We just wrapped up a month living in sunny, beautiful Puerto Morelos, Mexico on the Yucatan peninsula between Cancun and Playa del Carmen. As you may know, we are spending six months in the Yucatan this winter.
This past month has presented some interesting challenges and discoveries as far as our diets are concerned.
First of all, there is no shortage of fresh, delicious and inexpensive tropical fruits. With six or so open-air fruit stands within walking distance to us and a good-sized farmers market near the beach on Wednesdays, fruit is not hard to find. This is great for us because we follow the 80/10/10 low fat diet, so readily available tropical fruit is a good thing.
Citrus grows locally here. Orange (naranja) and tangerine (mandarina) are exceptionally delicious, ripe and very fresh. It is also interesting to note that you won’t find bright orange-colored oranges and tangerines here as you do in supermarkets in the United States. Everything is green or yellowish-green. If they were in US markets, they’d be passed over and thrown away. This is how they are supposed to look when they are not gassed to ripeness or dyed with food colorings to improve saleability.
Papayas taste a lot better here than in the United States. They are much sweeter. Even bananas taste better here. Pineapples are shipped in from elsewhere so they are no fresher here than they are in the states.
We have access to fresh, ripe guavas and plenty of vegetables too – cucumbers (two varieties), celery, peppers, tomatoes, etc.
Dragon fruit (pitaya) is also available here in the fruit markets. They sell the whole fruits or one-liter bottles of pulpy juice, seeds and all, which is delicious!
Speaking of juices, all the fruit stands sell fresh juices in bottles. Orange and tangerine juice come in one-liter bottles and cost 10 pesos (about 81 cents). This juice is fresher and tastier than anything you’d get in the states – even fresh squeezed juice! You can also find bottles of grapefruit, dragon fruit, beet, green juice, carrot, and watermelon – all for 10-12 pesos per bottle.
Our favorite juice is a green juice made with chaya (a leafy green native to the Yucatan), nopal (cactus), celery, orange, and pineapple. It comes in half-liter bottles for 12 pesos (97 cents). It’s a great price considering what we’d pay for a fresh green juice in the States, but it’d be even cheaper if we juiced ourselves, as the raw ingredients are readily available here. We’ve each been drinking about a liter of this juice each day since we got here.
Leafy Green Scarcity
The fruit abundance is wonderful, but ironically, there isn’t much available for leafy greens. As green smoothie lovers, this was a bit disappointing, although not surprising.
You won’t find kale or dandelion greens here. Wilted, yellowing romaine lettuce is everywhere. Spinach is hard to find in local fruit stands and when they do have it, it doesn’t look that great. We saw chard once. Not surprisingly, cilantro is everywhere.
Larger grocery stores in Cancun or Playa del Carmen are better for more greens. The Walmart in Playa del Carmen is a bit iffy on greens. We’ve had better luck a the Mega on 30th Avenue where we get romaine lettuce, chard and spinach very inexpensively. DAC is a small market on 30th Avenue just north of the Mega and usually has decent-looking romaine, leaf lettuce and spinach. This market also had bulk herbs, spices, nuts and seeds – including chia seeds! This is your best bet for finding raw honey and coconut oil too.
Chaya is a local leafy green shrub that is edible. It grows wild here and we even have some bushes growing down the street from us. We have found it at the corner fruit stand only once, and it’s strange that it’s not more readily available in the markets. We occasionally find it at the Walmart or Mega in Playa del Carmen.
Chaya is a highly nutritious leafy green that is juiced, cooked, or sometimes eaten raw on salads. We have made green smoothies with it the last two days.
There are some conflicting warnings about chaya online. Some say that you should never eat Chaya raw due to glucoside that can release toxic cyanide. Our hosts here, however, said that they have it in salads and that it can be eaten raw. I found a website from a raw foodist who also eats chaya raw in smoothies. His take was that there isn’t enough glucoside in raw chaya to be toxic in the amounts you would typically eat raw.
After doing my research, we put two handfuls of raw chaya in a green smoothie and drank it. We had absolutely no ill effects at all. I wouldn’t eat a lot of chaya on a daily basis, but as with all leafy greens, rotating is essential to avoid getting too much antinutrients that all leafy greens have – including spinach, kale and romaine lettuce.
Show Me The Coconuts!
