How expats can maintain a healthy diet in Costa Rica

Maintaining a healthy diet for expats in Costa Rica doesn't necessarily require drastic lifestyle changes


Home to beautiful beaches, low-cost and high-quality living, and wildlife in abundance, there are plenty of reasons why Costa Rica is immensely popular with both holidaymakers and permanent relocators.

Whether you’re looking to relocate for Costa Rica’s surfing opportunities or just to retire to the sun, there are numerous things to consider before and after any international move. As well as practicing your Spanish, seeking the perfect accommodation and organizing things like visas and global health insurance, it’s good to familiarise yourself with the finer details of local life.

They say ‘the stomach is the window to the soul’, and whether or not you agree, it’s definitely important to team up the sampling of traditional cuisine with at least a casual regard for staying healthy. Luckily, Costa Rica has plenty of nutritious local food. If you’re planning a move to Costa Rica, or have recently touched down and are wondering how to maintain a healthy diet, here are a few things to try.


Jugos Naturales

If you’ve been brushing up on your Spanish, you’ll know that jugos naturales literally means natural juice. That doesn’t sound too exciting, but Costa Rica’s tropical climate blesses the country with a wide array of exotic fruits – and you’ll find roadside stands selling freshly squeezed juices just about everywhere you go.

As well as year-round pineapple, mango and melon, look out for seasonal specialties like cas – a type of sour mango with a flavor resembling a mixture of apple and pear. Juices are an easy way to soak up some vitamins and get your five-a-day, but remember to ask for fruta natural rather than pulpa (juice from concentrate).

Gallo Pinto

Gallo pinto is the traditional Costa Rican breakfast meal, and though it’s a far cry from Western breakfasts like sugary cereals and fat-laden fry ups, it’s not dissimilar to the rice-based breakfasts eaten in many Asian countries. The difference is, it has a natural Central American protein twist; beans.

Gallo pinto means “spotted rooster”, a name given to this warm dish of flavorsome rice and pinto beans because of the speckled coloring achieved by mixing the ingredients together. Bell peppers, Salsa Lizano sauce, coriander and onion all give depth to this nutritionally-balanced breakfast feast.


Casado is not one single thing, but rather a platter made up of small portions of many different foods. Meaning “marriage”, the word casado denotes the coming together of ingredients, and you’ll generally be served a plate of rice, beans, salad, tortillas and meat or fish on ordering.

In coastal destinations, you’re most likely to find casado de pescado, or fish casado dishes, while inland there’s a higher likelihood of a meaty casado con carne. Either way, steamed fish and grilled meats make for a low-fat meal option, while bolstering with rice and beans adds a rounded balance of carbohydrates, protein and iron.

This is a popular lunchtime meal, and as lunch is generally thought of as the most important (and therefore the biggest) meal of the day in Costa Rica, expect to finish up feeling seriously satisfied.


This dish may be a little more familiar, thanks to its seemingly universal popularity. It’s so popular, in fact, that there’s some debate about which country actually invented it first – but regardless, this zingy serving of fresh fish will be easy to find wherever you are in Costa Rica.

Ceviche is usually made with sea bass, but in Costa Rica, it can be other white fish as well. Chopped into tiny cubes and dressed with lime juice, diced onion, coriander and perhaps a little red pepper, the citric acid in the juice “cooks” the fish to leave it soft, juicy and full of flavor. Served with soda crackers or fried plantains, this dish offers omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin B12, both of which are important in maintaining things like low blood pressure and neurological function.


Similar in nature to a Mexican tamale, but definitely not the same, Costa Rican tamals are a Christmas specialty but are increasingly served year-round to please international visitors who are won over by their flavor.

At their simplest, tamals are snack-sized portions of corn dough nestled inside banana leaves. They come with all manner of fillings, from lean meats and vegetables to sugar and cinnamon, and are sometimes paired with pinto beans and served as part of breakfast.

Sopa Negra

Sopa negra, meaning black bean soup, is a great dinner choice for vegetarians and anyone eating gluten-free… as well as everybody else. Following a hearty lunch, dinner in Costa Rica tends to be a low-key affair, with soups and light stews a popular pick.

Sopa negra is usually a lightly-spiced broth, flavored with Tabasco and tomato alongside those most common of Costa Rican ingredients; beans, onion, peppers and coriander. Black beans are one of the healthiest foods in the world, offering more protein per 100g than most meats, as much iron as beef, as much zinc as turkey or fish and no saturated fat or cholesterol at all. In fact, black beans can actually help to lower your cholesterol – so there’s every reason to give this dish a try.


For those with a sweet tooth, the Costa Rican favorite granizados may well appeal. On a hot day – and that’ll be just about all of them – street vendors sell these as beachside treats. Shavings from a solid block of ice are layered with powdered milk, condensed milk and fruit coulis or syrup in flavors like cherry, mango and grape.

While this may not sound as nutritious as some of the other dishes on the list, it’s certainly a healthier equivalent of the high-fat ice creams you may be used to seeing at home. Indulged in as a treat every now and then, granizados are a great way to stay refreshed and to tickle your sweet tooth without ditching a healthy diet completely.


These are just a few examples of the kind of delicious local foods you can find in Costa Rica, a country where organic and local produce are considered to be the norm. There are few better ways to experience a new culture than to eat your way around it, so be sure to settle into your new life with ease by eating like a local whenever you can.