The Abu Dhabi skyline.


Expat guide to healthy living in Abu Dhabi


ABU DHABI – When you’re in the midst of moving to a new country, eating healthy and keeping fit often fall by the wayside. It’s easy to fall into a routine of constant snacking and relying on microwave meals when you’re busy juggling all the essentials that come with settling into your new home. But maintaining a balanced diet and keeping your health in check as an expat arrival is equally as important.

To help expats moving to Abu Dhabi maintain a healthy and happy lifestyle in those hectic first months and beyond, here are a few top tips.

Local and international cuisine

One of the most exciting ways to lively healthily as well as experience the new culture is to sample the local cuisine. In Abu Dhabi, this isn’t a difficult task, thanks to the beautiful array of local markets, restaurants and eateries the city has to offer.

Local markets, also known as souks, can be found in abundance across the city. Souks are traditional markets, selling a variety of goods, souvenirs and groceries. Among the narrow lanes lined with embroidered abayas and authentic Arabic jewellery, you’ll find sellers offering fresh produce including fruit, vegetables, fish and more.

Eating healthily and cooking with fresh ingredients is easily achievable in Abu Dhabi. “If you like to cook at home, find out where the local souks are; at the markets you get the choice of the freshest fruit and vegetables from around the region before they hit the supermarkets, often for a cheaper price too” says Neil Payne, Director of Commisceo Global Consultancy, who lived and worked in Abu Dhabi and Dubai over the course of seven years.

Whether you’re seeking a local delicacy or an international option, eating out is always a pleasure in Abu Dhabi. From Morrocan, Lebanese and French cuisine to American, Italian, Spanish cuisine, the city’s international food scene is vast, so you’re sure to find something to please the palate.

Be sure to “sample the different cuisines from the Asian expat communities too. You can find amazing food from Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, the Philippines and plenty of other places. All of them offer various healthy eating options” Neil adds. Traditional Emirati cuisine is also to be sought after, and you’ll find plenty of delicious, healthy options here too.

Finding influence in Asian as well as Middle Eastern cuisine, Emirati food uses rich spices including cinnamon, saffron and turmeric, along with nuts, limes and dried fruit to give a distinct flavour. Meat is a common staple in Emirati cuisine, including adored national favourites like Al Harees, a dish of meat and wheat slow-cooked in a clay oven or pot and served with ghee.

Another popular pick is Al Majboos, a meat dish much like an Indian biryani, typically made with chicken and a distinctive blend of assorted spices in rice. While these dishes are flavourful and can be high in protein, they can also be quite fatty which is why you may want to mix up your dietary habits.

“You’ll be spoilt for food, especially fast-food high in sugar and fats – so be careful with what you eat and where you eat” advises Neil. Treating yourself now and then won’t do any harm as long as you don’t overindulge.

Humidity and hydration

As well as maintaining a healthy and balanced diet, you’ll also need to consider other elements that could affect your health. In Abu Dhabi, temperatures often soar above and beyond 40°C, and the intense humidity that comes with it doesn’t make coping with the heat any easier. As a very hot and humid country, expats here will need to prepare themselves as best as possible.

Make sure you wear long, light, and loose clothing. Apply sunscreen often and wear something to cover your head whether it’s a hat, cap or scarf. If you’re spending a lot of time outside, make sure you drink plenty of water to keep hydrated.

The heat is not the only thing you’ll have to prepare for. The air quality in Abu Dhabi is very low, due to the city’s desert setting as well as the impact of man made activities. Mineral dust from the desert and other air pollutants can be particularly dangerous for those with pre-existing respiratory issues. If you do suffer from a respiratory issue, you should try to avoid being out and about for long stretches of time when air pollution levels are high. You can check the air quality in Abu Dhabi on the Environment Agency’s website.

Hazardous wildlife

If you’re a fan of the outdoors and wish to go exploring the vast desert that encompasses Abu Dhabi, you may need to watch out for the local wildlife. Scorpions, snakes and spiders are common to the UAE and while not all of them are deadly, they can be venomous. A bite from a samsun ant for example, has been known to cause severe allergic reactions and even anaphylactic shock – which, in extreme cases, can result in death. Make sure you research the local wildlife before moving to Abu Dhabi so you know what to expect.

If you are unfortunate enough to be bitten or stung by a venomous creature, seek medical attention right away. All expats are legally required to have a global healthcare policy in place, which should cover the costs and ensure that you’re able to access high-quality medical facilities if anything does occur.

Thankfully, the quality of healthcare services in Abu Dhabi and the UAE as a whole is excellent. Neil Payne states that “The UAE has some of the best facilities and medical personnel in the world working in many of the privately run hospitals across the country”.

Keeping fit

Keeping fit doesn’t have to be a chore in Abu Dhabi, although it can be more difficult for outdoor activities due to the heat. Expats moving here should limit the amount they exercise outside, especially during the hottest time of the day (10am–4pm). “Make sure you stay active and work with the heat as opposed to trying to fight it,” Neil advises. “For example, you may need to restructure your daily routine to start waking up a lot earlier, sleeping during the afternoons and staying awake a lot later than you are used to.”

He continues to elaborate that “walking is very popular in the early mornings and late evenings along the corniche (sea side). Cycling is also becoming very popular as a means of keeping fit and active, and you’ll also find many housing complexes and blocks of apartments have gyms for residents to use.”

While the heat and humidity may affect the way you exercise, there are still plenty of ways to keep fit and healthy while living in Abu Dhabi. Adding to this the high-quality medical facilities and the delicious fresh food available from local souks, maintaining a healthy lifestyle in Abu Dhabi is easier than you may think.


Sabrina Bucknole is a professional copywriter from the United Kingdom. When she’s not looking for her next adventure abroad, she spends her time writing about travel, expats and healthy living.


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