Is Turkish food healthy? Perhaps, the right question to ask and answer in this post should be whether the food that I had in Turkey was healthy and whether I made healthy choices. Truthfully, the same as everywhere else, it’s not really the food in a particular country that’s good or bad. It’s what we choose to eat that’s either good for us or not.
But first, let’s once again have a look at my nutritional ideology. I’ve written about it in my post Eating for Healthy Life and it’s like this: “I avoid eating any food that, after it has been eaten, it’s rapidly digested and converted into blood sugar that becomes elevated to almost diabetic levels. This process induces pancreas to produce insulin. Its role is to regulate the blood sugar level, by converting it into fat. That fat is deposited around the abdomen and internal organs and over a longer period of time it results in ever increasing weight. Well, this is a very basic description of metabolic processes that happen when we eat. But, there are foods that are particularly responsible for such unhealthy spikes in blood sugar levels”.
In that post, I also said: “I almost never eat bread and other wheat product such as pasta, cereals and biscuits. Also, I almost never eat potatoes as they are pure starch. I eat rice 3 or perhaps 4 times a month and I don’t eat cakes and sugar in any form. I say almost never, because it is very hard for me to control my diet when I travel, but that is a different story for another time”.
So, now that I was travelling in Turkey for an extensive period of time, let’s analyse the food that I had there and whether or not it was healthy. Also, how successfully I manged to adhere to my nutritional principles.
MY GENERAL VIEW ON TURKISH FOOD
I think that people in Turkey eat well. I am not talking about food flavours, although food in Turkey is usually very tasty. Perhaps, I am little biased because a lot of Turkish dishes are the same or very similar to Serbian dishes. After all, Serbia was part of the Ottoman Empire for many centuries and consequently Turkish influences on the Serbian cuisine are evident. But, more about that a bit later.
What I’ve noticed, there are very few western junk food eateries. That’s very good, because what such establishments propose is not really food, rather it’s something that resembles and tastes like food thanks to additives and flavour enhancers.
But, Turkey has their own version of fast food outlets. The crucial difference is that they offer freshly cooked, natural food. I am primarily talking about the locantasi type restaurants. Basically, every day they prepare various different dishes, your only task is to choose what you want to eat. Additionally, these places are very busy, which means that a lot of new, freshly prepared food is always available. Plus, they are relatively cheap, certainly they are cheaper than regular restaurants.
There are also numerous regular restaurants everywhere, so when it comes to deciding where to eat, you are spoiled for choice in Turkey.
TURKISH FOOD THAT I HAD
I primarily went to the locantasi type restaurants, although not always. I did it for several reasons. First of all, for convenience. You don’t have wait for your meal for a long time, because it’s already prepared. That’s very good if you are hungry. You can eat freshly prepared food almost straight away.
Secondly, I travelled alone and these places are perfect for solo customers. As a matter of fact, most of the time customers in these places were single people that came to eat and then to continue with whatever they had to do. Perhaps, in a regular restaurant you may feel a bit uncomfortable sitting at the table alone.
Finally, the cost. The most expensive meal that I had in one of these places was 35 Turkish liras, but normally less than that. Considering all the fabulous food that I had for that money, it was a no-brainer.
The way it works, you choose 2, 3 or 4 different dishes and you enjoy your meal. In the photo above, everything I took was healthy and very tasty.
But, in the photo below, I took bread. The other 2 dishes, beef with mushrooms and beans were good and healthy. But, bread and especially white bread is something that I normally religiously avoid, although sometimes I can’t resist. That bread that you can see in the photo was super fresh and very delicious.
The meal that you can see in the next photo was also healthy. But, here I need to mention drinks. I normally drank water, but on this particular occasion I took ayran. It’s a yogurt type drink, a bit too salty for my taste. I grew up on drinking yogurts in Belgrade, but their taste is different. Additionally, in my mind yogurt is something that you normally drink for breakfast. In Turkey, a lot of people drank ayran for dinner. I think that was the only time that I had it with my dinner.
