As promised in my previous post, today I will list my observations of the healthy ways of Italian eating.
Fresh Foods. Just like Lynn commented yesterday, I think fresh foods is a major key to the slim factor for Italians. Most go to the market each day for fresh foods, then prepare just enough for what they need for that meal. Their refrigerators are quite small, because they do not stock up on groceries, nor do they keep leftovers. I stayed with an Italian couple for about 3 days and had them all to myself to sample their cooking and pester Daniella with questions. Food tasted wonderful to me and I asked at every meal, "What did you put in this?" She assured me that I was just tasting how delicious fresh foods are. She prepared a pasta dish that had fresh sage. When I saw her put the torn up sage leaves in the meal, I held my tongue. I really don't like a strong sage flavor...and had never tasted fresh sage before. The meal was delightful!
Foods in Season. Because they purchase their foods fresh, they use fruits and vegetables in season. Daniella told me she just varies her recipes according to what is sold at the market. She replaces the vegetable she normally uses for whatever veggie is in season at the time.
Very little meat. I don't eat large servings of meat, but while in Italy, their servings of meat were much smaller than I was used to. They maybe served meat once a day... and then it was a small amount served in a pasta dish. Sometimes us interns craved more meat, and oddly, it hit us around the same time. "What should we eat tonight?" "I don't know but I really need some MEAT!" That only happened about twice during our four weeks there, and one of those times we ended up at McDonald's. Which brings me to...
Slow Food. There is very little "fast food" in Italy. That McDonald's I mentioned was the only one in an entire city. They have pizzerias, where we could buy pizza by the slice and that's about as "fast" as it gets. Everything else is fresh cooked, and served in a slow, calm, pace. Going to a restaurant there was heavenly... no waiters scurrying about trying to rush us out of there. When you go out to dine, you have that table for the remainder of the evening. The meal usually took two hours, as they brought it course by course, each one prepared fresh.
Rarely Snack. From what I understand, in talking with Daniella, they don't snack very much. If they get hungry, they just wait until the next meal, or have a little snack to hold them over. They do love Gelato in Italy, but even that is far healthier than our ice cream in the U.S., because good gelato is made with fresh fruit, and has half the sugar that ice cream does.
Healthy Fats. I never cared for olive oil until I went to Italy and tasted how wonderful it was when you get quality oil. (I was mistakenly thinking the "expensive" bottle I bought from Wal-Mart was quality.) Besides olive oil, and olives (some of the best I've ever tasted!), they also have delicious cheeses. Salad "dressing" was vinegar and olive oil. That's it. I don't know where the idea of "Italian" dressing comes from that we see in the stores here.
Limited Processed Foods. The grocery stores there are quite small. Even the largest grocery store I went to there was about 1/3 the size of our grocery store here. They don't carry a lot of processed foods, and what they do carry, they stock in limited choices. Instead of the entire aisle devoted to cold cereal, for instance, they have a few selections of cereals in one little section on one side of an aisle. The larger selections of foods are found in the produce, cheese, bakery, and deli sections.
Hold the Sauce. The areas we visited in Italy, used very little, if any, sauces. Their pizza did not have sauce. Their spaghetti did not have sauce. Spaghetti, in every town I visited, consisted of pasta, with sauteed fresh veggies, and olive oil. Delicious!
Exercise. Parking was a premium, so when we visited cities, we parked the car and walked everywhere... as many Italians do. And they ride bicycles. They get a lot of exercise in their form of "transportation."