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From June through September, endless winter seekers migrate to Argentina for off-piste skiing and bumpin’ nightlife. The lure of resorts like Cerro Catedral in the Bariloche and Las Leñas outside of Mendoza is enough to pluck die-hards from their mountain bikes and kayaks season after season. But if Argentina’s world-class skiing isn’t flight worthy enough, then the food should be. Three foods engrafted in Andean culture include grass-fed beef, organic wine, and yerba mate. Alone, these items are enough for many to gladly subsist on, but the good news is that the list of their health benefits runs longer than most ski lines, even though the form in which they are often served is tad different than North Americans are accustomed to.
Beef: Argentina has one of the world’s highest consumption rates of beef, and is among the world’s top beef exporters. Pretty much, beef is what’s for dinner. While the trend now is towards American-influenced feedlots, grass-fed beef is still abundant in Argentina. Grass-fed beef is higher in anti-inflammatory omega 3 fatty acids, immune enhancing beta-carotene, and heart-healthy vitamin E than it’s conventionally-raised counterpart.
On the Menu: The Argentine version of barbecue is called asado (beef grilled on an open fire pit) and it’s standard family fare. Keep an eye out for sweetbreads or mollejas which are actually glands like the heart or pancreas.
Could anything accompany asado better than red wine? Luckily, vino tinto is aplenty in Argentina. And it’s not just red wine on the menu, but organic red wine. Award-winning Jean Bousquet and Vinecol wines are among the finest. While conventional wines are grown with grapes that are heavily sprayed with pesticides, to be labled organic, no pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, chemical fertilizers, or synthetic chemicals of any kind are allowed either on the vines or in the soil. A 2008 Pesticide Action Network study found 24 different pesticide contaminants in all the conventional wines tested, so you’re better off going organic. Many studies have shown that drinking one glass of red wine a day can decrease your chances of heart disease, thanks to the content of resveratrol, an antioxidant.
On The Menu: A Calimocho (also spelled Kalimotxo) is a 50/50 mixture of red wine and Coca-Cola. In Argentina, a red-wine-and-Coke combination is known as a jote. It’s way better than it sounds, but keep in mind that the soda addition takes the health component of the wine down mega notches.
Yerba mate is the national drink of Argentina. Mate is dried green leaves and stems from the tree Ilex paraguarensis, which originates from Paraguay but is also cultivated in northern Argentina. It contains three xanthines (a chemical family which stimulates the central nervous system, acts as a diuretic, stimulates cardiac muscle, and relaxes smooth muscle) caffeine, theobromine and theophylline. Proponents of the beverage suggest it has powers such as mental stimulation, fatigue reduction, stress reduction, insomnia elimination, appetite control, and blood purification. Studies have demonstrated potential anti-cancer benefits, due in part to its long list of antioxidants. The main antioxidant found in yerba mate is chlorogenic acid, a polyphenol that was recognized in a 1998 study published in the American Journal of Physiology, to also potentially support weight management by reducing blood glucose levels.
On The Menu: Mate is traditionally brewed and served in a dried-out gourd and sipped through a filtered metal straw (bombilla), to prevent drinkers from ending up with a mouthful of the hay-flavored leaves. The gourd is often passed back and fourth and mate sometimes served with honey or sugar to cut the bitter taste.
Venturing to where the snow is deep, the toilet water flushes backwards, and the party’s don’t start until midnight can also provide healthy food and drink options. To think, in addition to the cardiovascular and mental health benefits of skiing, the breakfast beverage and dinner cuisine can also be extremely beneficial.