Skip to main content

How to maintain a balanced diet abroad

Moving overseas for leisure, retirement or work is always an exciting challenge.

One of the major issues to affect all expats is adapting their diet in a new country. And families moving overseas with children may well have other dietary concerns, including sourcing healthy alternatives for growing children and understanding the nutritional value of the local food. 

Before relocating, always read up on the local culture, and if you suffer from allergies or need other information, such as sourcing good gluten-free food, then carry out some research in advance of your move. You might need to look for alternatives to dairy products, should these be in short supply in your new country of residence.

Put aside any preconceptions, embrace new foods with an open mind, and you might even discover you prefer the food you’re sampling in your new country to your usual diet. What follows is a guide to adapting your diet and enjoying all the new tastes and flavours coming your way, whether you’re moving from Lima to London, or leaving Singapore to embark on a new assignment in Saudi Arabia.

The Middle East

The Middle East stretches right across from the Arabian Sea to the Mediterranean. In such a vast region, diet varies and the food that you’ll find in Riyadh will differ from the cuisine in Istanbul. As most of the countries in the Middle East are predominantly Muslim, the meat will be halal; in Israel the food will be kosher, as this country is Jewish.

Here is a cross-regional sampling of information to help you adapt your taste buds and eating habits to your new surroundings.

Riyadh

The capital of Saudi Arabia enjoys a range of supermarkets and hypermarkets catering for the expat community. Availability of fresh fruit and vegetables is not a problem, as there are plenty of fresh produce markets in Riyadh where you’ll find goods to satisfy all tastes. Many goods are imported, as a result of Saudi Arabia’s arid climate. Click here for some useful expat recommendations for local markets and stores stocking a wide range of goods from around the world.

Riyadh is the place to sample some of the tastiest local food in Saudi Arabia. Traditional breakfasts consist of dates, fresh yoghurt and delicious Arabian coffee. Flatbreads — frequently fatir but there are many other types — accompany most meals, and you can expect to find chicken or goat served at lunch and dinner. If you enjoy alcohol, you’ll be adapting to a new way of life here as it’s forbidden in Saudi Arabia, but there are plenty of nutritious non-alcoholic alternatives, including fruit juices, laban (a deliciously refreshing yoghurt drink), and tea. Sheep, goat and camel milk can be used as alternatives to cow’s milk.

Saudi children, in common with kids the world over, love non-nutritious food, and there’s plenty of choice in Riyadh for the occasional treat. As a healthy alternative, try kabsa — a delicious dish of chicken, rice and vegetables cooked with dates.

Istanbul

Istanbul is Turkey’s most populous city and a vibrant home-away-from-home for many expats. The food is mainly locally sourced and very fresh. Fish from the Mediterranean, and meat from the country’s abundant agricultural sector, make an appearance at most meals so it’s easy to include healthy proteins in your diet.

Turkey has a justifiable reputation for the quality and variety of its salad items, fruit  and vegetables, such as chicory, aubergine/eggplant, rocket, cucumber, carrots, pomegranates and oranges, and they are easy to source. Leafy greens and colourful fruit give expats the variety of nutrients they need. In general food is cheap, though some expats may find the cost of bottled water pricey. Imported goods bought from supermarkets can command a higher price than local produce.

Expect seasonal availability, not what you want, when you want it — for locals, the changing of the fruit in markets signifies the changing of the seasons. Winter is often a tricky time for sourcing certain fruit, but you’ll find plenty of citrus in Turkey at all times of the year. If you’re lucky enough to be living in Istanbul, look out for quinces. This delicious, vitamin-packed fruit is best eaten cooked, as it’s very sour otherwise. And do try pomegranate seeds: found in many national dishes, they’re known for their antioxidants and plethora of vitamins.

You’ll find that traditional Turkish fare is nutritious, and kaymakli kuru kayisi — cream-stuffed apricots — will tempt children with the fussiest of appetites. Turkish meatballs — kofte — are also a national favourite: when served with fresh yoghurt and rice, these little morsels of deliciousness are stunning. Fresh salad produce is in abundance in Istanbul.

Northern Europe

Of all the exciting cities Northern Europe has to offer, London and Stockholm are consistently popular with inpats of all nationalities. Both of these capitals are cosmopolitan and you’ll find many shops and food outlets catering for a global variety of tastes and cultures.

London

Capital of the UK, with a wealth of job opportunities and a vibrant cultural life, London is perennially popular with the expat community. Those looking for a varied and nutritious diet will be able to track down food from all four corners of the globe in this endlessly fascinating city.

With its myriad of well-stocked corner shops to its large supermarkets, London has embraced the global food revolution. Although seasonal fruit and vegetables are popular, you will be able to buy these all year round, throughout the country.

