What do the Italians eat? A few secrets from Italian kitchens

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You are asking yourself what the Italians eat, aren’t you? You’ll find something interesting here. Italy is famous for “pizza, spaghetti, and mandolin”, but there’s much more than this. 

What is the secret of Italian diet?

Interesting questions, indeed! Italy is famous for pasta, pizzas and good wine. That’s right, of course. Every day we are used to eating pasta- we cooked it in numberless ways. But we do not eat only that.

First of all, Italy is divided into 20 Regions, from the North to the South-every region has got its own local food traditions. They may differ greatly from region to region, from city to city, even from village to a nearby village!

I mean, in Italy there are countless recipes which spring from the local history of the regions and   use their typical products. So, for instance, Trentino Alto Adige is famous for Canederli with melted butter, Cappelletti are found in Emilia Romagna, Carbonara is a well-known dish from Lazio, and Sicily offers Arancini. These are just a few examples.

Because of this great variety, I can’t tell you what the Italians actually eat even if I am Italian-food habits are very different all along Italy. Anyway, I may try to exemplify the basics as follow:

  • Pasta, rice, grain cereals, tubers (mostly potatoes), and pulses;
  • Fish, most of all in coastal regions;
  • Eggs, and cheese, mainly in the North;
  • White meat (chicken, turkey); 
  • Seasonal fruit and vegetables;
  • Aromatic herbs, spices, vinegar, lemon;
  • Shell fruit such as almonds, pine-nuts, pistachio-nuts, nuts, and walnuts;
  • Red wine.

Let’s have a look at what the Italians eat every day.

A more and more hectic lifestyle has significantly changed Italian food habits but, on average, I may outline these guidelines:

  • A nourishing breakfast with some hot drink, a baked product (biscuits, toasts, a slice of cake), with some fruit, and yogurt;
  • A lunch composed of an abundant serving of pasta, or rice combined with a light meat dish and vegetables. Those who are short of time are used to having a main course composed of cereals, pulses and vegetables;
  • Dinner is usually lighter: some vegetable soup, our raw vegetable such as “pinzimonio”, or some  broth combined with a protein dish, some bread, or potatoes; someone has more vegetables  or salad;

During the week, simple and fast recipes are preferred. At the weekend more elaborated dished are cooked: so, rich lasagne, roast meat or stew meat, and cakes are part of the Sunday lunch.

The wine? A glass is allowed, preferably red. This is not a general rule: someone has it during the week, someone else just at the weekend. A few people seldom drink wine, except for special occasions.

Healthy Italian diet
Healthy Italian diet

Is the Italian diet healthy?

Well, the traditional Mediterranean diet, where dishes are made of a few genuine simply cooked  ingredients is very healthy indeed. Unfortunately, Italian food habits have got worse: in our hectic life, little time remains to do shopping carefully, to cook healthy dishes and to eat quietly. As a result, we have lost part of our food traditions and we have taken up eating ready to food.

Here, I want to speak about that healthy and simple lifestyle-which every research, included that by Ancel Keys and his wife, has considered beneficial, anti-aging, and appropriate for preventing metabolic diseases. Its name? The Italian Mediterranean diet!

Can you lose weight with the Mediterranean diet?

You have cut off pasta because you think carbs are fattening. Well, Italian people are known as being the best pasta eaters in the world: how can they stay fit?

First of all, dispel a myth: eating pasta too often, big serving, very rich sauces and little exercise make the Italians get fat too!

Actually, nothing makes you get fat, if it is part of a balanced meal, not even pasta.

The golden rules to make it simple: eat servings which fit your body constitution, and your lifestyle, always balance the intake of carbs (pasta is just only an example) with proteins and plenty of vegetables, and little fat. It is a done deal: Mediterranea diet makes you stay fit, healthy, satisfied, and happy.

The cornerstones off the Mediterranean diet are the following: 

  1. Have moderate serving and keep the calorie intake under control; at the same time opt for high quality ingredients;
  2. Add little salt (no salt at all would be better!)- replace it with aromatic herbs;
  3. Green light to high quality fat;
  4. Choose wholesome (but not only) products or those which are very rich in fibers, because of…numberless reasons;
  5. No sugar at all: try to sweeten your life with something else;
  6. Cook simple dishes; leave ready to got food, and colorful miraculous potions on the supermarket counters- true food will became your “happiness pill”;
  7. Drink plenty of water: oxygenate your body: breathe in. And out deeply, focus on our body, listen to it;
  8. Respect your body: take care of it, pay homage to it, and love it.

What do Italian people eat for breakfast?

