Eating healthy has always been a top priority for me and for my family. Coming from the US, “healthy” has many different meanings. For starters, I do not eat white anything – bread, pasta, rice…basically no white carbs. Two other things that come immediately to mind are sugar and red meats, or anything fried. With this preconceived notion of healthy, when I arrived in Barcelona it was a little intimidating to look for healthy eating options. I was greeted by bread (white), pastries, croissants, greasy tapas (patatas bravas galore!), and more ham than I knew what to do with.
The Spanish and Catalan idea of healthy is a bit different than my own idea. Bread is a part of almost every meal, usually only white. It is not seen as unhealthy – more it is a fresh option that is not processed. Ham is also very popular at meal times, and you can find ham legs sold almost everywhere. I had to change my mindset first about what healthy means to me and why, and also to take it upon myself to find the best fruits, vegetables, fish, and white meats that I am used to eating in the US. Even though at first it seemed like Barcelona’s cuisine contained only unhealthy food, I came to find that Barcelona is equally famous for its healthy foods! There is a huge focus on the Mediterranean diet and you can find healthy eating options anywhere from restaurants to farmers’ markets to street vendors.
I also had to step back and look at what a person entering the U.S. might see on the menu. Usually it is the unhealthy options that stand out right away, and you have to dig a little more to find healthy options. Below I talk about both where and how to find healthy foods, and also one food I had to change my perspective on. Keep in mind that in this blog, I am using my own idea of healthy – a little different from the Spain ideas.
Open Air Markets
Each barrio or neighborhood in Barcelona has its own market. These markets are made up of stands where vendors sell everything from Mediterranean seafood to veggies, marinated olives, Spanish cheeses, fresh baked bread and salted cod fish. Market stands are usually family-run and customer loyalty is normal. Buying from here may be a little more expensive, however the produce tends to keep a little longer (another mindset I had to change was the length of time produce stays fresh and why it may stay fresher for longer in the US). It not only gave me my healthy food options, it is also supporting locals and integrating in with the culture.
For more information on the best markets in Barcelona, follow this link: http://www.eurocheapo.com/blog/barcelona-the-best-outdoor-markets-and-why-we-love-them.html
Tapas & Pintxos
Tapas and pintxos have been two of my favorite things about Barcelona – mini meals between your actual meals. Especially the pintxos, which are very easy and fun to grab with friends. However, it is very easy to get carried away with both of these things. Tapas can be unhealthy as many are deep fried or fatty, so you have to look out for veggie or non-fried options. Pintxos are served on white bread, and they are very small, so it is easy to grab more than you can eat. It is also common in Poble Sec, where I go for pintxos, to do “pintxo hopping” because there are many pintxo bars in a row. You just have to be careful to get only one or two at each place, even if there are many that look good to you! They are all freshly made, which is another indicator of healthy.
I did not eat much ham while I was growing up, and still am not a huge fan of it especially since I see it as a red meat, and unhealthy. To me, it also contains a lot of sodium and it is very fatty. So arriving here, it was a little shocking to see ham EVERYWHERE. To my surprise, however, ham, jamon, here in Spain is much different than what we think of when we think of ham. There are 2 different kinds:
- Jamón Serrano: Is a dry-cured Spanish ham leg served raw in thin slices. Serrano hams are made from a white breed of pig and are not to be confused with the much more expensive and entirely different jamón iberico.
- Jamón Ibérico: Is a much more expensive version of Spanish ham, made from Iberian black pigs, fed special diets to produce a high quality high sought after Spanish cured ham leg.
It turns out Spanish ham is recognized as one of the healthiest, most nourishing items in the Mediterranean diet. Spanish ham is also high in iron, magnesium, zinc, calcium, phosphorus, vitamins B1 and B2.
These are just a few examples of healthy eating in Barcelona. There are many restaurants that offer healthy options, and if you try and want to eat healthy, you easily can, and for not too much more expensive!
By Rachael Kacos
Program Advisor & Partner Relations Senior Coordinator