My first task when moving to a new country or city is to figure out my “food system”.
Where can I find all the paleo, Weston A. Price and organic certified (low pesticide and toxin) foods I’m accustomed to? How can I get them conveniently? and at reasonable price?
This post covers Mexico, and in particular the Riviera Maya/ Yucatan region. I live in Playa del Carmen – but options are similar across the region and in Cancun. This region is more challenging than the more ‘cosmopolitanized’ Mexico D.C. or Puerto Vallarta west coast where there are now more boutique stores and even paleo or organic home delivery services to cater to your needs. If you live in another part of Mexico this guide will help you to navigate product brands and local retailers also.
Mexico is more challenging than most countries I’ve lived in, but with the advice below you can get to a relatively clean and compliant diet.
In Mexico your store options are:
- Select items in the large supermarkets: Mega Comercial Mexicana, Chedraui, Aki Gran Mayoreo, Soriana and Walmart.
- Specialty food stores: In Playa del Carmen these are DAC and Pacsa Deli.
- Organic stores: Organik Boutique, Bio Natural and Organic Market in Playa.
- Bridging the ‘organic gap': Using low pesticide fruit and vegetable options in place of organics.
The first two options are obvious. I’ll outline what you can get from the large supermarket chains (this is mostly the same no matter where you are in Mexico). Organic stores tend to offer the same products and brands across Mexico as there is a limited selection of them available in the Mexican market. So throughout this post I identify specific brands and products that fit our needs to look out for or ‘ask’ your store to order in for you. Each town has its own organic stores, so if you’re outside the Riviera Maya region, you’ll need to find your own local organic store.
Finally, there are areas where I have not been able to find exactly what I wanted (if you do find some of these items, please let me know in the comments). Specifically this has been the case with low toxin organic vegetables, fruits and quality organ meats. In these cases I bridge the gap with a selection of conventional options that are lower in toxins.
Now to the “where you can find what” details…
(Note: Some of the specific Spanish vocabulary you may find useful is in italics between brackets).
100% Grass-Fed Meats
Unfortunately there are no grass fed meats to be found in any of the large chain supermarkets in Mexico. You will have to get these meats from speciality stores or organic stores, and its still not easy.
For lamb, chicken, pork and turkey a Mexican brand here, CORM (Carnes Orgánicas de Mexico), provides a good option.
In Playa del Carmen this can be found in Organik Boutique. They have small cuts of lamb, pastured (pastoreo) pork, chicken and turkey. Organic Market (on Calle 46 Norte / 50 Avenida Norte) also stocks CORM, but less consistently has meat available.
Unfortunately the grass-fed beef (Carne de res) CORM provides has been organic grain finished. This means that the cow is pastured its whole life up until the last month or so when they fatten it up with grains. This practice has a significant negative impact on the omega-6 / omega-3 ratio of the fat in the meat – so is not ideal compared to 100% grass fed. It is still antibiotic, hormone free however. So may be the best beef option available to you. I’m continuing to search for better grass fed beef options.
In Pacsa Deli there are a larger variety of cuts of imported grass-fed lamb from New Zealand brands Alliance of Pure South and AFFCO. These are about twice as expensive as the local CORM option above, so unless it’s a special occasion I use CORM lamb.
Free range organic chicken is available at Bio-Natural via the brand Bio-Pollo from Terra Maya.
You are spoilt for choices of safe starches in Mexico where sweet potatoes are widely available and organic rice is widely available.
- White sweet potato (Camote blanco): Available in Mega, although not organic (still relatively low in pesticides).
- Yellow sweet potato (Camote amarillo): As with white sweet potato above at Mega. From time to time you can find the organic version at Bio-Natural, but not consistently.
- Organic white rice: The brand Pijiji can be found in DAC (lowest price) and Organik Boutique. In Bio-Natural they have the brand Sanomundo.
- Organic white rice flour (Harina de arroz blanca orgánica): The Kian Eco brand can be found in DAC (cheapest) and Organik Boutique.
