A guide for staying healthy while eating fruits and vegetables when traveling internationally.
Making sure you eat all your fruits and vegetables can be tough at home, but on the road it can be even more challenging — especially if you often don’t have access to a kitchen. I have often found that eating out at restaurants while on the road veggies can be tough to come by. While the people of this earth generally eat fruits and veggies at home, it isn’t always normal in many countries for them to appear on a restaurant menu.
There is also a very real health concern about eating raw fruits and vegetables, especially in tropical climates, because if they haven’t been washed well (and dried since most restaurants use dirty tap water not suitable for drinking to wash the vegetables) they could give you parasites or other digestion woes. Even if a restaurant looks clean in the dining room, it doesn’t mean that your food was properly prepared in the kitchen. For this reason, I often avoid all raw fruits and vegetables that I haven’t washed or peeled myself while traveling.
What we do:
I generally buy fruits and vegetables at the local farmer’s markets, then take them home and wash them in a sink with anti-bacterial soap. Even if we are staying in a hotel, I will wash them in the bathroom sink. I prefer veggies like carrots, which I can wash and then peel. Peelable fruits like oranges, melons, mangoes and bananas are good choices as well.
If you have access to a kitchen, take advantage of it! Add some extra fruits and veggies into everything you eat. Toss in some tomatoes, bell peppers or leafy greens when you make scrambled eggs, add some bananas to your pancakes, shred carrots or zucchini into your ground beef when making meatballs or hamburgers, make a veggie stirfry to go with your chicken and rice.
How you prepare your fruits and vegetables also affects their nutritional value. Lightly steaming is better than boiling.
When dining out, we check out the kitchen before committing to eat. My husband, Wade, pushes his way in, stands there watching for a minute nodding and smiling, and generally trying to look harmless, before deciding if it’s an okay place to eat at.
I also check to see if roadside fruit vendors wear gloves or are touching your food with the same hands they just took your money with.
Try the soup. Many countries serve soup as an appetizer to a meal, which include at least some basic vegetables. Even though these veggies have been boiled, and so lost some of their nutritional value, it is still better than nothing, and at least you know it is fairly safe.
Eating organic on the road can be especially tough. If this is a priority to you, destinations where there is a significant hippie expat community, like San Cristobal de Las Casas in Chiapas, Mexico, where you can buy organic produce might appeal to you. If you want to travel but are still concerned about the pesticides you are ingesting, look up which produce has the highest amount of pesticides and avoid them. Every year the Environmental Working Group publishes a list of the dirty dozen and clean fifteen fruits and vegetables. The lists are based on their research, after washing and/or peeling which fruits and vegetables still contain the highest amount of pesticides. Though we don’t completely avoid the produce on the Dirty Dozen list, in general w favor the foods on the clean fifteen list over the dirty dozen.
On the bright side, there are advantages that traveling has on your fruits and vegetables intake as well. One, it helps you eat a varied diet. It is important to eat lots of different kinds of fruits and vegetables of the varied nutritional value. As a bonus, this will also mean that you may help cut down on the amount of any one kind of pesticide you are ingesting. What the farmers spray on the broccoli is different than what they spray on the watermelon. When you are traveling it is easy to eat many different kinds of fruits and vegetables instead of just eating the same ones day after day.
Outside the USA, or another overly developed country, it is also often easier to buy local, fresh produce. Local fruit and vegetable markets and roadside stands are more common in many parts of the world than in countries like the USA. As a bonus, they are often cheaper than vegetables sold in the supermarkets. Remember though, that just because it is locally grown doesn’t mean it isn’t full of pesticides and other chemicals. Keep washing those vegetables.
Take advantage of the fresh fruit juices when on the road as well. My mouth is watering thinking of the fresh pomegranate juice carts in Turkey and tropical fruit juices in Latin America. It can be tricky to figure out which kind of pre-packaged juice is really 100% juice and which is mostly sugar water — especially if you can’t read the local language. But if you’re lucky enough to be in one of the parts of the world that regularly drinks fresh fruit juice, take advantage. Just make sure it is made with clean water (be careful about the ice too).
Traveling makes eating fruits and vegetables an adventure. While traveling you are going to come across local produce that you might not have ever seen before. It is a fun game to go to the local farmer’s markets and some samples of fruits that you’ve never tasted. Just be sure to ask locals how to eat it, some fruits are better made into juices or used for cooking and some peels you can eat while others you can’t.