The majority of Italians eat pasta every day for lunch. Of course they vary their recipes so it doesn’t get boring and prepare dishes like this vegetable kamut pasta, tagliatelle with asparagus and peas, tortelli verdi, lumaconi or pasta with a simple tomato sauce. But, yes, that’s right, most Italian eat some kind of pasta every day. But that’s not all. The typical weekday Italian lunch usually includes some kind of meat or fish, vegetables, fruit and espresso. On the weekends expect to find various desserts and gelato. You would think that with these extravagant lunches everyday, the whole country would be obese, no? Yet, Italy is considered to have one of the healthiest diets in the world and is ranked among the highest life expectancies. What’s the deal?
From my observation of the last 5 years living in Italy, there are a few eating behaviors that play a large role in the Italians healthy style of living. This is not a scientific study, so take what I say with a grain of salt. This is only my observation/opinion. This reflection is for the majority of Italians; certainty, there are individuals who follow a less healthy diet.
7 Italian Diet Secrets
1) Fresh foods—Italians typically prepare food by hand instead of buying pre-packaged goods loaded with preservatives and sugar. They eat a lot of fresh fruit, vegetables, beans, whole grains, dairy products, fish and extra virgin olive oil. Recipes are simply and don’t require loads of caloric condiments like mayonnaise.
2) Sauces, pesto and dressings—Sauces are made by hand with just a few whole ingredients. Tomatoes and basil are picked from the vegetable garden to make tomato sauce and pesto. Alternatively, if you don’t have a garden, both markets and supermarkets carry extremely fresh produce which often times even lists the place of origin; many products come from local farmers. Salad dressings consist of just healthy extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Meat is usually eaten alone or with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. Think of all the calories Italians save by not loading their salads with ranch, thousand island or blue cheese dressing or dipping their meat into mountains of bbq sauce?
3) Snacks—Mid morning or mid afternoon snacks typically consist of a yogurt, nuts or piece of fruit.
4) Sugary drinks—Coca cola and similar beverages are typically drunk on special occasions. Italians drink wine and natural or sparkling water at meals.
5) Quantity—Italians dishes aren’t meager portions by any means; however, they aren’t exaggerated and super-sized like you often find in the states or restaurants with all-you-can-eat buffets.
6) Quantity vs. meal time—Typically Italians eat sweets for breakfast, a large and varied lunch, and a light dinner. This gives their body fuel for the entire day and they slowly and consistently burn most of it off by evening. Makes sense. Not sure why in the states it’s the reverse and we often go to bed with a full belly of food.
7) Walk—Italians have a tradition of a “passeggiata” or “stroll” after meals, which aids in digestion.
There you have it, 7 Italian diet secrets for a healthier lifestyle. These 7 secrets aren’t hard at all to incorporate into your everyday life. It just takes some self-will and determination to undo some of the habits you may have grown accustom to.
From every culture we can learn something new that can help us live better. And, in this case, Italy’s healthy style of eating can be an inspiration to all of us to alter the way we think about consuming food. Remember, what we put in our body affects how we feel. If we feel good, we are happy. If we are happy, we are more productive. If we are productive, we are motivated to live fully. All this, just by eating better.
- ¼ cup (25g) extra virgin olive oil
- 1 vegetable bouillon cube*
- ½ onion, finely chopped
- 3 carrots, finely chopped
- 3 celery stems, finely chopped
- 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
- 4 datterini or grape tomatoes, skin removed (I freeze the tomatoes then the skins just pop off under water)
- 10 cloves
- ½ Cinnamon stick
- Dry white wine, as needed (enough to cover the vegetables)*
- 12 ounces (340g) pasta (I used kamut tortiglioni pasta)*
- ½ tablespoon coarse salt
- ½ cup (38g) grated Parmigiano Reggiano (parmesan cheese)*
- In a medium-sized saucepan, add: extra virgin olive oil, vegetable bouillon cube, onion, carrots, celery and garlic. Cook on medium low heat for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Add the tomatoes, cloves and crumble in the cinnamon stick. Cover the vegetable mixture with white wine and stir.
- Cover and simmer over low heat for 25 minutes, checking periodically to make sure that there is some liquid at all times, adding a bit more wine or water if needed.
- In a medium pot, bring water to a boil and add the coarse salt. Cook the pasta according to the indications on the package. Drain and mix in the sauce and Parmigiano Reggiano. Buon appetito!
- *For a vegan recipe, check the vegan-friendly wines here, double check the vegetable bouillon ingredients list (or buy vegan bouillon cubes), make sure that the pasta doesn’t have egg and don’t include the cheese.