A small country on the map,with an extremely diverse regional food, varied and incredibly territorial, mesmerizing landscapes, spectacular historical monuments and enchanting vibes … I would simply second what Giuseppe Verdi once claimed: “You may have the universe if I may have Italy” …
A few months ago, Bloomberg classified 20 countries in a list of the healthiest countries around the world.Surprisingly, Italy ranked 2nd.
How could a nation that lives on pasta and pizza do so ? Specially when Italians are considered amongst the leanest populations in Europe?
Although the fact, they smoke more than other European citizens, earn less and don’t have a much advanced healthcare system, they still manage to live longer with a life expectancy of 81.5 years!
On a recent trip to Italy, I decided to see for myself whether Italians “Eat Like Nicole” or simply have other nutrition hints and tips that allow them to squeeze the most out of “la dolce vita” while maintaining healthy weights…. My trip started in Florence and ended in Rome…
I stayed in Florence at the Hotel Atlantic Palace (www.atlanticpalace.it) situated 5 minutes away from Santa Maria Novella Train Station and with all the major landmarks being within walking distance (the duomo, the market,etc.).
To my surprise upon our arrival we got an upgrade to the suite; very elegant, spacious, with anything a traveler would ever dream of… The hotel staff were very genuine, friendly and helpful.The receptionists were particularly nice and always happy to help us book our tours (wine tours and others).
The Breakfast was generous offering a pleasant variety of options to be discussed further.
Italian cuisine relies greatly on fresh, seasonal produce;herbs, spices, fruits, vegetables and non processed foods are the key components of the cuisine.
Balsamic vinegar from Modena is another flavorful, yet very low-calorie, product of Italy that is used freely to flavor foods and salads.It is made from syrup that comes from the juice of white grapes Trebbiano, that is then fermented and aged slowly in barrels so its flavors become sweet, viscous and concentrated.They also use herbs, lemon, vinegars, capers, artichokes and other intensely flavorful, low-calorie foods for seasoning.
“Italians enjoy a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, beans, fish, poultry, olive oil, tomatoes, whole grains, dairy, red wine — and they eat very little red meat.”
A Flexitarian diet stands for a semi-vegetarian diet that emphasizes on vegetarian food with occasional meat consumption.
Being a Flexitarian is an extremely flexible choice that gives a person the opportunity to become a vegetarian while consuming meat once in a while.
Studies have shown that vegetarians live roughly 3.6 years longer than meat eaters and on average weigh 15% less than non-vegetarians.They also have a 90% less chance of having a heart attack than their meat eating counter-parts.
In fact, meat has lots of fat and lacks fiber; it has 450 calories and 26 grams of fat per six ounces.Therefore, a person who wants to loose weight will probably avoid eating meat and may choose to become a Flexitarian because of the numerous advantages it presents.This assumption is not based on a personal observation but relies on the position of the American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada that find the vegetarian diet a nutritionally adequate diet that provides health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.
Being a Flexitarian myself has definitely helped me enjoy the foodies during my trip and specially in Tuscany where the Tuscan diet is loaded with seafood and grains such as beans, which are high in protein and soluble fiber that fill you up for a long time for very few calories. Riboletta soup and pasta e fagioli are two popular hearty dishes that feature beans.
It is extremely fascinating how You rarely see an Italian drinking soda or eating chips, junk foods, or mayonnaise!
My first food stop in Florence was in Santa Spirito a non commercial restaurants destination… I was lucky enough to fall on the same restaurant i had tried 6 Years ago and all I can say is that: 6 Years later and the food hasn’t changed at BORGO ANTICO restaurant!
I held on to the same eating habits although I was in Italy and couldn’t help myself from not ordering a salad at the beginning of each meal!I started with a goat cheese salad with anchovies and sun-dried tomatoes…
Did You know that: the word “salad” originated from salt, and began with the early Romans salting their leafy greens and vegetables ? One of the simplest and healthiest health habits that anyone can commit to, is to begin each meal (lunch and dinner) with a salad. It provides enough fiber, vitamins, minerals,antioxidants, and fills up the stomach, leaving a little space for the main course. The ideal portioning of the plate should always be: 50% salad, 25% Carbohydrates and 25% Proteins.
On the other hand, it is interesting to know that, salt was highly valued and its production was legally restricted in ancient times, so it was historically used as a method of trade and currency. And, precisely during the Roman Empire where soldiers were paid with sacks of salt, whence the term “salary”.
The production and the transport of salt gave rise to new cities and to the construction of roads. For instance, Salzburg (the “city of salt”) and of the via Salaria (the road of the salt) in Italy.
Then I enjoyed sharing the best seafood platter ever with two glasses of white wine!
