Costa Rica Way of Wellness

Since the theme of health and wellness is a leading one for our community, we took some time to look around locally to see what could be learned from the people who have lived here in the campo.

Living as we do in the rural area of Costa Rica, we have gradually become familiar with how the people working the land, the campesinos, live. We are referring here more particularly to the older generation, whose roots are still very close to the earth where they have worked and lived for generations.

What is very striking about them is their longevity and general strength of body. It’s not uncommon to meet older people who have reached 100 years or more, and stories abound of women who have given birth to 15 children and still healthily living well into their 90s.

Undeniably their lives are hard, but it’s possible to see a few outstanding features that contribute to their amazing longevity.

The salient features are to be found in their diet, exercise and the nature, the environment in which they live and work.

Fresh air and plenty of sunshine for vitamin D build up excellent immune systems. Vitamin D is slowly being officially recognized for the importance it has to human health. Its range of action in the human body is enormous. In the tropical sun there is no scarcity of the Ultraviolet B wavelength needed for Vitamin D production, as there is in northern latitudes.

In the 1930’s the well documented researches of Dr. Weston Price showed that native peoples living and eating a diet derived from their surrounds regularly consumed up to 10,000 IU of vitamin D daily. This compares with the modern RDA of 400 IU. In those traditional dietary conditions the chronic diseases of the modern world were simply unknown.

Our campesinos derive their vitamin D from both the sun and their diet, as we shall see.

Work is what they do from sunup to sundown, and it is physical and usually very strenuous. This is a lifetime habit, so even in ripe old age they think nothing of walking for miles to reach a shop or a bus stop. Those miles, here in the mountains, are up and down steep hills, giving them a lifetime of regular strong cardiovascular workouts.

There is little in the way of refined carbohydrates in their diet, mainly corn flour and wheat flour products, and white rice. What other carbohydrates there are in their diets (fruits, vegetables, beans, yucca and so on) are not processed.

In any case the damaging effects of refined carbs, caused by high blood sugar spikes, which eventually lead to insulin resistance, are mitigated by the physical work they do. The long skeletal muscles, active all day long, burn off the glucose in the blood and keep the insulin sensitivity of the cells stable.

In fact many of the older folk here in the campo are rail thin from their arduous lifestyle. As you get closer to the urban environment, the processed food intake increases as the physical activity level falls off, you can see how the obvious change in girth and body shape claim the population.

Campesino diet is generally free of processed supermarket packaged food, mainly because the cost factor – a small bottle of Coke costs an hour’s hard labour – and because they tend to eat what they produce locally.

Their meat and dairy products are generally free of the contaminants found in factory farms and pen-feeding lots: the hormones, the disease, the antibiotics. Their beef and dairy animals eat mainly grass, which provides a balance of fats in the meat perfectly attuned to human health.

Here one gets the perfect ratio of Omega 3 to Omega 6 fats of 3 to 1. This contrasts with the industrially distorted ratio of 20 to 1. A ratio of this amount predisposes one to inflammatory conditions internally. Ninety percent of the basis of heart disease is believed to be inflammatory in origin.

As well, the people here eat the organ meats, the brain, liver, heart, and kidneys of the animals. These are the nutrient dense parts of the animal, rich in fat soluble vitamins such as A and D and factors such as CoQ10. Regular steaks from muscle tissue are actually the poorest in terms of these important nutritional factors.

Chicharones are very popular in this area. This is a dish made from pig, in which chunks of meat are deep fried in lard. Sound unhealthy?

Maybe so, but firstly, this is not a regular meal, but one eaten at fiestas and special occasions only. Meat is expensive, they cannot afford to eat it on a regular basis. Rice and beans is the staple, the equivalent to rice and dal in India.

Secondly, the animals have generally been raised locally on a diet of slops of real food, rather than discarded remnants from food processing factories, and have had the opportunity to waddle around in the sun, thereby creating a plentiful supply of vitamin D in the skin, just as humans do.

This means the fat for cooking, the lard, has a goodly amount of vitamin D in it. And if the animal was healthy, so will its fat be healthy. As with humans, fat is where the toxins are stored, so if the animal has had an unhealthy life, then so will its fat be.

In fact, lard from traditionally raised animals has an excellent distribution of fats in it. Typically this will be 40% saturated, 48% monounsaturated and 12% polyunsaturated. This combination gives it good chemical stability for frying purposes.

Outside of the occasional chicharones, for regular cooking needs the traditional fat used is manteca from palm oil. This also has an excellent fat profile, with 50% saturated fats, 41% monounsaturated, and 9% omega 6 polyunsaturated.

The advantage of these fats is their stability under the heat of cooking. The vegetable oils are known to be highly reactive as they easily oxidize and create lipid peroxides and a host of other downstream toxic byproducts.

With their lifestyle based on local products our campesinos are largely spared these toxic dietary inputs.

For those fortunate enough to be able to live in an environment like Costa Rica provides, these fundamental clues to physical health and wellbeing are relatively easy to emulate.

The availability of natural body movements in walking and planting activities, the hilly slopes, the fresh air and sunshine, and eating the products of locally produced food all contribute to the wellness of body, mind and spirit.

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