Landing in Iceland not knowing whats in store for the next 22 hours!

Having just arrived in London after what may have been the longest 48 odd hours of my life, I can now live to tell the tale that I have been to Iceland! (Put it this way, if anyone ever challenges you to a game of Icelandic trivial pursuit, I would suggest you call on me to be your partner in crime given all the irrelevant and obscure knowledge I have just collected on this amazing country at the top of the world!)

Iceland scenery beginning as soon as you leave the airport

Leaving NYC which has around 8 million people living in it, and going to Iceland which has 300,000, it would be no surprise that one of the first things I noticed was how empty and quiet it felt! I was told that the capital where I was staying housed two thirds of the population, but put it this way, there were no high rise buildings, and there was only one building pointed out on the tour that I went on that was said to be where all the cities lawyers and accountants were housed together for work..just one!

Icelands capital streets lined with little houses

Arriving on a red eye flight, and intending on leaving that same night at 4.30am to return to the airport and catch my next flight to London, I thought if I was going to be in the country, I may as well lock myself into a tour and not sleep through the day…and what a day it was!

Large stretches of rocky formations from all the volcanos that have gone off around Iceland

Travelling Dietitian in Iceland!

Visiting thermal pools and watching them spout metres up in the air, seeing where the tectonic plates of the earth from America, Asia and Europe all come together around one huge lake, and seeing a huge amazing waterfall which falls for meters and lets off a huge rainbow above it were just some of the parts of my day that made my time in Iceland one to never forget.

Iceland thermal pools- after the big spout!

Iceland waterfalls

Iceland waterfall

Iceland landscape as you drive through the country

Selecting to manage my accommodation on this Europe trip through a service called airbnb meant that I was going to get to stay with a local at every stop, and really get a taste for the countries culture.

Beautiful Icelandic breakfast set up by my host!

My bedroom in Iceland

The mini bar my host provided in my room..amazing! (free of charge unlike a hotel)

My day started with my lovely host having a traditional Icelander breakfast set up for me! I arrived to a table set up with sweet crockery and a myriad of healthy food. There was delicious thin rye bread, fresh red grapes, smoked salmon, sliced tomato, nespresso coffee, steamed frothy milk and agave nectar sweetener! Lets just say I couldn’t have picked it better myself, as a dietitian who loves breakfast, this was the ultimate way to start my 22 hours in Iceland!

Found their natural version of a high protein milk..although their yoghurts were actually higher in protein!

I took myself on a grocery tour when the rest of the tourist bus had a stop off and were buying coffees or ice-cream. I of course wanted to see the influence from America and other countries on what products were available on their shelves, as well as what their products looked like, and how they nutritionally stacked up in comparison.

I straight away worked out which words meant what on the nutrition information panels “Fita” = “fat”, “Sodium” = “natrium” and the list continues obviously..I always love to see how the words are somewhat similar to the English version..I actually thought of “Na” as sodium, and hence made the connection..that could just be my nerdy science brain playing up though! everywhere

Thick skyr ‘yoghurt’

Health claims are present everywhere! I hope you all understand what this poster is saying!

It was interesting to see they also had nutrition claims on the front of packs or on posters, just like the rest of our developed countries e.g. on an ice-cream poster it said 6% fat, and on the Skyr ‘yoghurt’ that is very popular there, they had all different varieties of fat contents. I did manage to consume 3 skyr yoghurts over my 22 hours in the country..somewhat ridiculous I know, but I was told Iceland is known for its dairy, and given the 17g of protein, 400kJ, and delicious taste (I like creamy textured things), I just kept going back for more (on separate occasions of course). You can get these products in the USA, but not Australia. I think they would sell very well with the Aussies actually.

Reading through a dining out guide I could see that most places, both the budget and the fine dining venues, made note of how healthy their food was. I saw a fish and chip shop talking about how they want to promote healthy living so much that they cook their seafood and fish in oils that are rich in omega 3’s, as well as add nuts in their cooking in order to also boost the omega 3’s!

The tour guide made special mention that there is not a single Mc Donalds in the country and that there used to be one, but the Icelanders didn’t really see it as anything special (this obviously being true if it no longer exists!).

They seemed to be known for their great quality lamb and fish, with all their lamb coming from those that feed on grass naturally, and their fish being caught locally and being very rich in omega 3’s.

Looking out at the lake where some of the tectonic plates meet

Due to the colder climate (summers top temperatures are around 13 degrees celsius- which is what it was for me yesterday) they do not produce a lot of fruit, but do use all the thermal heat they have available at their dispense to heat green houses and grow cucumbers, tomatoes and red peppers. They also cultivate rye, barley and corn; whereas wheat is not big there. This I found was quite a dramatic difference between many other countries I have always known as relying heavily on wheat or rice in their diets as their main grain.

They are very big on fermenting and smoking their meats and vegetables. Delicacies consisted of sheep’s brains, shark intestines, and a myriad of other things I couldn’t bear the thought of consuming!

All in all, it was a diet very heavily made up of fresh local produce, meat, fish, dairy and rye.

Looking up some statistics, it appears obesity is actually creeping up and it is now almost as bad as in Australia and the USA (although they have far fewer people that need to be overweight in order to get a large percentage of themselves into that category obviously!). It is interesting to see that with or without a heavily processed food supply system, obesity levels can still go up!

American influence in Iceland

On a completely non dietary topic, I did happen to be up at 3am (clearly jet lagged, and it was still sunny outside!), so decided to read a book in my room that was called “50 crazy things to do in Iceland”, lets just say the look of shock on my face did not get wiped off for a long time. Some sample suggestions included:

Have sex with an elf (apparently they are famous for their elves, and they are very sexual beings).

Go swimming and shower naked at the bathing venues in front of others (apparently if you try to wear your bather bottoms when showering you will actually be directed to take them off, or you will have to leave!).

Sit on top of a famous rocky mountain that they believe has an amazing energy about it. This is where some of the Icelanders believe aliens might come to visit.

Look into one of the entrances to hell at some lava filled volcano that is believed to be one of the two entrances to hell according to something historical (the only other entrance is somewhere in the UK I think they said).

…and then the lucky last one that really stuck in my head from this ridiculous book.. go to their famous penis museum which houses over 200 penis’s from different animals..and they made the suggestion that if as a male you would like to leave your mark on the country, that you offer to donate yours!

Oh wow! Hopefully you have gotten the jist of the suggestions in this book..

Typical architecture for the homes in Iceland

All in all Iceland was an enlightening experience I won’t forget, and from what I can see, just like Australia has always been slightly protected from external influences being at the bottom of the globe, Iceland has taken this to a whole new level being far away at the top of the globe!

On top of the world flying over Iceland

Now back to slightly more familiar territory, good old London..

Lets see what this densely packed country of overweight and obese individuals food system has to offer, and what we can take away with us from here,  as I, together with you my readers, continue on the search for the answer of how we can live, and help promote, a healthy and nutritious way of life.

For now,

The Travelling Dietitian xo

The sky from my window at 12.30am!

The sky still light at 4am

The sky at 4.45am in Iceland as I wait for my bus to the airport…clearly I sleep as much as the sun sets!

About The Author

Kara Landau aka "Travelling Dietitian" is an Australian Accredited Practicing Dietitian based in New York City. She is a world explorer, healthy foodie, social butterfly, and barre class lover. When she isn't trying new cuisines, researching new product innovations in the health food space, or speaking to the media on behalf of her food industry clients, she can be found quietly conjuring up her next idea in how to make this world a healthier and better place.

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