What Exactly Do Italians Eat?

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Are you wondering what Italians eat? If so, you’ll find out some interesting facts here. Italy is famous for pizza, spaghetti, and tiramisu, but there’s much more than this.

What Exactly Do Italians Eat? 

Are you wondering what Italians eat? If so, you’ll find out some interesting facts here. Italy is famous for pizza, spaghetti, and tiramisu, but there’s much more than this.  

What is the secret of the Italian diet?

Interesting questions, indeed! Italy is famous for pasta, pizzas and good wine. Everyday we eat pasta, cooked in countless ways, but that is not all we eat. 

First of all, Italy is divided into 20 regions, from the north to the south; every region has its own local food traditions. They may differ greatly from region to region, from city to city, even from village to village. 

In Italy, there are countless recipes which spring from the local history of the regions and which use their own typical products. For instance, Trentino Alto Adige is famous for Canederli, gnocchi, or dumplings with melted butter. Cappelletti, meat-filled pasta, are found in Emilia Romagna. Carbonara is a well-known dish from Lazio. Sicily offers Arancini, fried, stuffed rice balls. These are just a few examples. Because we have such a great variety of foods, I can’t tell you what the Italians eat even though I am Italian, but I will highlight the basics:

  • Pasta, rice, grain cereals, tubers (mostly potatoes), and pulses (beans, lentils, and peas); 
  • Fish, mostly in coastal regions; 
  • Eggs and cheese, mainly in the north; 
  • White meat (chicken, turkey);  
  • Seasonal fruit and vegetables;
  • Fresh herbs, spices, vinegar, lemon;
  • Nuts such as almonds, pine nuts, pistachios, and walnuts;
  • Red wine. 

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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 here are some general guidelines: 

  • A nourishing breakfast with some hot drinks (tea, cappuccino, espresso), a baked product such as biscuits, toast, a slice of cake, and some fruit and yogurt; 
  • Lunch is composed of a serving of pasta or rice combined with a light meat dish and vegetables. Those who are short on time might have a main course composed of grains, pulses, and vegetables; 
  • Dinner is usually lighter: vegetable soup, or an assortment of raw vegetables such as pinzimonio, broth combined with a protein dish, some bread, or potatoes. Others might have more vegetables  or salad; 

During the week, simple and fast recipes are preferred. On the weekend more elaborate dishes are cooked: rich lasagna, a roast or a stew, and cakes are part of the Sunday lunch. 

Is an Italian diet healthy?

The traditional Mediterranean diet, where dishes are made of a few simply cooked ingredients is very healthy indeed. Unfortunately, Italian food habits have gotten worse: with our hectic lifestyles, little time remains to do mindful shopping, to cook healthy dishes, and to eat quietly. As a result, we have lost some of our food traditions and we have taken up eating readymade food. 

Here, I want to speak about that healthy and simple lifestyle, which is backed by research, including that by Ancel Keys, who has written a lot about the Italian Mediterranean Diet, which is considered beneficial, anti-aging, and appropriate for preventing metabolic diseases. 

Can you lose weight with the Mediterranean Diet?

So have cut out pasta because you think carbs are fattening? That is so sad because Italians are known to be the best pasta eaters in the world, yet they stay fit. So how do they do it? 

First of all, dispel the myth: eating pasta too often, big servings, very rich sauces, and little exercise also make the Italians fat too. 

Pasta will make you fat, however, if it is part of a balanced meal. The golden rule is to keep it simple: eat servings which fit your body size and your lifestyle. Always balance the intake of carbs (pasta is only one example) with protein and plenty of vegetables, with only a little fat. It’s well known that a Mediterranean Diet will help you stay fit, healthy, satisfied, and happy. 

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The cornerstones of the Mediterranean diet are as follows:  

  1. Eat a moderate serving and keep the calorie intake under control; make sure to use top-quality ingredients; 
  2. Add only a little salt (no salt at all would be better), and replace salt with herbs;
  3. Eat only unsaturated fat; avoid saturated and trans fat
  4. Choose wholesome products, especially those which are very rich in fiber;
  5. Drop the sugar: It causes lots of health problems; 
  6. Cook simple dishes; real food will become your “happiness pill”;
  7. Drink plenty of water; oxygenate your body; breath in and out deeply; 
  8. Respect your body; take care of it, pay homage to it, and love it. 

