Eating Healthy (Vegan) In Panama City

My one and only concern before beginning the trip was that I might have to give up my diet. Those of you who read my person blog know that I eat Vegan and also avoid processed flour and sugar. Todd has also pretty much adopted this diet. For the curious, we eat like that because the most current scientific studies of diet have shown that to be the healthiest diet possible.

The mental discipline of sticking to the diet isn’t difficult after a month or two, but finding acceptable restaurants can be quite tricky.

In Austin, TX we ate primarily at three restaurants: Casa De Luz (hi guys!), Mother’s (hi ladies!), and Magnolia Cafe (hi ladies!). I don’t know if a single day has passed in the past year where I was in Austin but didn’t eat a meal at one of those restaurants.

Anyway, whenever I’d travel within the US, it was nearly impossible to find healthy restaurants. I’d rely, for the most part, on Whole Foods to get supplies to make my own food.

Panama doesn’t have Whole Foods, though.

The first night we got here we ate Salmon. It was late and we couldn’t find any healthy restaurants. To be totally honest, we didn’t really look because we weren’t sure they existed.

Over the next couple days we began our quest, and were very pleasantly surprised. We’ve been here for over a week now and eat healthy meals every day. I hate to say it, but these restaurants rival our favorites back in Austin.

Mireya’s

We got lucky finding this one. The first night when we ate our Salmon we saw this place, closed, across the street and planned to check it out the next day.

It’s like a cafeteria… they have around 20 different dishes, ranging in price from $.30 to $1.25 for a portion. You go down the line and pick all of the things you want, and you end up with a pretty huge meal for around $5.50.

Some of my favorite things here are the Eggplant Delight, which is like a vegan eggplant lasagna, the boiled pumpkin, brown rice and beans, and the absolute best… “Plantain Temptation”.

Every restaurant here has plantains. They’re so good. They’re sweet but low glycemic, and very satisfying. Sort of like a tropical sweet potato. The Plantain Temptation is a dessert which is just baked plantains covered with honey. MMMMMMMMMMMMMM

What’s totally remarkable about Mireya’s is the service. As soon as we step to the counter to check out the daily offering (the dishes change every day), he gets us trays and silverware. While we pay he carries our trays outside where we eat. As we finish each individual dish he comes by and takes it away.

Casa Vegetariana

Another casa in my life?

Casa Vegetariana is owned by a Chinese couple. The woman perpetually has a smile on her face which indicates that today is the best day of her life.

There are two things that make Casa Vegetariana amazing. First, they’re open until 11pm. We always want to eat late, so that works out very well.

Second, they have the best orange juice in the land. For just one dollar they hand squeeze you a large glass of the freshest orange juice you’ve ever tasted. Words can’t express how good this stuff is. At first they’d strain the pulp out, but now that they know that we like pulp, it’s like drinking a dozen whole oranges.

Equally spectacular is the price. Every portion of food is only $.50! Including the juice of the gods it’s hard to spend more than $4 here.

Organica and Super 99

Organica is like a shrunken down (to the size of a living room) Whole Foods. It’s not nearly as good and the prices are insanely high ($6.75 for a loaf of good bread), but… it’s the only place to get healthy groceries around here.

Super 99 is the big supermarket (like HEB or Safeway) around here, and it’s excellent. The selection is at least as good as any US grocery store, and has more healthy stuff than most of them. Actually, we went there right after Organica, and found several of the same items at much better prices.

We have to go back to the grocery store today because we’ve been eating black beans and rice and we’ve run out of black beans.

20 comments

  1. I’ve been interested in getting back into my healthy eating habits that I adopted somewhat when I was living in NYC and LA. Since moving back to Utah and college, I find it hard to stay on the wagon with my eating habits. Fast food is so easily accessible here and organic, and healthy eating for a college student is almost unheard of.

  2. I recently fasted for four days, using only fresh blended fruit/vegetable juices for nutrition. I really felt better all around during that time. Over a year ago, I ate vegan for 2 months, but than I started to feel weak. I attributed it to the diet, and decided that taking 7 classes, martial arts, and other activities required a higher energy diet. Looking back at it now, I think I could have ate the same food I was eating, but just more of it, and I would have been okay.