Eggs and Dairy
Butter: New Zealand Anchor unsalted grass fed butter, my usual go to butter source, is available in two of the main supermarket chains: Mega and Chedraui.
You’ll also see the brand “Kian Eco Huevo Campero, and “La Harencia” Huevo de Granja Organico). Both of these are slightly cheaper than the organic eggs available at Organik Boutique. I have not found naturally ‘pastured chickens’ eggs here as of yet.
There are no grass fed or organic options for organ meats that I’ve found as yet.
If you don’t mind eating conventional organs there is a pretty good variety available in a few of the supermarkets however.
Aki Gran Mayoreo, a wholesale style supermarket, has the widest variety and much of it is frozen, which is better. They have frozen liver (higado) from cows, chicken and pigs, cow bones and marrow (hueso de res) for bone broths and cow sweetbreads (mollejas).
Other supermarkets have less variety. Mega from time to time stocks has frozen beef liver, but not consistently and Chedraui has beef liver (fresh, not frozen) consistently.
Fish and Shellfish
There’s a wide selection of fish available in the large supermarkets like Mega, Chedraui and Walmart. If you prefer buying locally caught fish which are typically fresher in Playa del Carmen there is Pescaderia Oceano which has a good selection.
Compared to Thailand and Asia in general, fermented foods are not a big part of culture in South America. So it’s not surprising that it’s difficult to find fermented products here.
The only ‘ready to eat’ fermented food I’ve found so far is Kombucha tea which is sold at Bio Natural.
Low Toxin Vegetables and Fruits
Reliable Organic Brands
As with any place you have to assess organic produce on a brand (production company and its standards) and product level. Typically I find that companies maintain the same standards across their produce, but it’s not always the case.
Organic produce is very limited in Riviera Maya and it’s difficult to get information on growing practices. This is my research so far (will update as I dig deeper):
Biomilpa: Products include bell peppers, tomatoes, lettuce, arugula and purple eggplant (berenjena). In Playa del Carmen, you’ll find Biomilpa in:
- DAC (fridge at back right side of shop).
- The “Mercadito Orgánico y Natural” at Ak Lu’um Waldorf school from 12:30 to 2:30 PM on Wednesdays.
- “la trattoria de la quinta” (Av. 10 calle 26) from 8:30 to 12:30 on Fridays.
- Mr Lucky Organics: Certified organic by CCOF (thus to same standards USDA organic) this brand can commonly be found in MEGA with salads, and lettuce products. It has other organic vegetables that may be found in local supermarkets elsewhere in Mexico.
- Bio-Natural: This store stocks some organic vegetables in the fridge – often carrots, lettuce, arugula and eggplant in the fridge (note: vegetables not kept in the fridge are not organic, and some in the fridge also are not – you must ask for each vegetable’s status). I’m still checking into the farm or company source and its standards for these.
- Earthbound Farm Organic: You find this brand of lettuce, spinach and tomatoes imported from the U.S. in Organik Boutique. It’s relatively expensive and not as fresh since it’s imported.
Caution: Due to the heat and humidity organic vegetables and fruit don’t last very long if you leave them out. Also, vegetables and fruits typically arrive once per week in the store and will be bought up pretty quickly (or if not, not be so fresh when you get to them). So the best approach is to stock up 1 or 2 weeks worth on the organics and put them in the freezer to take out and thaw as necessary.
Bridging the Gap with Select Low Toxin Conventional Products
Unfortunately, the organic options available aren’t sufficient to give you a good variety of vegetables and fruits. That’s not ideal from a micro-nutrient standpoint, so what you do is ‘bridge the gap’ with conventional vegetables and fruits that are relatively low in toxins (pesticides, herbicides etc.).
While there isn’t specific research available for Mexican produce, we can make use of USDA Pesticide Data and EPA data from the U.S. as a proxy. In Mexico, toxin levels are likely to be higher on average due to lower controls on pesticide use.