Strangely, it’s hard to find fresh, young coconuts here! They grow on the trees and are quite abundant but you won’t find them at fruit markets or even in grocery stores. You can get the brown, mature coconuts with the thick, crunchy meat but the vast majority of delicious, young green coconuts are seemingly left on the trees!
We did find a guy selling green coconuts on Quita Avenida (5th Avenue) in Playa del Carmen for very “gringo” prices at $2.50 USD per coconut. We got a better deal because we paid in pesos.
Food Safety in Mexico
There are a lot of warnings about food safety in Mexico. We don’t drink the tap water and we don’t wash produce in it. Leafy greens (like chaya) and fruits/veggies where we eat the peel and all get soaked in water treated with either Microdyne or a citrus-based solution (Citrus 21) that eliminates potentially harmful bacteria. It’s not the
most ideal solution (we don’t really want to sterilize our food) but it’s better than picking up a parasite or bacterial/viral infection. You just never know how your food was handled or washed prior to purchasing it.
We’ve drank plenty of unlabled, fresh juices and eaten plenty of raw fruits and vegetables at the corner, open-air markets and have not gotten sick. We’ve had raw salads in restaurants too.
Lack of Organic Food
You won’t find organic food at the fruit stands here. Hardly anything is labeled, either. You simply can’t tell if it’s organic or not, but the probability is that it is not.
We haven’t found any organic produce in the big supermarket in Cancun that we went to. Playa del Carmen is no better. We have found no organic produce in Mega and one small tub of Earthbound Farms organic salad greens in the Walmart. When we asked a stock clerk about it, he had no idea where more of it would be and after checking in the back, he wasn’t able to find any more. It doesn’t appear to be a regularly stocked item. The small DAC market next to the Mega has some packaged organic foods, but no organic produce.
When it comes to tropical fruits, we never ate those organic back home anyway. Avocados, mangoes, pineapples, and bananas are typically low in pesticide residues. We avoid celery, apples, plums and peaches because those are the highest in pesticides. There are plenty of other tropical fruits available that we don’t need these more expensive fruits that are shipped from the US.
We’re actually not that concerned about not being able to get organic produce. Eating organic is only one of many things you can do for optimum health. We ate mostly organic food in Chicago but breathed in polluted air with every breath. Here, we don’t have access to organic produce (yet) but the air is cleaner, the fruits are fresher (and more nutritious) and we have a lot less stress in our lives.
Now I’m not saying that eating organic isn’t important. It is. For one month, I’m not too concerned. However, and as much as I’d love to, I’d never live here or anyplace long term where I couldn’t get regular access to organic produce. The day a Whole Foods or organic market opens in Playa del Carmen (and I believe it will happen in the next few years), I would seriously consider spending my winters there!
The Cost of Raw Food in Mexico
Eating raw in the United States is expensive. As expected, it’s a lot cheaper in Mexico. If you shop at local fruit stands, you can get great deals on fresh produce. In Puerto Morelos, we’ve gotten bags of 21 locally-grown tangerines for 5 or 7 pesos – about 40 cents! A head of romaine lettuce at a supermarket in Playa del Carmen costs about 7.5 pesos. A pound of chia seeds costs around $4 a pound.
I would say that Davy and I spend less than half of what we spend back home on food. Our typical daily food bill for the two of us is just under $10.
Vegan Raw Food in Restaurants in Mexico
Mexico is not known for it’s vegan cuisine, but we have been vegan the whole time we’ve been here. In both Cancun and Playa del Carmen (on 5th Avenue), there is a restaurant called 100% Natural that has vegetarian and vegan menu items as well as fresh fruit and green juices. You can have a very nice raw meal here. Start with a green juice made with your favorite superfood (they’ve even got spirulina) and then choose a fruit salad or green salad. Both fruit and greens are very high quality and tasty (no simple iceberg lettuce here!) Just request no cheese (queso) and if you get a smoothie, be sure it is not made with milk (leche).
Next Stop – Merida, Mexico
Later this week, Davy and I will hit the road and head northwest to Merida, Mexico. We hear there is more available there for organic produce. We’ll let you know what we find.
If you’ve got any questions, suggestions or tips for finding healthy, organic and raw vegan food in the Yucatan, let us know by posting a comment below.
Read more articles about the raw food diet.
Tracy Russell is the creator of the Green Smoothie Weight Loss Program, the 30-Day Whole Foods Challenge and founder of Incredible Smoothies. She is passionate about helping people improve their health with green smoothies and a whole foods lifestyle.