Portuguese Food is a Mediterranean Diet

One of the unexpected advantages of my move to Portugal is the change in my everyday diet and the results on my health and my weight.  Portugal is a low density population country, which means that its people can in most areas be fed by local foods and crops. Very few food miles – YEAH!

There are very few processed foods and very few frozen foods available where I am and almost everyone makes their food from scratch using fresh ingredients.  The nearest thing we have to a takeaway is a shop that sells freshly grilled chicken and a home cooked pizza shop where fresh pizzas are cooked on the premises.

In the larger towns, you may get a Starbucks or a McDonald’s and frozen food shops such as Iceland but these are usually there to supply the demand of foreigners.

We use olive oil to cook and on our daily salads, we rarely use butter for cooking unless it is to bake a cake or for special dishes that require it to maintain their authenticity.  Our milk consumption is lower as we do not eat cereals for breakfast.

We usually accompany our evening meals with a glass of local wine to “help our digestion.”

We eat a lot of fish, fruit and vegetables – all fresh and all grown within about 15 kilometres of where we live.  All cheap compared to what you would pay in the UK.

Yesterday, I bought two kilos of fresh strawberries for less than four dollars/three pounds!

The Portuguese also eat a lot of nuts – if I could I would eat them too but my digestion will not support them.

The Portuguese also have a fondness for eggs – quite often an egg is added at the end of a dish and it broken as the dish is served and then stirred into the dish at the table in front of you.  They are very fond of candies and cakes made with and showcasing eggs – particularly the yolks whipped into strands and held in place with sugar – very sickly and not to my taste.

It is difficult and expensive to follow a Western diet here. You can get your sodas and your Cokes – at a price – but it is cheaper and much better for you to make homemade lemonade or press a few oranges to make fresh juice.

Every village in Alentejo has its own bakery – fresh artisan bread available from 6.00 am until 8.00 pm.

Each village has its own speciality depending on what flour is available locally and what grains grow better in their locality.

Cheeses are made from sheep and goat milk and are therefore healthier options than the cow’s milk cheeses that are commonly available in the UK.

Let’s compare:

UK Portugal
Breakfast Tea, with whole milk
Cereal with whole Milk
Fresh Orange Juice
Coffee with whole milk
Two pieces of rustic unrefined bread to dunk in toast
Lunch Cow’s milk cheese in refined bread sandwiches with butter as well.  Yogurt on good days – processed pudding on bad days Fresh goats cheese and tomato salad, dressed in olive oil with fresh herbs – rustic bread to dip.
Fresh fruit to follow
Dinner Usually fresh or frozen meat or processed meat with potatoes and vegetables  – or pre –made or frozen meal with restricted vegetables, Accompanied by a soda Fresh fish or meat with rice or couscous and freshly cooked vegetables – cooked in olive oil. Seafood pasta cooked in wine and herbs, olive oil and garlic. Accompanied by a glass of wine.

We also tend to eat outside a lot – especially in the summer, so our meals get even simpler – charcoal grilled meat and salads and fresh fruit.  Simple seasonal vegetables cooked in olive oil are also a firm favourite.

Just a quick look at the absence of processed foods shows that a Mediterranean Diet is a positive health measure and the cheapness and availability of fresh food makes it a very easy lifestyle change to make and sustain long-term.