The items you can find in most of the supermarkets here with relatively low toxin levels include are:
- Vegetables: Avocado (aguacate), cabbage, onions, Asparagus, eggplant (berenjena) and mushrooms.
- Fruits: Grapefruit (Toronja), kiwi, watermelon, bananas, tangerine, pineapple, mango and lime (inside only).
- The EVA hydroponics brand: This Mexican brand markets a variety of hydroponic lettuces which are 100% herbicide free. Note that these are not strictly organic and toxin free, but will also be lower in pesticides and other chemicals than conventional lettuces. EVA lettuces and salad packs can be found in Mega and sometimes in organic stores.
Guacamole is my “go-to” food in Mexico. Found everywhere. Easy to make. Delicious.
Herbs, Spices, Oils, Salt and Sweeteners
Some of the typical health promoting herbs and spices aren’t widely available in the large supermarkets. You’ll consistently find cinnamon (canela), but other items are often lacking.
In specialty stores and organic stores you can typically find the rest. In Playa del Carmen, you’ll find cayenne pepper (pimienta de cayena) and ginger (jengibre) in DAC, cilantro in Pacso Delia and turmeric (cúrcuma) in Organik Boutique.
Salt: Himalayan salt (pink, high in minerals) and organic sea salt is available in Organik Boutique and Bio Natural. Mega supermarket also sells unprocessed sea salt.
Sweeteners: The sweetener, Stevia, is available in all the organic stores with several brands including Mayan Sweet Stevia, Distevia and Stevia Maya amongst others. It’s available in original leaves form (great to use as a fusion for tea or coffee), powder or oil form.
Oils and fats: For the oils you have local coconut oil, ghee or EVOO (extra virgin olive oil) as your options.
Extra virgin organic cold-pressed coconut oil (aceite de coco organico extra virgen) from Aires de Campo is available in most of the large supermarkets, and typically all the organic shops.
Ghee, which is an excellent oil for cooking, can be made from the unsalted Anchor Butter mentioned earlier.
EVOO (cold pressed) is available in all of the stores. (Note: Research and testing by the Olive Center at U.C. Davis in 2011 has put the quality of many brands of extra virgin olive oil into question, so there’s a risk you may be buying ‘rancid’ or sub-grade oil.)
To get supplements in Mexico you can find some local GNC outlets, however, they are more expensive than the U.S. (average is around double the price) and very limited in what’s available. Nonetheless this is still your best option for two supplements: generic whey protein powders and pure creatine.
The local pharmacies and vitamin shops (e.g. Nutrisa) are also expensive, have even more limited options, and have the additional burden of the quality of the supplements being low with undesirable fillers. To put that into perspective, I haven’t been able to find some plain Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid) without toxic additives like Aspartame, or sugar added.
For all supplements except creatine I get them shipped from the U.S. It saves money and allows to get the specific supplements you want (quality, composition).
For 95% of your supplement needs iHerb is the best option because it has 90% of everything you’d want and has the lowest shipping fee at just $4 (this is a global shipping fee relevant to any country). The downside is how long it takes – which is between 12 and 20 days.
For the 5% very specific items I’ve found ordering directly from the seller in the U.S. (mostly highly specialized supplements, small biohacking devices and medical tests) and getting it shipped via Shipito is the best option.
To minimize costs (shipping, customs importation fees) and eliminate any ‘lost parcel’ risk follow the guidelines for shipping supplements I set out for Thailand.
Using that procedure in Mexico, I’ve paid no custom fees and received every parcel.
While not perfect, you can make a pretty good job of a clean Paleo / Weston A. Price diet in the Riviera Maya, Mexico.
For efficiency, I make a trip to two organic stores once every 2 weeks to stock up, and can get the rest with a weekly Mega-DAC supermarket visit (In Playa they are next to each other).
Are you looking for items not covered here? Or have you found some other options for getting paleo and weston a. price, certified organic foods or supplements conveniently? Let me know in the comments below!