    I will go vegan again in the future.

  3. Hey you should definitely find a local market where you can buy food straight from the farmers. It doesn’t get any healthier than that!

  4. Alex: Yeah… that was the problem I had at first too… vegan foods tend to be much less calorie dense than non vegan foods, so you have to stuff yourself. Look forward to hearing about your second trial with it… be sure to ask if I can help.

    Antonio: Definitely… we saw a little stand once but they didn’t have much there.

    Tynan

  5. I’m sure there is a big farmer’s market somewhere; I have yet to go to a South American city without a farmer’s market. Ask around and go take pictures!

  6. Woah, food sure looks good in Panama!

    Do you have any resources backing up your diet, cause it does seem pretty interesting to me.

  7. Kevin Chan,

    There are many resources on the benefits of a vegan diet. I would recommend reading The China Study as a general (yet detailed) introduction to the negative effects of animal products on our health. From there, you may want to google some more resources. I’m sure Tynan can also chyme in with some good references.

    I’m currently discussing a research proposal with the director of my graduate school about the affects of diet on the heart. This will allow me to research this topic further, on a micro level, while completing my master’s degree.

  8. Kevin,

    As Alex mentioned, The China Study is probably the best thing to read. It’s very comprehensive and written by scientists.

    The other book I recommend is “Live Long Enough to Live Forever”. Skip the parts where the author speculates about the future of technology. It’s a good overview on why sugar and flour are bad.

    Tynan

  9. First, let me say that you are absolutely awesome and it’s great to see that you’re trying to stay vegan in a foreign country; most people who travel give up on that.

    Now, your post actually offended me a little bit. Sorry to burst your bubble, but honey isn’t vegan. I know that most people tend to forget that (or they just don’t care), but I really don’t think that it’s any different than drinking milk or eating eggs.

  10. Way to go Tynan and Todd! Great to see you both keeping up a vegan diet while traveling. I’ve traveled all over the world as a vegan, and while it can be challenging, it is not impossible. You just have to learn to adapt and be resourceful (e.g. live on fruits and nuts for a day if no other good vegan food is available).

    If there are any athletes reading this post that have questions about fitness or energy levels you can maintain on a vegan diet…you should check out a resource I have found (www.veganbodybuilding.com) that has profiles, articles and forums full of vegan bodybuilders and endurance athletes.

    Personally, I’ve been strict vegetarian for 20 years and vegan for 6 (I’m 28 now) and have done a couple Ironmans and many other endurance events….all as a vegan. So it is possible, it just taked some education and discipline. The China Study that Alex recommends is great, I also recommend John Robbins “Diet for a new america” and Brendan Brazier’s “The Thrive Diet” for further reading.

  11. Hey Chelsey,

    I’m not a vegan for the title of it or for the benefit of animals. I do it for health reasons, particularly keeping animal protein as less than 5% of my diet.

    I eat honey every once in a while, and about once every month or two I eat meat to keep the bacteria necessary to digest it alive in my intenstines.

    I would also wear leather or animal tested products, but they usually aren’t the best, so as you can see from my gear post, I don’t have any currently.

    I will say, though… that after being vegan (or 99.5% vegan, if you prefer), I’ve found it more and more strange to kill animals for food.

    Tynan

  12. I really like the picture of Todd. If one thing really connects me to the culture of a foreign place, it is the food (especially if its tasty). Double points if it is healthy.

  13. Hey Tynan

    My fiance and I are now in Panama City and found out last night that Mireya’s is closed. Another vegetarian restaurant La Novena is closed too. The only one we’ve found that is still open is La Casa Vegetariana. Everything else seems to be closed.

  14. That’s the saddest thing ever! No more La Novena??? Mireya’s moved… are you sure it’s not still open in the new area?

    Tynan

  15. Hello 🙂

    I think I have the same diet as you- maybe a tiny bit stricter. I only eat vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds. I travel alot (but never to the US)and I always find something to eat. Though sometimes I go days just living on fruit – which isn’t so bad. Anyway, this diet really pays off performance wise. When I do intensive sports I don’t ever feel it the next day I like I used to. My eyes are brighter and I never feel ‘really hungry’ only slightly hungry even if I’ve missed two meals.

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