I had the meal that you can see in the photo below in Izmir. It was probably one of the best throughout my journey and also one of the cheapest. The problem is that, whether you like it or not, they bring bread with meat as it’s part of the dish. If you can resist and not eat bread, you are fine. But on this occasion I couldn’t resist, I finished everything.
Börek is a savoury pie, usually filled with cheese, meat or something else. I know this dish very well, we have the same in Serbia and we call it burek. We use the same Turkish word for the same dish.
This is also something that you can find at every corner in Turkey. Considering that börek places were usually very busy, I think that it’s also a very popular dish in Turkey, exactly the same as in Serbia.
But, this is not something that you would want to eat very often. First of all, it’s a pastry, made from wheat. Wheat and wheat products are something that I avoid as much as possible. Wheat contains Amylopectin A, the type of carbohydrate that is most rapidly digested and converted into blood sugar and it provokes a horrendous blood sugar spike.
Secondly, börek is usually very greasy, as per the recipe. You certainly do not want to eat such greasy food frequently. Moreover, I assume that they normally use the inflammatory sunflower oil to make it, rather than the olive oil.
Anyway, I had börek several times and although I tremendously enjoyed it, each time I felt heavy and bloated afterwards. I suppose that’s what happens when you put 1000 unhealthy and empty calories into your body.
Everyone should try it at least once, otherwise it’s something that you should eat very infrequently.
Hotel breakfasts are another potential minefield, where you can easily indulge in a lot of unhealthy food. That’s because you can usually eat as much as you want, without any restrictions. It was the same for me in Turkey.
I booked hotels with breakfast in all places apart from Istanbul, where I went to one of the nearby bakeries to eat for a fraction of the price that the hotel in Istanbul wanted to charge.
However, in Bursa, Izmir, Aydin, Konya and Ankara – the breakfast was lavish. But, that’s where the problem is. Normally, when I see so many different things on offer, I feel like trying a bit of everything. The end result is that I usually eat far too much, including the food that I normally avoid.
The photo below is my breakfast in Hotel Bera in Konya. Normally, I never eat spring rolls, potato croquets and bread for breakfast. Certainly, deep fried food is never good for anyone. But, sometimes we just have to relax and look at such nutritional escapades as special treats. It is probably needless to say that everything you can see in the photo was delicious.
TURKISH COFFEE & SIMIT
I frequently stopped for a coffee or some other refreshments during the day, to have a rest and to escape from the strongest mid-day heat. At home, I normally drink coffee only in the morning. But, I like Turkish coffee because it reminds me of the time when I lived in Belgrade. In Serbia, people normally drink Turkish coffee, everything else is considered too weak and it’s seen as distraction from a proper, strong cup of coffee.
You can’t order alcohol in coffee shops in Turkey. Sometimes, I felt like having a beer, but that wasn’t possible, not even at dinner time. Alcohol consumption in Turkey is considerably restricted, although you can freely buy it in designated shops. Several times I bought some beer and took it back to my room.
Finally, there is simit! Simit is a savoury food that you can see in the photo below and it’s everywhere. You can find it at almost every corner in every city in Turkey. You can also buy it on the beach. Usually, there are many people walking up and down the beach, with big trays of freshly made simits.
But, this is also not something that you would want to eat frequently. It’s wheat and basically it is unhealthy. It’s a product that will certainly take away your hunger, but at the same time, it will give you a huge blood sugar spike. In five weeks that I spent in Turkey, I had simit maybe three of four times in total.
So, when I look back at the food that I had in Turkey, most of the time I ate healthily – a lot of vegetables and fruit in limited quantities, because it’s also contains sugar (fructose). I also had food items that I would normally never consume at home. But, I walked a lot every day and tried to compensate for my nutritional slip-ups, although walking does not eliminate unhealthy processes that happen in our bodies when we eat unhealthy food.
I am aware that it’s difficult for me to strictly adhere to my diet when I travel. But, it’s not impossible. At the end of the day, it’s a choice we have to make every time when we sit down to eat. It’s just that it has to be the right, healthy choice. And of course, we have to be strong enough to resist temptations!