We associate the Italian cuisine with the appetizing and rich pasta dishes and the irresistible pizza, piled with delicious products covered with melting cheese. Also, not to forget the diversity of desserts, of which, the world-famous gelato, that every fan of the Italian food must have tried. But these foods are not at all related to the word “diet”.
Although at first glance the Italian cuisine seems super unhealthy, the Italians are not fat. How, however, the Italians have managed to remain slim, and to achieve “Dolce Vita”? They enjoy all the temptations that the Italian cuisine offers to them every day without putting on weight. What in fact is their secret?
Italy is a Mediterranean country and has an extreme abundance of pasta, pizza and a great number of doughy products and desserts which are symbols of the Italian culinary art. Quite a lot of studies indicate that the Mediterranean diet is beneficial for the prevention of cardiovascular diseases, cancer, and is the key to a long and fulfilled life.
The Italian cuisine includes Mediterranean dishes and products such as tomatoes, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, garlic, nuts, anchovy, chili, fish (salmon, tuna, sardines), seafood – all products that are close to nature and are with proven health benefits.
Not to miss to mention the cup of wine for dinner, of which the Italians do not deprive themselves. They are a part of a balanced diet, which the dieticians strongly recommend to anyone who wants to reduce weight, or simply to lead a healthier lifestyle.
Since the Italian dishes contain fish, olive oil, and olives, they are rich in vitamin C, iron, vitamin A, unsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids, which, as most of us know, are simply mandatory to have a healthy heart, normal blood pressure and healthy cholesterol.
Not all the natural products are low-calorie of course. Olive oil is one of those foods which are very healthy, but still are rich in fats. But when it is consumed in moderate quantities, these foods would not adversely affect our shape. To be healthy, the olive oil must be a high class.
The Italian cuisine is rich in antioxidants, which contribute to the prevention of cancer. Other valuable substances, that the Italian dishes are abundant in, are Lycopodium (thanks to the wide use of tomatoes and tomato sauces), selenium, lutein, Beta-carotene, vitamin A, which are beneficial for the eyesight and serve as a barrier against the free radicals and protect us from the development of certain chronic diseases. They protect the cells from damage and help our body to be purified from the harmful toxic substances, which damage the tissues.
In the Italian dishes from the southern regions of Italy, could also be found artichokes, onion, capers, lemons, an abundance of aromatic herbs and spices which give a perfect taste to even the most simplified dish. Although the diversity of the pasta in Italy is great (more than 300 kinds of pasta), the Italian pasta dishes are healthy and we cannot put on weight with them if we eat them in not big portions every day.
What products are used?
The original Italian cuisine consists of fresh products such as fresh seasonal products fruits and vegetables, non-fatty red meat, chicken, turkey, fish, seafood, leguminous plants, green leafy vegetables such as cabbage, kale, spinach, brassica (decorative cabbage), bread made by home recipe and dairy products of entirely natural origin.
The traditional dishes from the Region of Tuscany contain different leguminous foods which are rich in protein and fibres, and they satiate us for long without giving us excess calories. Such are most of the dishes of the Italian cuisine as well. They consist of natural ingredients which satiate our body for long, reduce our feeling of hunger, and make us less prone to overdo with the sweet, which therefore leads to maintaining an ideal weight.
Here are a few main reasons why the Italian cuisine is healthy:
Fresh and natural products
In the Italian cuisine, it is staked on the quality, not the quantity. In the dishes, new and fresh products are used, that are small in number but are so selected as to form a wonderfully delicious combination. The other health benefit of the Italian food is that the Italian dishes are minimally processed and are quickly absorbed by the body. Its rich fibre content is due to the cereals, vegetables, and fruits that are in the dishes. They help us feel full for longer.
About the issue of the carbohydrates, quite a lot of disputes have been going on. In fact, the rich sources of carbohydrates such as pasta and pizza are not harmful when consumed in moderate quantities. In the pasta, there are no harmful for the body preservatives and colours.
The dishes with pasta give energy to our body and contain fewer fats, which makes them an excellent source of carbohydrates for active people, like the Italians, of course. And, as we already said, the Italians do not overdo with the food, they enjoy it.
