Using lots of personal experience, considerable prejudice, limited scientific data and an empty stomach, we provide you with a (tongue-in-cheek) list of the unhealthiest countries for travellers to eat in.
This is not to say that all these empty calories and partially-hydrogenated fatty goodness aren’t tasty, because in most cases they are, but just remember that if you are planning a trip to one of these locations and will be staying in a hotel and dining out most of the time – you’ve been warned.
No doubt, being an experienced and adept traveller your list may be a bit different, but this one is about me, and just like you, I think I know better. So read up before you chow down.
United States of America
No country embraces its reputation for obesity and entitlement like the Good Ol’ USA. Perennially in lists of the top five most obese countries, America has earned its title through massive-calorie meals in chain restaurants; meals where epic-sized portions are doled out for unbelievably low prices.
No greater offenders exist than the fast food industry, though in the USA it should be called car-food because there is never even any need to get out of the vehicle and walk inside to be served up a few thousand calories in a bag for lunch. As one of America’s most successful exports, fast food is now wreaking havoc on the rest of the world as well.
Case in point: chocolate milkshakes are quite possibly man’s greatest creation, but with all this power must come restraint – the average fast food milkshake fails humanity miserably by packing 1160 calories, 27 grams of fat, 168 grams of sugar and even 510 milligrams of sodium into one frosty beverage. And this isn’t even the most unhealthy shake in the USA; just the most commonly available.
Bottom line, for anyone planning to visit America, especially for a road trip, hit the grocery store for some healthy car snacks, because eating out should be fun, not life-threatening. And, be sure to take the hiking trails in the USA’s amazing National Parks, because buffalo look better when not viewed through the windscreen.
Quickly becoming one of the most overweight countries in Asia, Taiwan is now suffering the effects of its economic success over the past two decades, not to mention the national culture of Xiao Chi (which translates into little snacks) that has entire night markets dedicated to the art of grabbing deep fried morsels, ice creams, grilled meats, noodles, and anything else imaginable before slowly milling around to shop for cheap T-shirts and the like. A night market visit is an absolute must-do for anyone visiting Taiwan, and especially Taipei City, but all the greasy little snacks, fatty daytime meals, and unbelievably cheap beer add up, and the result is an obese younger generation and a few extra pounds for the hungry traveller.
Smart travellers will hit the fruit and vegetable markets scattered throughout every town and village for a few healthier options. Also, make sure to get out of the cities for some breathtaking natural scenery in the mountains above the clouds, or for a bus tour and hiking in Taroko Gorge. Fortunately, in the cities there is also lots of walking to do to burn off a few calories.
To say that Mexican food is good is just wrong. It is beyond good; it is unbelievably delicious everywhere in the country, and as an incredibly regional cuisine, Mexican food is almost impossible to get tired of.
This is not opinion, mind you, it is a cold, hard, undeniable fact that was proven to all doubters in 2010 when UNESCO decided that Mexican Cuisine must be placed on the Intangible World Heritage List as something to be protected and cherished as part of human culture.
To celebrate that accomplishment, as well as the country’s friendly people, ancient ruins and unique culture, magnificent beaches and surf, fantastic weather, and beer and cocktails that are famous around the world, it is advised that every visitor enjoy as many of Mexico’s gastronomic offerings as possible.
Just be aware that there are carbs and fat galore, so booking a hotel with a gym or a pool is a good idea, and taking a long, romantic walk on the beach after dinner can’t hurt.
The Land Down Under is not willing to let America have the Fattest Country title every year. Australians managed to peel the trophy away, at least in one category: percentage of obese adults (26% for Aussies, 25% for Americans) in 2008.
The training regimen to achieve this trophy included very little walking, heavy use of cars, and fast food served in unimaginably large portions. Going one step further, a law has been put into place by Australia’s national government making it illegal to take unfinished food away from the restaurant, so it’s dine-in or take-away only now. This means that after diners recover from the sticker shock of what food costs in Australia, their only recourse to make up for the high price is to force as much of it down as possible, since it can’t be taken home for later. Also, be aware that Australia believes in meat pairings, AKA surf and turf or land and sea, so the fatty deliciousness just keeps coming, and apparently sausages and meat pies are two of the required daily food groups.
Smart travellers have discovered the lost art of sharing a meal. It not only keeps costs down, but also reduces food intake and therefore calories. Fish and chips for example, a staple on Australian menus, is not to be missed and yet tastes just as good when shared with a friend.
Another tip: order schooners instead of pints, because the beer is just as cold, but comes in a slightly smaller glass. And be sure to get a bit of exercise or a swim while down under.
Nope, Europe didn’t manage to dodge the list. The Dutch are now officially the tallest people on earth, and when visiting Holland it is surprising to see how most of them are thin and fairly attractive. What is more surprising after a few days in the country is how they manage to stay that way.
It would seem that every single food option in The Netherlands is either deep fried or covered with some sort of sauce or topping to make it exponentially more delicious; most notable are the fries served with mayonnaise, since ketchup is deemed simply too healthy. Another deep fried bombshell is krokets (croquettes), which are like a tasty little gift-wrapped present, and stoopwafel (street waffle), a thin waffle filled with toffee or syrup.
Visitors should be sure to sample them all, and don’t forget to also try out another Dutch tradition: using a bicycle as the primary mode of transit.
These two are considered together since they are next to each geographically, share a lot of the same culture and similar histories, and most importantly are usually both found on a traveller’s South American itinerary. There is good reason for that, since these two nations are famous for music and dancing, elite athletes, beautiful people, delicious food and spectacular wines on the cheap.
For many Chileans and Argentines, the day goes something like this: Get up in the morning and have some meat, bread, toast, or a pastry along with coffee, work for a bit, then have an empanada (a pastry filled with meat and bits) as a snack . After that, it’s time for a huge lunch of meat and other mouthwatering local fare, followed by a much needed nap. Finally, back to work for a few minutes, and then back home for another quick nap before a dinner of meat and other deliciousness, either at home or out, at around 10pm or (usually much) later. It is the perfect slow-party way to enjoy life and all that beef (a local type of meat believed to be indigenous to Chile and Argentina), and wine, and scenery, and romance, and partying, and sports.
Don’t miss a minute of it, just be sure to do some strolling around in the park or plaza between meals and naps. Another option is to get in on a game of football, but be warned: you’d better bring your A-game.
The United Kingdom
The UK is usually only mentioned in a food blog to make fun of England’s steady diet of beans on toast, but a new, tastier, and even more unhealthy food revolution is afoot, particularly in Scotland: deep fried anything.
Yes, the Scots have managed to bend the laws of physics into shapes never before considered possible by offering such items as deep fried candy bars, deep fried Coca-Cola (it has to be frozen first, turns out), deep fried pizza (seems like a bit of sacrilege), deep fried kebabs, and even deep fried fried haggis and chips (yes, the word “fried” really does belong in the name twice). But, most disturbing of all is deep fried butter.
Trying any (don’t try them all unless you are already in the hospital’s cardiac unit with doctors standing by) of these “treats” is not really advisable, but if you must indulge, just be sure to bring lots of napkins and your running shoes, because you will probably be so food-guilty the next day that you will feel obligated to go for a run to attempt atonement for your eating sins.
Food – Please Enjoy Responsibly
Travelling is about enjoying the local culture; trying new and weird foods is always a highlight, just don’t over do it. Ultimately, a few unhealthy meals are not likely to hurt anyone, and they are usually the most memorable, but be sure to have some other food options around for the in-between.