Don’t drink the water: Becoming accustomed to the food and water when you settle abroad

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Published 2020-08-03 15:25

Jerry Nelson, an American expat in Argentina gives us a few tips about dietary habits to avoid Montezuma’s revenge in new expats!

In the hit 1960s comedy “Don’t Drink the Water”, produced by Woody Allen, one of the characters complains about spending “Six thousand dollars for three weeks of uninterrupted diarrhea.” The character, Walter, has just become a victim of “Montezuma’s Revenge”.

‘Montezuma's revenge’ is a euphemism for diarrhea often encountered by newly arrived expats, or travelers, after drinking water or eating food in foreign countries  because of a bacteria strain to which residents are immune.

Montezuma’s revenge is often the result of an intestinal infection that happens after eating or drinking contaminated food or water. The chance of gastrointestinal illness is conditional and depends on the type of exposure -- from a mild low risk from eating hot, cooked foods and drinking factory-sealed beverages to an elevated risk from eating raw vegetables and fruits and drinking tap water.

The most habitual offender is bacteria called E.coli.

Does everyone suffer from Montezuma’s Revenge?

The immune systems of new expats frequently are not as accustomed to the microorganisms present in a foreign nation’s food and water. This is especially true in developing nations where there are greater incidents of food and water contaminated with bacteria, fecal matter and parasites. Even relatively mild stomach and intestinal tract problems are common.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, newcomers to developed nations are less at risk of illness because of more advanced water purification and waste management systems.

Greater public access to purified, bottled water, widely available in developed countries, helps reduce exposure to organisms which can cause disease.

What foods are most risky?

Raw meat, fish, shellfish, and eggs are usually the most likely to carry bacteria and microorganisms which could be responsible for food poisoning.

Tips for new expats

A few common sense tips can help the new expat balance health, relocation and adventure:

  • Read about the country and ask fellow expats: Is it safe to drink the water? What should you avoid foodwise?

  • Get dressing on the side

  • Eat protein with every meal

  • Buy bottled water

  • Be careful with coffee

  • Snack smarter- instead of fresh fruits, opt for dried fruits or at least wash your fruits properly

  • Avoid empty calories and

  • Ask for substitutions

1 Comment
robvan
robvan
last month

As someone who has travelled to some 100 countries and lived for several years at a time in 10 of them, I can't make much sense of the advice below. Please let me comment with asterisks: Tips for new expats A few common sense tips can help the new expat balance health, relocation and adventure: Read about the country and ask fellow expats: Is it safe to drink the water? ***Well, durr! What should you avoid foodwise? ***Yes and no, often depends on personal preference. Obviously be careful with anything that's raw. Get dressing on the side ***Huh? Eat protein with every meal ***Huh? Buy bottled water ***See above. Depends on reliability. Be careful with coffee ***Huh? If the water has been boiled, it should be reasonably safe. Same with tea. Snack smarter- instead of fresh fruits, opt for dried fruits or at least wash your fruits properly ****Or make sure you peel fresh fruits yourself with hands you've just washed. Not sure dried fruits are always safe, depends on who has handled them and how. Avoid empty calories and Ask for substitutions ***Huh? Sure, empty calories don't do anyone any good, but what has that to do with Montezuma's revenge?

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