What do Italian people eat for breakfast?

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, both for adults and children. Having breakfast regularly is really beneficial. Why?

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

That’s why you can’t do without a good filling breakfast to begin your day. As an example, Italian people usually have the following for breakfast:

  • 1 cup of half-skimmed milk, 1 plain yogurt with a serving of fresh fruit, a glass of freshly-squeezed orange juice, a slice of homemade cake, or 3-4 dry biscuits;  
  • 1 plain yogurt with some sliced fruit added, 2 tablespoons of nuts or seeds, and 2 handfuls of unsweetened breakfast cereal;
  • 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 wholesome bread toasted with some ham, and a glass of freshly-squeezed orange juice. 

On Sundays, do we have something special? Yes, but only on special days. A cup of tea with a freshly-made brioche and an apple was my favorite holiday breakfast when I was a child. It made me so happy. Yes, it was quite sweet, but it was definitely an exception. 

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 grains, a protein paired with plenty of vegetables, a small slice of bread to mop the plate with, and some fruit. Having several courses extends the length of the meal.  As a result, you feel more sated because you have time to savor the food and taste each course individually and slowly. If only a main course is served, it is usually a vegetable soup with grains or pulses. This is the most common choice in winter because it is hot and nourishing. 

What time is dinner in Italy?

Dinner is the end meal of the day. Everybody has it with their family in order to talk about their day, to enjoy the quality time together, and to relax around 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, fish, or other protein, cooked or raw vegetables, a little bread or some mashed potatoes. Italians do not eat later than 7 pm in order to promote good digestion before going to bed. 

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What do Italians drink with their meals?

Here we are used to having espresso, served in a tazzina, a really small cup. Occasionally a dash of milk is added to make a caffè macchiato or coffee with a little milk. Espresso is considered to be black gold. 

With meals, Italians usually drink still or sparkling water and sometimes red or white wine, but if they drink wine, they generally prefer red wine. There is no general rule for wine consumption; some Italians drink it during the week; others, just on the weekend. Some only drink wine on special occasions. 

Do the Italians eat pasta daily?

Even though it is fast and easy to prepare, Italians do not eat pasta every day. Bread, pulses, grains (such as rice, barley, spelt), and potatoes or polenta, cornmeal porridge, are an integral part of Italian meals. They often replace pasta as the source of carbs.

Pasta is usually consumed for lunch, seldom for dinner and definitely not eaten with other carbs or starchy foods. The most important rule is not to spoil your diet with too much pasta.  

Do Italians eat salad?

Yes, absolutely. Green salad and all the other seasonal vegetables are an integral part of the meal, both for lunch and dinner, either raw, cooked lightly, stewed or roasted. 

Everything is included in salads except vegetables that contain starch, potatoes, beets, and pumpkin, which are nutritionally more similar to pasta and grains. Both a simple green salad and all other vegetables are a precious source of fiber and mineral salts, which have beneficial effects on the whole body, especially the gut. 

Without vegetables, you won’t feel sated and will snack all day long. You will constantly be on the hunt for unhealthy snacks. 

Keep in mind that vegetables must be light without any added cheese, fat, sauces, or too many condiments.  They should be crunchy and fresh.  Have them at the beginning of the meal to satisfy your cravings. 

Do Italian people actually eat pizza?

Italians love good pizza even though it is not the most common food. Pizza is usually consumed once a week, most likely on Saturdays when we have dinner out with friends. At home, we prepare the dough on Sunday afternoons and simply top it with tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese. It is a homemade delicacy to celebrate Sunday dinners. 

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Totò e Macario – pizzeria Mathi (To)

What Italians don’t consume in Italy

You might be surprised but the following is NOT typically consumed by Italians: 

  • Milk, fruit juice, sugary drinks, cappuccino for lunch or dinner; 
  • Fettuccine Alfredo; spaghetti with ragù sauce;
  • Pizza with avocado or pineapple; 
  • Fancy sauces on vegetables; 
  • Maple syrup; 
  • Large cups or mugs of coffee, which are actually called Caffè Americano or American Coffee.

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