You know, breakfast is the most important meal of the day, both for grown-ups and children. Having breakfast regularly is really salutary. Why?

  • It improves memory, concentration and cognitive performances;
  • You feel less hungry during the day;
  • The risk of the onset of diabetes and cardiovascular diseases decreases;
  • It favors the weight control;
  • It provides you with important nutrients to balance your food habits.

That’s why you can’t do without a rich good breakfast to start your day with. Italian people usually have:

  • 1 cup of half-skimmed milk, or 1 white yogurt with a serving of fresh fruit, or a glass of freshly make orange squash, a slice of homemade cake, or 3-4 dry biscuits; 
  • 1 white yogurt with some sliced fruit into, 2 tbsp. of shell fruit or seeds, and 2 handfuls of breakfast flakes;
  • 1 cup of half-skimmed milk with a little unsweetened cocoa powder, 2 handfuls of wholesome wheat flakes, and some fresh fruit;
  • 1 cup of skimmed milk 2 slices of toasted wholesome bread with some ham and a glass of freshly make orange squash.

On Sundays? Can we have something extraordinary? Only for special days! A cup of tea with a freshly made brioche, and an apple used to be my holiday’s favorite breakfast when I was a child. It made me so happy! Yes, quite sugary, but it is an exception.

Do the Italians eat pasta daily?

The Italians do not eat pasta every day. It is fast and easy to prepare, so it is a common place about our traditional food habits, but actually, bread, pulses, grain cereals-such as rice, barley, spelt, potatoes or polenta (cornmeal mush) are integral part of the Italians’ meals. They often replace pasta as the carb source.

Pasta is usually consumed for lunch, seldom for dinner and it should not be paired with other sources of cabs or starch. This is the most important golden rule not to make pasta spoil your diet. 

What time is dinner in Italy?

No way: dinner is the end of the day meal and everybody has it with their family to talk about he day, to enjoy quality time together, to relax around a the table. The hectic pace slows down before going to bed. That’s the reason why dinner has to be light: a moderate serving of meat or fish (or other proteins), cooked or raw vegetables, a little bread or some “pampering” smashed potatoes”.

The time? Not later then 7pm would be the best hour in order to favor the processes of digestion and the sleep.

Which is the main meal of the day in Italy?

Lunch is usually the main meal of the day. It is composed of a carb dish, pasta or grain cereals, a protein one paired with plenty of vegetables and a small slice of bead (to mop the plate with), and some fruit. Having several courses extends the length of the meal, and different flavors are tasted-   as a result you feel more sated. Only a main course is seldom consumed; when it happens vegetable soup with grain cereals or pulses are the most common choice, mainly in the winter because they are hot and nourishing.

Can you eat salad in Italy?

Always, always, and always. Yes, green salad and all the other vegetables, according to the season, are integral part of the meal: I mean, both for lunch and dinner, either raw or cooked-lightly cooked, stewed or roasted.

Everything is included except the vegetables which contain starch: potatoes, beetroots, and pumpkins are nutritionally more similar to pasta and grain cereals.

Both simple green salad and all the other vegetables are a precious source of fibers and mineral salts which exert beneficial effects on the guts, and the whole body.

You can’t feel sated without vegetables, so you will go on nibbling all the long, you won’t be able to stop looking for anything which may calm your hunger down and make you feel satisfied. If you do not eat any vegetable you feel as something is missing- you think you have not eaten enough.

Keep in mind: vegetables must be light- do not add any cheese, fats, sauces, or to much seasoning.  It should be crunchy and stingy; have it at the beginning of the meal to contrast your hunger and greed.

Do Italian people actually eat pizza?

The Italians love good pizza, but it is not the most common food. It is usually consumed once a week, notably on Saturdays when we have dinner at the restaurants with friends. Sometimes we prepare the dough on Sunday afternoons and we simply top it with tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese. A homemade delicacy to celebrate Sunday dinners.

What you can’t eat in Italy

Well, you might be surprise but the following are NOT typically Italian:

  • Milk, fruit juice, sugary drink, cappuccino for lunch or dinner; Italian people usually drink still or sparkling water, sometimes red or white wine;
  • Fettuccine Alfredo and spaghetti with ragù sauce;
  • Pizza with avocado or pineapple;
  • Elaborated sauces to season vegetables: extra virgin olive oil, vinegar, lemon, salt, pepper (or chili pepper) is the most common seasoning;
  • Marple syrup: you may opt for little sugar or honey;
  • Long coffee: here we are used to having short dark espresso in a really hot small cup (tazzina). Seldom a very little dash of milk may be added (caffè macchiato). Anyway, espresso is the actual black gold!    

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