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Italian Food and The Mediterranean Diet

italian food

Dietitians would always warn their overweight or obese patients to avoid Italian food as much as possible and to immediately find a fitness instructor in order to start losing weight and avoid the risk of succumbing to cardiovascular and other related diseases. Popular picks such as pizza, lasagna, and fettuccini alfredo are usually nutritional disasters, loaded with saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium, not to mention calories.

Yet, real Italian food is actually included in the infamous Mediterranean diet known for its outstanding health benefits! The problem is that when Italian food has been Americanized it became an abysmal version that people ought to reject. Italians actually have a vastly different diet than just high calorie and cheese-fueled dishes and the portion sizes they serve are smaller, vegetables are found in every dish, and freshly picked fruits are recommended for daily consumption. 

It is unfortunate that Italian food has been heavily influenced by Western culinary techniques, which in all honesty, also corrupted it. However, their traditional cuisine that’s mostly found in south Italy is still the same and is the same cuisine that makes up the Mediterranean diet. This diet plan is considered as one of the best, if not THE BEST diet plan in the world and is also the gold standard among nutrition professionals worldwide.

The Basics of Italian Food

If you want to enjoy Italian food at its best, then you have to go back to the basics of Italian cuisine – healthy simple, and easy to prepare. This is the essence of Mediterranean diet! You’re allowed to eat almost anything with no restrictions on food. You can even eat cheese and yet still nourish yourself with it and not turn it into something toxic for your body. There have been many scientific studies showing that when people follow the Mediterranean diet, they tend healthier and longer because the diet is well balanced and complete. It is also one of the best diets to use when you want to lose weight and shape up. 

Even Hollywood actors and celebrities are advised to follow the new version of the Mediterranean diet, called the “flexitarian” diet. This is actually gaining popularity in Hollywood over the years. This new type of Mediterranean diet is mostly made of vegetarian meals and is flexible, which allows for meat consumption, albeit moderately. The best thing about the Italian Mediterranean diet is that it won’t leave your palate bored. You get to enjoy all the good food without sacrificing your taste buds, as it allows you to consume healthy food in various ways. While the Mediterranean diet is mainly based on vegetables and fruit, as well as grains and their derivatives, including pasta, legumes, meat, fish, milk and eggs, it places no restrictions on you eating foods that other diets has banned, like pizza, desserts and cheeses.

Green Light for Vegetables

It is the vegetables that highlight in every meal of the Italian-style Mediterranean diet. They are a good source of dietary fiber which aids in healthy bowel movement and helps you stay fit and lead a healthy life. In all the 3 meals that you’ll have throughout the day you’ll have to give priority to fruits and vegetables, especially the veggies as they contain an ample amount of vitamins, minerals and precious antioxidants for the body. If you want to get the most nutrients from the Italian food (Mediterranean diet), then you have to variate the ingredients of the food you’ll prepare.

Among the ingredients that you will need to include in your daily menu are nuts (hazelnuts, pistachios, walnuts, almonds) and seeds (sunflower, pumpkin, and flax). These things can be snacked on as not only do they have fiber and healthy fats that can help keep your hunger at bay before you’ll have your next meal. However, you’ll have to watch out on the amount you consume with these foods, because too much of anything is not good for you. In fact, just 4 ounces of these have more than 600 calories – calories that can make you fat.

Yes to Pasta

Pasta is practically what Italian food is mostly known for. It can help you feel full even if you’ll just consume a small amount of it. Its carbohydrate content has a slow-release action once digested, which means it will not raise your blood sugar to alarming levels and prevent type 2 diabetes. If mixed with various fruits and vegetables and consumed in the right amounts can be eaten daily. Yes, with the Italian Mediterranean diet you can enjoy a plate of spaghetti with tomato sauce or with fresh veggies, seasoned with EVOO (extra-virgin olive oil). Eating pasta with legumes such as beans, chickpeas, lentils can be more than just satiating, but is also nutritious as it provides the body with all the essential amino acids it needs in order to synthesize the proteins in the muscles.

Easy on the Animal-Based Foods

Dairy products like milk and yogurt are a staple food in Italian food and Mediterranean diet, so it’s ok to drink these daily. Fish and eggs are allowed but should only be eaten 2 – 3 times each week. Red meat and cheeses are at the bottom of the Mediterranean diet food pyramid and the reason is because they are not as nutrient-rich as the foods that are at the top. While they may have good amount of protein for muscle growth, red meat slightly increases your risk in developing coronary heart disease, stroke, heart failure, and death related to heart and circulatory disease.

How to Season Dishes

Extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) is the most preferred seasoning agent in the Mediterranean diet. It is used as the primary dressing on almost all foods in the Mediterranean diet; however, experts advise to limit it to 2 tablespoons a day so as to not turn your food into an unhealthy meal more than what you’re trying to achieve in using it in the first place. You can also use herbs and aromatic plants as substitute for salt. Among them include basil, parsley, rosemary, oregano and bay leaves. Salt as you may know has sodium and too much sodium in the bloodstream can lead to heart disease. 

The Secret to Italian Food is to NOT DIET!

For Italians, dieting is somewhat weird because they’ve never had to do it while enjoying the Mediterranean diet, which is basically just the Italian food. They don’t understand it and even if they do, they don’t see any real health benefits from it. The best thing about Italian food is that it won’t let you stress out over nutrition labels or dieting, which can often lead to frustration, stress and winding up eating more, gain weight and the whole thing goes in a sick cycle carousel ride. Italians just enjoy eating a healthy, satisfying diet and being active. 

Their greatest secret is that they enjoy their food and share that pleasure with their loved ones, which make for a great socializing event daily and promotes their collective mental health. So the next time you’re in the mood for Italian food, serve up a dish inspired by the land of Romeo and Juliet that includes all the health benefits of a Mediterranean diet. Avoid foods that are heavy in oils (even if they used EVOO to cook them, too much is just plain bad for your body) and sauces made with creams that are paired with pasta. Instead pair your pasta with vegetable pasta sauce and tomato salad. For seasoning, use herbs, lemon, vinegars, capers, and other foods that have intense flavor yet low in calories.

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