22 October 2009

low-carb eating in Spain

first off, let me say it was with the best of dietary intentions with which i began our trip. i knew from last time that i could get tapas (or larger) of jamon serrano and queso manchego and be perfectly fine with my food plan. i was also planning on eating less olive oil, though i knew a lot of dishes would be prepared with it (and not eating bread is a great excuse to not dip into the olive oil while waiting on a meal).

[side note: i'm not totally down on olive oil and do believe it confers some health benefits, but at a 1:11 n-3:n-6 fatty acid ratio, it is on the far end of what i'm trying to eat]

i knew breakfast would be a problem, since Spain seems very happy to eat pastries or tostadas (basically, toast with a spread) for breakfast. this did prove problematic at times -- though fried eggs were common (and always with deep orange yolks), we sometimes had trouble finding them before the typical 10:30 am breakfast cutoff. and when we did succeed, orange juice was invariably included.

the OJ was my gateway food into what became an ever-increasing consumption of sugar. damn are their fresh-squeezed oranges tasty. desserts are, in general, less sweet than in the US, so rationalizations were applied there as well (especially when included with a prix fixe menu).

i ate more bocadillos (usually open-faced, to halve the bread content) than i had intended, but they sure are handy for taking on trains and such. and of course i had to have frequent servings of the spanish hot chocolate, though whether it was that fantastic de la Taza (super-thick) variety, or more like what we get in the US, was always a crapshoot.

heck, i even had risotto at one meal.

the two prevailing rationalizations were: 1) i'm on vacation, and 2) i burn a lot more calories when on vacation.

the end result was my post-weight trip was about the same, certainly within the range of daily swings. not sure how much muscle mass i added, or if i just simply burned off any excess calories. i do find myself craving sugar now that i'm back home and back on my food plan. must break myself of sugar again, it seems.

in Spain, i certainly did find a lot i could eat. there are grilled meats galore, and many meals come with a salad (sadly, they are usually as lame as the US ones, but at least tomatoes are common). bread is served with every meal, and we found that waiters sometimes got offended if we tried to refuse it; perhaps the extra charge typical for bread was tied to their tips.

even in the worst of the places we ended up eating, the food quality seemed much higher than the bad places in the US. and it seemed that butter and olive oil as cooking fats ruled -- i'm not sure that we ever encountered vegetable oil.

a final note: we thought we were being clever by ordering the diabetic meals for the airplane meals. i was shocked at the amount of carbs served to us (bread, rice, dumplings, potatoes, breading on meats, fruit pieces), and depressed at the margarine and low-fat salad dressing also included. it seemed the only effort to reduce sugar was to provide fruit instead of the sweet dessert given to the rest of the travelers. i guess i was being naive in thinking that it would be low-carb.