The UK takes pride in the quality of its meat, vegetables and fish and there’s a growing trend towards buying and eating local produce. Dairy products are plentiful, with many regions of the country producing their own specialist cheeses. You’ll also discover that most migrant communities have their own local shops, and British supermarkets have expanded their range of global foods. With curry spices, rice and flour from south-eastern Asia easily available at markets and in shops, a plentiful selection of eastern European food stores, and Chinese quarters in many UK cities, anyone relocating here should be able to track down their family favourites.

As well as famous international brands, London also has an extensive range of diverse restaurants. Most of these serve children’s portions, which is a useful way to tempt smaller appetites to sample some nutritious food.

Stockholm

Popular with the expat community, the lifestyle and culture of Sweden are just two of the reasons why so many relocate to this country. The diet is rich and varied with plentiful fish and meat dishes, and children’s school diets have recently been praised for their nutritional value in The Phoenix New Times.

Expats are well catered for in Stockholm, with a wide range of Asian markets, an international cheese shop and numerous other global outlets. Local food is delicious: artsoppa — pea soup packed full of vegetables as well as ham — and plattar —pancakes with lingonberries, are just two examples. Swedes manage to incorporate fruit and vegetables into many of their meals and drinks and, for a nourishing burst of blackcurrants in your glass, try the utterly delicious svart vinbarsglogg made from blackcurrants and apples, with cinnamon, cloves and cardamom.

You might find the fish selection in Stockholm a little overwhelming at first, but as well as being delicious, local fish dishes are healthy and packed with omega-3. In the winter months, enjoy them with aubergines, cauliflower, gherkins, beans and salsify. Reindeer meat is another Swedish speciality; low in fat and very high in essential vitamin B12, it’s well worth including in your diet. Sweden is also proud of its dairy industry — look out for fil or fermented milk, which is rich in calcium and low in fat.

Southeast Asia

Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and the Philippines are just a few of the countries that make up Southeast Asia. The cultures of these countries are diverse, though one thing they all have in common is the quality and range of local food.

Bangkok

As one of the “world’s leading food scenes” according to the BBC, any expat relocating here is spoilt for choice when it comes to healthy eating options. Fresh food markets abound and the cost of food is low. When eating street food, it’s a good idea to steer clear of the sugar-laden, deep-fried snacks, and opt for healthier dishes such as ka nom jeer sour nam – pineapple fish noodles made from fish fillets, ginger, fish sauce, fresh mint and coriander. Mangos, guavas and pineapples (full of vitamin C) are all in abundance in Bangkok, and the local langsat is rich in vitamin A and riboflavin.

Pad thai is another very popular local dish and has noodles, prawns, tofu, rice vinegar, honey, beansprouts, and red pepper among its many ingredients. You’ll also encounter chicken, coconut milk, and lemon grass on most Thai menus, as well as a delicious range of fresh salads. Bangkok has a wide choice of international supermarkets for those hankering for a taste of their homeland.

Manila

With its variety of farmers’ markets, expat community shops and local stores, you’ll soon find you can enrich your diet with a wide range of local fruit and vegetables. Mangoes, pineapples and papaya all grow in the Philippines’ tropical climate but also look out for nutritious rambutan (full of vitamins C and B2) and santol, which is said to boost the body’s immune system. Children love the sweet taste of this particular fruit.

Vegetables, rice and seafood dominate the cuisine of the Philippines, and you’ll also find that many dishes are pork based. Pansit mami — noodles in broth made from chicken, pork, onion and garlic — oozes with taste and is always a healthy option. Local vegetables include cassava, aubergines and ampalaya (also known as bitter melon), which is said to be one of the most nutritious vegetables in the world – low on calories and high in vitamins and minerals.

Singapore

Claimed by expats to be one of the world’s best destinations for both lifestyle and culture, Singapore is the fourth most expensive country in the world. Although fresh produce is plentiful, you can expect to pay premium prices when buying imported fruit and vegetables. Organic produce is available and the number of online companies offering this service is growing, selling locally sourced products as well as those from overseas.

Singapore street food is very tasty and any parents concerned about the family’s daily nutritional requirements will find protein, vitamins and carbohydrates in the form of satay (chicken, pork or beef in a peanut sauce), hokken (fresh seafood and noodles), and a fantastic range of local vegetable dishes. Rojak, made from pineapple, beansprouts, mango, bananas, cucumber and ginger, and served with a spicy tamarind dressing, is a nutritious and delicious salad.

You’ll find it relatively easy to sample food from other cultures in Singapore. Government statistics published by the BBC in 2015 show that the country is home to 1.32 million foreign workers. Whether you’re an expat from Japan or France, you’ll be able to find a supermarket or local shop that caters for your dietary desires. 

