Italian cuisine is among the healthiest in the world. Italian people themselves enjoy some of the best health and longevity statistics in the developed world. The prevalence of heart disease is particularly low across Italy.
The United States and the United Kingdom on the other hand regularly top lists of ill health. It seems that in the race to the top of the charts in other regards a lot of us have forgotten how to eat and live in a healthy way. So what can Italian food teach the rest of us?
Like all cuisines Italian cooking has some healthy and not so healthy dishes. However overall it is a supremely healthy diet. The way people eat in Italy is often referred to as the Mediterranean diet.
Let’s cover the not too healthy foods first. Italy has a lot of wonderful ingredients and foods that you may want to avoid if you’re in need of a health boost to your diet and lifestyle. These are foods that should be enjoyed in moderation or as a special treat. Maybe you can have one of these treats occasionally once you get on track overall.
Italy’s café culture is second to none. The streets of cities and even villages can be teaming with cafes and small establishments where you can grab a coffee and a cake or pastry. One thing is for sure, no matter how freshly baked, light and beautiful your pastry is, it isn’t healthy. Neither is a full fat cappuccino with chocolate on the top.
When people in Italy are interviewed about why they are so healthy they explain that they enjoy treats in moderation. In many developed countries we take the fact that here are a lot of pastry shops around to mean that we should eat a lot of pastry! Indulgent coffees and cakes are a calorie and fat hazard wherever you are in the world. Take heed of the Italian way of life and when you choose to have a treat, make it a special occasion with a friend or out and about. Rather than feeling guilty they enjoy the experience and don’t need it again for a while.
If you make eating the pastry about more than just consuming it then you are more satisfied for longer. How many people eat a pastry with a big take out coffee on their own in a parked car and feel guilty afterwards? All countries have naughty treats but the difference is how they are consumed.
Don’t worry, all those cafes have healthy meals and snacks too. Just avoid the universal red flag options.
The same goes for Italy’s wonderful ice-creams, cheeses and wines. Their calorie count is no different to when you are at home. People in Italy in general just know how to really enjoy these treats and make them an occasional addition to their diet. See also salty capers and anchovies you can find on pizza menus. They’re not healthy and you should only have them if you really want to splash out. Remember that cheese is extremely fattening, whether it’s on a sharing board with bread and fruit or generously spread over the top of a delicious lasagne you won’t dodge the calories because it’s on Italian cuisine.
Another aspect of Italy’s cuisine that is calorie heavy is creamy pastas. A carbonara might be the most famous for boosting calorie counts on menus the world over. In general just use your common sense and identify the parts of Italian cuisine that are treats meant to be enjoyed once in a while.
Beyond this you can enjoy eating Italian. Fresh tomatoe based sauces, vegetables, fish and lean locally reared meats form the base of this cuisine. The term Mediterranean cuisine refers to the diet eaten by people living around the Mediterranean. It is a diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables, fresh fish and salads. Processed foods and red meats are eaten sparingly. For flavour the Italians rely on herbs and spices rather than salt or bottled sauces.
This diet is low in bad fats and high in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Because the dishes in this cuisine are balanced you will find yourself more satisfied after eating the dishes, rather than cravings snacks or sweets. Because it is an aspect of Italian culture to sit down and enjoy meals slowly your body has chance to register that it is full meaning you eat less and feel fuller. When people wolf down big fried dinners and still want more it’s only because they didn’t take the time to eat properly.
What are you waiting for, eat Italian today!