The Italians avoid the packed food for fast preparation and do not attend fast-food establishments. They prepare meals at home from natural products from the garden or purchase from the local market because they adhere to the family traditions; most of the Italians prepare the dishes according to family recipes. Typical for the Italian family traditions is that the culinary recipes are passed from generation to generation.
They eat slowly
Most of you probably know that for the Italians having a meal is a whole ritual and they always eat slowly, trying to enjoy every single bite. They avoid to eat standing and sit at the table to make a good meal. For them, eating is a social event and a good way to spend more time with the closest ones, and even for a short relaxation from the daily activities. Before and after dinner, for example, the Italians go for a slow walk around the city called “ passeggiata“. This way they maintain this tradition alive.
It is an interesting fact that the Italians do not count the calories and do not comply with any special diets. Then how have they preserved their good figure? By stopping to eat when they are full. And also through maintaining an active lifestyle. The Italians are quite energetic and active people. Most of them cycle or walk mainly in the urban areas.
It is important to emphasize that the traditional Italian cuisine differs significantly from the modified Italian cuisine in America. The pasta is served ‘al dente’ with a little olive oil, home-made tomato sauce in small portions. But especially when it is a wholegrain one, the pasta is turned into a dietary and healthy-for-the-body food.
In the Italian cuisine, there isn’t often fried food. Also, the portion in America, for example, is larger than the portion in the Italian Restaurants. Unlike the American versions of pasta, sauces rich in preservatives and artificial additives from the shop, are not used, and putting ketchup on top of the pasta is simply forbidden.
Because it will take time to list all the healthy dishes of the Italian cuisine, here, we will only mention some of the most famous of them.
Which are some of the healthiest dishes in the Italian cuisine?
Ribolitta is a thick soup, and it is made of vegetables and old bread. It belongs to the Italian ” cucina povera” (kitchen of the poor). Ribolitta is a soup made of products present in the everybody’s kitchen. This easy-to-prepare Italian dish is really healthy.
Its name literally means “brewed again“, as, in the past, it was prepared by the servants of the wealthy people. They made soup by adding all the products remaining from the previous day, and thus the delicious ribollita was created. It derives from the region of Tuscany and it has many variations. The original ribollita recipe contains Cannellini beans, a sort of Tuscan kale, of the Lacinato sort, carrot, celery, potatoes, onion, usually, and curly cabbage.
Aubergines Parmigiana (Melanzane alla Parmigiana)
One more simple dish of the Italian cuisine, which is healthy and is not a threat to our figure. It is consumed mainly at the end of the summer. The dish is made of thinly cut ‘washers’ of eggplant, that is salted, arranged in a tray and is browned to golden on both sides.
Tomato sauce is prepared from tomato paste, onion, garlic, olive oil, peppers, eggs and left to cool. On the aubergines are arranged the slices of tomatoes, slices of mozzarella, grated Parmesan cheese and it is sprinkled with fresh basil.
This sequence is repeated until the desired height of layers is achieved. All this is topped up with the prepared tomato sauce, sprinkled again with Parmesan cheese, and browned.
Soup Tuscany/ or Tuscan soup/
This soup from the region of Florence is a real vitamin bomb, as it is rich in vegetables. It is prepared with kale, courgettes, potatoes, celery, Cannellini beans, onion, olive oil, carrot, peeled tomatoes, garlic, cabbage, sausages or rigatino (Italian bacon), vegetable broth and also chili powder at your desire.
It is served sprinkled with thyme and eaten with toasted Tuscan bread and original Parmesan cheese.
One more thick as a consistency healthy Italian soup, which is even more delicious when it is made of seasonal vegetables. It is prepared of Borlotti beans (also known under the name of Roman beans, considered as a compulsory part of the authentic soup Minestrone), carrot, onion, celery, potatoes, vegetable or chicken broth and is seasoned with basil.
In the modern versions of Minestrone, pasta or rice is added. In some recipes, there are peas or bay leaf. Although it is vegetarian, the soup is rich in vegetable protein and fibres, and is an appropriate satiating dish for the cold winter days. The oldest version of the recipe includes mushrooms, lentils, garlic, asparagus, and parsnip.