Diet in Guatemala


Guatemala is home to a wide range of delicious and amazing dishes, but as is often the case those dishes do not represent the overall diet of the population and its staple foods. In fact, Guatemala ranks 3rd in the world for chronic malnutrition (or stunting – an obvious trait to see in the rural areas). What leads to this? A couple of factors, but mostly it comes down to lack of quality food and weak purchasing power. But to give you a quick comparison, lets take a couple of examples from the mercado (market) in downtown Momostenango.

Most vegetables come at a cheap rate; a pound of tomatoes will go for Q4, or something like .50 cents. Eggs get a bit more expensive coming in at around Q1 an egg or about USD $2 for a dozen. However meat gets expensive, especially depending on what part you want (talking upwards of USD $4.5 per lb.) Not exactly cheap for your average Guatemalan.

At home tortillas and tamalitos reign. Corn mush fortified with calcium (in a process called nixtamalization – see the process here) and cooked on a wood fired stove-top. There is a saying here, “hombres de maiz” which translates to “men of the corn,” because, and I'm totally serious when I say this, people eat tortillas with every single meal as if they're going out of style. 5, 10, 15 tortillas. Doesn't matter. My coworker did the math and the grandmother of our family (who does almost all the cooking for her family since she could stand) has made somewhere in the vicinity of 1.2 million tortillas. Honest to God truth.

Anyways, what does this all add up to for diet? Lots of tortillas with limited nutritional value (although it's becoming more common to fortify them with vitamins and minerals), limited meat, and a whole lotta grains and beans. Add to that all the homemade sugary drinks, the incredible amount of chips, bread, sodas, and ice-creams available for very cheap prices and the possibility of maintaining a healthy diet becomes almost impossible. Our one gringo advantage and saving grace? Protein powder and multivitamins. Seriously, staying on top of good protein and vitamin intake, limiting tortilla consumption (no easy feat there), and trying to stay away from the delicious sugary drinks and snacks are allowing us not to gain weight like Violet Beauregarde in Willy Wonka.

So yeah, the diet here is a little rough. Mostly due to the expensiveness of quality food and relative inexpensiveness of cheap, nutritionally barren alternatives. But it's all part of the challenge living here in Guatemala. And while not always exciting, it's always humbling to be reminded of the advantages the 1st world offers. Stay with us as we explore staying fit in the upcoming blog posts!