Indonesia — Jakarta

Made up of thousands of islands, most expats tend to settle in Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta. With its food markets and supermarkets, it’s relatively easy to obtain most types of food and vegetables here. You’ll also encounter stalls selling produce from local smallholdings, where durian (high in calories and vitamin B6), mangosteen (an excellent source of potassium) and jackfruit (very high in vitamin B6 and potassium) can all be sourced. The best vegetable shopping is to be found in the markets of Pasar Santa and Pasar Mayestik.

Either rice or noodles accompany most Indonesian dishes. Nasi goreng — fried rice — is a national favourite, with a fiery taste from chillies and garlic, but fruit salads are also popular. For a delicious family treat, round off a meal with rujak — spicy fruit salad made from bananas, pineapples, cucumber and apples, with a chilli and soy sauce dressing.

Many dishes in Indonesia are steamed as well as fried; steamed is obviously the healthier option. Jakarta is home to some of the most diverse dishes across the whole of Indonesia. Soto betawi (beef and coconut milk broth) is very popular, as is gado-gado (salad of steamed vegetables, tofu, rice and hard-boiled eggs with a peanut sauce dressing).

Central and equatorial South America

With the growth of mining, agriculture, technology and other business opportunities, as well as a subtropical climate, the countries that make up this part of the world have always been highly populated by expats, thanks to the many international companies that have expanded to this part of the world.

Lima — Peru

With potatoes, quinoa and avocados all coming from this part of the world, sourcing nutritious sources of carbohydrates and proteins in Lima isn’t a problem. Grains are very much part of Peruvian culture, so if you’re looking for alternatives to rice and noodles, try kiwicha or quinoa — both of these are known as ‘super grains’ thanks to their high nutrient content. Lima beans and tarwi are also useful substitutes. The city has an abundance of fresh food markets, and in recent years a number of large supermarkets have also opened, stocking imported as well as local produce.

When looking for local fruit that’s rich in vitamins, lucuma is full of zinc, iron, calcium and vitamin B3 — it’s tasty too and is often added to ice cream, thanks to its sweet taste. The exotic looking pitahaya – also known as dragon fruit — is an excellent source of vitamin C. Lemons, oranges and bananas are grown here, so it’s easy to prepare some delicious fruit juices and desserts.

Seafood appears on most menus, and ceviche — marinated fresh seafood — is very popular. Look out for street sellers offering empanadas — local cheese- or meat-filled pies.

Medellin — Colombia

With its tropical climate, growing economy and cultural opportunities, Medellin is growing in popularity with expats. Andean stews containing potatoes, meat and yucca (which provides a tasty alternative to potato and is equally as versatile), are abundant, and a variety of fruit and vegetables are easily available. Bandeja paisa — a local speciality made from meat, avocado, fried plantain and red beans — is both nutritious and delicious.

Try the arepas, pancakes made from cornmeal and served with every meal. You’ll encounter a whole array of unusual fruits both at street markets and in shops. Cherimoya, also known as custard apple with an eating texture similar to a soft-ripe pear or papaya, is rich in vitamin C and magnesium, and guava is also an excellent source of vitamin C. The zapote, a small, soft fruit with a smooth brown skin and orange flesh that tastes similar to a fig, grows locally in the jungle and is high in antioxidants as well as vitamins and iron. If you’re at all worried about finding healthy fruit or vegetables in Colombia, a quick walk around the local markets will soon reveal all kinds of alternative products that can supplement your diet.

South America — Argentina

Argentina is one of the most cosmopolitan countries in South America. Expats have been relocating here for centuries and continue to do so. The selection of fruit and vegetables is mainly seasonal, but this doesn’t mean that you can’t find nutritious alternatives to some family favourites. There are some months of the year when soft fruits disappear, but stalwarts, including citrus fruit, are available all year round.

Argentineans love beef. You only have to look at the importance of cattle farming to the national economy to realise why. It’s also easy to source pizzas, pasta, halal meat and even Armenian delicacies in Buenos Aires, the country’s capital, and this is where most expats tend to live. There are numerous farmers’ markets in the city, as well as a wide range of vegetarian restaurants and shops. Globe squash, onions, peppers and sweet potatoes are available the whole year round, as are cauliflowers, cabbages and peppers.

Local delicacies that have to be savoured, and are notably very popular with children, include helado (ice cream), and empanadas (cheese- or meat-stuffed savoury pastries). Cheese, fish and cured meats are all readily available, and local shops often have a larger selection than supermarkets. It really isn’t difficult to follow a nutritious diet when living in Buenos Aires. You can always wash down your meals with a cup of yerbe mate — the national drink made from caffeine and herbs. The Argentinians drink at least five kilos of this elixir a year.

