Once in a while I like to give tips about healthy living in Costa Rica.
Tamales are a very popular dish during Christmas festivities in Costa Rica. Ticos love to tamalear or eat tamales and Tamaleadas are gatherings where tamales are consumed. On the average Costa Ricans put on about 10 extra pounds during the Christmas holidays. I am sure part of their weight gain is due to eating an excess of tamales.
In case you do not know, tamales are filled with pork or chicken, chickpeas, sweet peppers and olives. The masa or dough is made from corn flour, pork lard (manteca)and various spices. They are then wrapped in banana leaves, tied together with a string and then blood.
Most expat retirees consume their share of tamales during the holiday season. Older retirees must pay special attention to what they eat in order to stay healthy. Tamales are not exactly a low fat dish and should be eaten in moderation to avoid putting on extra pounds. Doing moderate exercise can help burn off some of the calories from eating tamales.
A normal tamal contains around 400 calories. In order to burn off the calories from just one tamal one has to walk about 8 kilometers or around five miles.
In Costa Rica tamales are usually sold in pairs called a piña. Therefore, don’t be temped to eat both tamales in one sitting to avoid loading up on calories. If you eat two of them per day you will have consumed equivalent of 800 calories. In that case you are looking at a four hour walk to burn off the calories. If you eat three per day you’ll have to walk 20 kilometers or 12 miles. This is the equivalent of walking from San José to the city of Cartago to the east. Every August thousands of Costa Ricans make this trip as part of an annual pilgrimage called la romería. I seriously doubt that the average retired expat has the time or is in good enough shape to walk 20 kilometers. So don’t overeat!
Fortunately, there are healthier low-fat alternatives to traditional tamales. One light version contains no lard and only has around 250 calories. Skinless chicken is usually used instead of pork to reduce the amount of fat, carbohydrates and caloric intake. There are also vegetarian versions available that have even fewer calories.