A ‘tica’ reveals her country’s secret to having a long and healthy life


Costa Rica is home to one of the world’s Blue Zones, where people live longer and healthier than average. I am from a small town in the Cartago region, called Llano Grande, known for its rich agriculture.

As a cookbook author and cooking teacher born and raised here, I have always thought that our diet and our “pura vida” lifestyle are our secret to longevity.

For Costa Ricans, what we eat is as important as the experience in the kitchen and around the table. We deeply value the community that accompanies cooking. When I was little, I always helped my family prepare food, and even harvested some of the ingredients.

A chef puts the finishing touches on a traditional Costa Rican dish at the Sikwa restaurant in San José, Costa Rica on February 14, 2023.

Lunches and dinners always lasted at least an hour, and it was our time to talk about the day. This type of collective, mindful approach to food is something I love to share with the students who attend my cooking classes. It’s not just about the foods we eat, but the relationships that are established around them.

What do Costa Ricans eat to live longer?

The best way to describe Costa Rican cuisine is simple and fresh. Our diet is largely based on staple foods such as fresh vegetables, fruits, grains and legumes.

These are some of the foods I cook and eat daily to feel healthier and happier in the long term.

1. Beans

Beans are a great source of protein, fiber, complex carbohydrates, prebiotics, vitamins and minerals. They have been linked to reducing the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes.

Black and red beans are the most popular, and are often served as part of a casado (our traditional dish of rice, beans, vegetables, and protein) or as a bean and vegetable soup.

Chickpeas and lentils are very popular here and can be used as substitutes for traditional black beans.

2. Fresh fruits and vegetables

In Costa Rica, fruits and vegetables are usually consumed fresh, not taken from a can or from the freezer. Fruits and vegetables are usually bought in local markets, called greengrocers.

Some of the most common in our diet are papaya, mango, banana, watermelon, pineapple and passion fruit, which can be eaten alone or prepared in drinks and juices.

In Costa Rican cuisine we use various vegetables, such as potatoes, carrots, tomatoes, avocado, onion, beets, cassava and zucchini. Vegetables are consumed raw, in simple salads dressed with lime, or prepared as minced meat, chopped and boiled, sometimes with some animal protein mixed to give them flavor.

The chayote hash is probably my favorite. Chayote is a type of squash native to Central and South America, and not very common in the United States. It’s green and crunchy, and its flavor is similar to that of a jicama.

3. Rice and corn

Grains such as rice and corn are present in our diet, but mainly as a complement to the legumes and vegetables we eat.

For example, tortillas are used to eat picadillo in what we call “gallos”. Arroz con pollo is a traditional Costa Rican dish that consists of rice, lots of chopped vegetables, and different pieces of chicken.

This food is very popular in celebrations such as birthdays, but it is also very common to enjoy it on a daily basis.

4. Coffee

Costa Rican coffee is known for its high antioxidant content, which can help reduce inflammation. Sugary drinks are not usually part of coffee culture.

Here the coffee is drunk alone or with a little milk. And, like any other food, it is best taken slowly: we take our time drinking.

My favorite recipe for longevity

We eat rice and beans, black or red, two or three times a day. For lunch, this meal is called casado. For breakfast, it is called gallo pinto and consists of rice and beans mixed with onions, peppers and cilantro, accompanied by corn tortillas and coffee.

Thanks to its combination of whole grains, proteins, amino acids and antioxidants, Dan Buettner, longevity researcher and founder of Blue Zones, considers gallo pinto the healthiest breakfast in the world. It’s amazing how such a simple dish can be packed with so many health benefits.

Here I present my gallo pinto recipe, so you can prepare it at home.


  • 2/3 cup cooked black beans.
  • 1 1/4 cup cooked rice.
  • 2 tablespoons of chopped onion.
  • 2 tablespoons of chopped pepper.
  • 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro.
  • 1/2 teaspoon Lizano sauce (optional).
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt.
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin.
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper.

The steps:

  1. Heat a frying pan over medium-high heat, add olive oil and let it heat up.
  2. Add the onions, peppers, cilantro, garlic, cumin, salt and pepper.
  3. Cook for three to five minutes until the onion is translucent.
  4. Add the beans, stir and reduce heat to medium.
  5. Add the Lizano sauce, stir and cook for five more minutes.
  6. Add the rice, stir and cook for a few more minutes to incorporate all the flavors into the rice.

In my opinion, the recipe for why we live longer, healthier and happier in Costa Rica is simple: Fresh ingredients prepared with care and meals that are enjoyed and shared with loved ones.