone who has gradually taken simple carbohydrates out of their diet, this has been a tough regression. On none of my dining occasions was I able to stomach the portion of rice served. However, all the locals eating the same food would clean their plates no problem. On a couple of occasions, when a tiny 'salad' was offered along with the rice, I noticed that while Marina and I would devour this portion of the meal before struggling with the mound of rice, the locals did quite the opposite - often leaving their salad on the plate.

Fresh vegetables would rarely make an appearance in these meals, possibly due to the apparent aversion of the locals to veggies. What I found myself craving the most was a nice colourful salad. Speaking of, I could go for a nice salad right now.

We managed to get an alright amount of fresh fruit, although bananna, watermelow, papaya, pineapple, can also get boring after a while. I would love an apple, for example. I now realize how spoiled I've become living in North America where despite the season I had access to whatever fruit I craved at that particular moment. Much of our fruit intake came in teh shape of the ever popular fruit shakes. Overall, it appears that the typical diet in this part of the world is pretty low on fibre - and I was worried about traveller's diarrhea!

In terms of protein, I personally preffered pescado or fish given the obvious proximity of an ocean abundant with fresh fish. The portions of fish were generally much smaller than what I am accustomed to consuming, but they were the safest option in terms of protein. Pollo or carne (chicken or 'meat' - commonly beef, or so one hopes) were less reliable options; a piece of chicken would often contain more bone, skin, and cartilage than actual meat. Apparently, I was the only one that had an issue with this.

Another popular source of protein is huevo or egg which I must admit I have with almost every breakfast these days. My usual breakfasts of oatmeal, milk, granola and fruit I miss desperately. Oh what I wouldn't do for some great granola... I've actually tried getting a fruit/yogurt/granola bowl for breakfast, and even at tonight's dinner (that's right: fruit and yogurt for dinner), but I'm always dissapointed with the dearth of granola and yogurt, and the excessive amounts of watermelon. I need fibre, people!

What you won't find on the Galapagos are fast-food chains. This doesn't mean you can't get your hands on fast food. There are many street carts serving all sorts of atherosclerosis inducing favourites. I must admit that even I caved on one occasion and endulged in the street version of KFC. This was the only occasion where I got to consume a chicken breast - a deep fried one at that. I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy it.

On a more positive note, despite issues with the diet composition, the portion sizes were actually quite a bit smaller than those customary in North America.

While I'd love to write more on the topic, I'm off to pack for another adventure departing tomorrow. More on lifestyles in South America in the future.


Quito, Ecuador


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I read your adventures in Galapagos. What an envy!!
Enjoy your travel and the local cuisine.

I'm from Puerto Rico. I was interested in how similar the diet you describe in the Galapagos is to that of my country. I've spent many years in the States and because of my occupation and interests, I no longer eat that way. However, it is tasty food and I'm glad that I know how to make a number of the traditional dishes which I make infrequently and usually only for guests that wish to know what Puerto Rican food tastes like. I have to admit that I miss my "healthy foods" whenever I go back home. While you're there I'm sure you'll enjoy sampling the foods and exercising enough to make up for it until you get back home.

I can empathize with you. I once spent ten days in New Orleans pre-Katrina. I knew I was in trouble when the first restaurant I went to had fried artichokes. Salads seemed to be nonexistent. About seven days into the trip I was quite tired of everything seeming to be prepared either fried or heavily laden in butter.

One restaurant noted on the menu they would prepare many of their entrees vegetarian style. I opted for a grilled portobello mushroom dish with other vegetables. I nearly cried when it was served fried with grill marks and with mayo. There wasn't a single raw or grilled veggie to be seen.

By the time I left I was so desperate for a salad I willingly paid the exorbitant price for one at DFW on my layover back to California.

Enjoy your trip and the experience of seeing how others survive when it comes to their local dining habits. It can be quite eye opening.