A comparison of 100 g of mussels to a 100 g of red meat have shown that mussels have more protein, more Iron, more Zinc, less fat, less saturated fats, less cholesterol and the quarter amount of calories!
A 100 g portion of cooked mussels contains around 24g of proteins and 172 calories! It is rich in Iron, Zinc,Omega-3, Manganese, Phosphorus, Selenium, Vitamin C and Vitamin B12
Italians eat slowly and stop eating when they are full …
Be sociable while eating and enable new conversations each time you find yourself on the dining table. Take thirty minutes to finish each meal, since eating slowly can reduce your intake by 70 calories per meal, which translates into a saving of more than 200 calories per day!
Italians “eat by their stomachs” not “by their heads” and since they dine leisurely, they get the signal that they are full… A habit that’s a bit close to the Japanese hara hachi bu!
The Hara Hachi Bu is a Japanese eating habit derived from the island Okinawa which holds the highest rate of longevity in the world. The habit consists of always eating 80% of your dish or eating till you’re 80% full. By applying this habit one will be definitely saving calories, feeling more energetic after a meal and decreasing the chances of developing cardiovascular diseases and others.
Italians have a very active lifestyle…
Before and after dinner, many Italians engage in the passagiata, a leisurely stroll through town. Generations walk together, talking and keeping alive a cherished tradition.Bike riding and excessive walking are especially done in urban areas of the country.
As for Breakfast, it was consumed most of the times at the hotel.In reality, limiting your food choices from the breakfast buffet to either eggs or whole wheat
Fat free yogurt is available everywhere and fresh cheeses such as buffalo mozzarella are also inevitable when in Italy and better be enjoyed in moderation!
Over 70% of kiwi production is in Italy New Zealand, and Chile.Italy produces roughly 10% more kiwifruit than New Zealand!
Street vendors always have fresh fruits available for sale and ready to be eaten on the go! I personally believe it to be a great initiative that encourages people to consume their 2 to 3 portions of fruits everyday specially if they forgot to pack them before going to work! Also, a great snack idea for tourists that would help them avoiding eating empty calories found in other foodies sold on the streets!
Chestnuts, unlike other nuts, are relatively low in calories!They contain less fat but consist mainly of starch!
Each chestnut has around 18 calories.
They are rich in minerals(iron, calcium, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus and zinc), vitamins(vitamin C) and phyto-nutrients that benefit health.
They are a very good source of fiber and have the highest amount of fibers when compared to other nuts.
Italians drink everyday in Moderation …
Their moderate daily wine intake decreases the chances of becoming binge drinkers and lowers the risk of heart attack and cholesterol when the focus is on red wine!
You cannot travel to Florence without touring around Tuscany and visiting one of its wineries! When traveling the Chianti Classico countryside one notices signs featuring a black rooster.To read more about the legend of this black rooster click on this link: http://winetrailtraveler.com/opinion/columnists/blackrooster.php
Italians Enjoy La Dolce Vita …
Living la Dolce Vita, helps Italians stay healthier for a longer period of time… Did you know that 15 minutes of laughter a day can help you burn 10 to 40 calories depending on the intensity of the laughter ?
Italians enjoy eating sweets… Sharing is caring!
When in Italy one cannot avoid trying Gelato which is made from whole milk when compared to regular ice cream made of cream and that is much more fattening than Gelato. If you wish to opt for a healthier option, go for Sorbet that are naturally fat free!
And whether you are ordering a tiramisu, a fruit pie, a pudding or any other Italian specialty make sure to share it with someone and never eat it alone!
Sharing Pasta is caring for your waistline…
Whenever a dish of pasta was ordered, a salad was consumed before and the dish was shared!
The best way to cook pasta is to boil water (1 Liter) on high heat.Once the water boils, add 7g of Salt and while the water is really boiling add 100g of pasta.Stir frequently for 2 minutes and follow the cooking time on the box.If you want your pasta to be cooked Al Dente, substract 2 minutes from the cooking time.
You must never ever add oil to the boiling water as the pasta becomes oily and thus the sauce would slide off and won’t be well absorbed which turns your pasta dish into a flavorless one!
Once you drain your pasta, you must never add water as the swollen starch on the pasta tends to crystallize and become insoluble which won’t help the sauce to be well absorbed.
“Too much carbs will kill you
If You can’t make up your mind
Torn between the food
And the extra kilos you leave behind
You’re headed for disaster
‘Cos You never read the signs
Too much carbs will kill you-every time”…
The main ingredients that are required for a successful trip are a strong sense of discovery,limitless optimism&positivism and a great companionship! Than You Sarah A.N for sharing all these dishes with me and off course for the memorable times of laughter and fun in Italy!
Dietitian Nicole Maftoum