Sub-Saharan Africa

With oil, mining and the growth in technology, agriculture and construction, the countries of sub-Saharan Africa are well-liked destinations for expats. Two of the most popular are Ghana and South Africa.

Ghana — Accra

Ghana’s capital, and a major centre for expats, Accra has numerous bustling markets where you can buy anything from snails to vegetables. If you’re looking for healthy options, try some of the local produce. Beans, yam and cassava (which is rich in vitamins C and B as well as folic acid), are all healthy options and are available all year. Gary — made from cassava — is often served with a fish and black bean stew called red-red, and is delicious and full of nutrients. 

Cheese is expensive and relatively rare in Accra, and UHT milk is more prevalent than fresh. Fruit juices and soy products are widely available in Accra, and these are useful calcium sources.

Shopping malls are growing in popularity in Accra, where it’s possible to source food from all corners of the world. Street food is also available throughout the city. 

Stews make up the bulk of Ghanaian cooking, and as these are often produced from fresh fish, they are healthy as well as tasty. If you’re looking for meat, then you’ll be able to source goat, lamb and chicken with ease. Local vegetables, including spinach, okra and cocoyam leaves, which are stacked with vitamins C, B and E, are always available. Tomatoes and pulses are popular too.

South Africa — Cape Town

A modern city with inhabitants from all over the globe, Cape Town has shops and markets to suit all tastes and dietary requirements. Expect to be able to access halal and kosher food with ease. Local food is tasty. Try some spicy dry sausage, otherwise known as droewors, for a tasty snack that can be compared with American beef jerky; boerewors (coriander-flavoured beef sausages) are also fantastic. Alternatively, sample a bowl of Waterblommetjie bredie (lamb stew with pondweed), which is tastier than it sounds. Cape Town shops also stock a full range of dairy products, though cheese can be expensive.

Sourcing good quality fruit and vegetables in Cape Town isn’t a problem so there’s no need to worry about your family’s nutritional requirements. Farmers’ markets are booming in this city, and you’ll always be able to track down your favourite fresh delicacies.

Our Care and Response Excellence (CARE) team will be happy to provide pre-trip medical support and guidance when you’re making your plans to relocate overseas.

Aetna® is a trademark of Aetna Inc. and is protected throughout the world by trademark registrations and treaties.

We use cookies to give you the best possible online experience. See our cookie policy for more information on how we use cookies and how you can manage them. If you continue to use this website, you are consenting to our policy and for your web browser to receive cookies from our website.

You are now leaving the Aetna International website

Links to various non-Aetna sites are provided for your convenience only. Aetna Inc. and its subsidiary companies are not responsible or liable for the content, accuracy, or privacy practices of linked sites, or for products or services described on these sites.

Continue

You have been redirected to an Aetna International site. InterGlobal is now part of Aetna, one of the largest and most innovative providers of international medical insurance. We have combined our businesses to create one market-leading health care benefits company. This means we can better serve people who depend on Aetna International and InterGlobal to meet their health and wellness needs.

Please read the terms and conditions of the Aetna International website, which may differ from the terms and conditions of www.interglobalpmi.com.

You may not be able to access certain secure sites and member pages on the Aetna International website unless you have previously registered for them or hold applicable policies.

To continue, please close this message or navigate using the links above.

Close

You have been redirected to an Aetna International site. InterGlobal is now part of Aetna, one of the largest and most innovative providers of international medical insurance. We have combined our businesses to create one market-leading health care benefits company. This means we can better serve people who depend on Aetna International and InterGlobal to meet their health and wellness needs.

UltraCare policies in Thailand are insured by Safety Insurance plc and reinsured by Aetna Insurance Company Limited, part of Aetna International. You can access our plans by following the links below:

Please read the terms and conditions of the Aetna International website, which may differ from the terms and conditions of www.interglobal.com/thailand.

You may not be able to access certain secure sites and member pages on the Aetna International website unless you have previously registered for them or hold applicable policies.

To continue, please close this message or navigate using the links above.

Close

You have been redirected to an Aetna International site. InterGlobal is now part of Aetna, one of the largest and most innovative providers of international medical insurance. We have combined our businesses to create one market-leading health care benefits company. This means we can better serve people who depend on Aetna International and InterGlobal to meet their health and wellness needs.

UltraCare policies in Vietnam are insured by Baoviet Insurance Corporation Limited, and reinsured by Aetna Insurance Company Limited, part of Aetna International. You can access our plans by following the links below:

Please read the terms and conditions of the Aetna International website, which may differ from the terms and conditions of www.interglobal.com/vietnam.

You may not be able to access certain secure sites and member pages on the Aetna International website unless you have previously registered for them or hold applicable policies.

To continue, please close this message or navigate using the links above.

Close