The Mediterranean Diet and its Many Healthy Aspects
Italian food can be placed into the "Mediterranean dietary group." This article is about the simple Italian diet and typical Mediterranean diet which is similar. In the Middle East pasta is not common. Chick pea and other grains replace the pasta in their diet. The dietary principles are similar: it is a balance of simple and complex carbohydrates, proteins, and non-saturated fats. There is a heavy reliance on complex carbohydrates, vegetables and fruits. It differs from the northern European diet. The extensive use of olive oil is common in both diets, and as a mono-saturated fat is healthier than saturated fats, it helps lower cholesterol levels.
Below is a list of a Mediterranean diet characteristics from the American Heart Association:
- Fruits, vegetables, bread and other cereals.
- Nuts and seeds.
- Olive oil.
- Fish, poultry, red meat and eggs.
- Moderate amounts of wine.
Pasta and Parmesan cheese is normally part of an athletic diet. Athletic trainers believe in Parmesan cheese.
Parmesan cheese has highly nutritive qualities.
According to FAO data for yearly food consumption: England: 91kg fruit and 89kg of vegetables. USA: 113kg fruit and 129kg Vegetables. Italy: 140kg fruit 180kg of vegetables. The Italians consume large portions of fruits and vegetables. The most popular Italian food in the United States is pizza.
When people talk to me about going to an Italian restaurant they mention pizza or pasta (Alfredo sauce is unknown in Italy). Only the high end Italian restaurants in the United States offer a variety of vegetables. It is even rarer to find fruit being served as desert. Salad is often served with pre-prepared dressings that Euro-Italians have never seen, and there is a lack of quality which cannot compare to the taste of fresh olive oil and a mild vinegar. Some of the pre-prepared salad dressings are so high in fat that they eliminate the benefits of eating salads. Italian-American cooking lacks the essentials of a good old fashioned Mediterranean diet.
Salads and vegetables are overwhelmed with sauces and cheese. Maybe you would be able to find eggplant parmigiana, but some disadvantages also arise like eating eggplant that was fried and smothered with fatty cheese. Pizza is cooked differently in the United States.
Pasta sauce recipe:
- 3 TBSP of butter
- 8 fluid ounces of heavy whipping cream
- Salt to taste
- 1 pinch of ground nutmeg
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/4 cup grated Romano cheese
- 1 egg yolk
- 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
And just what do we do with all this?
Pizza and pasta do not have to be cooked like the Kamikazi's last meal! Both can be quite healthy and any significant grease or fat can be avoided if they are cooked properly.
** Mediterranean diet sample:
- A brioche or croissant for breakfast - 1 slice of bread, cookies, Fette Biscottate, or cereals.
- A portion of fruit once a day.
- A portion of vegetables once a day.
- A portion of fish two or three times a week.
- Do not consume more than four eggs a week.
- Do not eat fast food more than once a week.
- Eat legumes more than once a week.
- Eat pasta or rice at least five times a week.
- Use olive oil as dressing.
- Do not consume much alcohol.
- Eat less than 100g of meat a day.
** Andrea Ghiselli - Lavinia Guffanti La dieta Mediterranea --The Mediterran Diet by Andrea Ghiselli
So what does it take to create an authentic Mediterranean diet in the USA?
Try eating pasta with a simple sauce with fresh tomatoes or clams (pasta alle vongole) or ragù sauce (ragù in Italy is not a brand, but a type of sauce made with meat and tomatoes). Avoid Alfredo Sauce, and cream and butter based pastas. In Italy cream based pasta has been out of style since the 1980s. Avoid bread sticks that come with American Pizza, fresh bread is healthier.
An Italian Breakfast
An Italian breakfast is frugal: It usually consists of cappuccino or coffee and milk, with a Cornetto.
Freshly squeezed orange juice is becoming more popular. I have heard in the USA that this type of breakfast is unhealthy and that you should eat a decent sized energy breakfast to start out your day.
This has some truth, like seventy years ago when people would go working in the fields and a nutritious breakfast was vital. Today if sit down in an office for a continuous eight hours we may think twice about letting all the fat from that powerful breakfast get comfortable around our waist. The goal is to limit our calorie intake.
In the USA I have seen people eating eggs and steak for breakfast. A high fat breakfast is different than a high energy breakfast. Fat makes your body slow down, and fat takes longer to digest. Grains give high energy without all the excess fat. Each of us use a certain quantity of calories to stay alive, to regulate body temperature etc. If we take in more calories than are burned during the day, the calories transform into fat.
Cereal, toast and fruit are fine for breakfast, so the Italian breakfast is not so far off.
Snack: Usually an Italian snack is either a cappuccino or cornetto. Some other choices are orange juice, succo di frutta with a toast, pizzetta or tramezzino.
Lunch: Most typical is a one course meal of pasta, salad and fruit.
For lunch my mother is either cooking pasta with tomato sauce or making a salad. Sometimes she bakes fish in the oven with potatoes. She might make a light meat dish with a tossed salad or vegetables. All followed by fruit for desert.
Afternoon snack: A yogurt or fruit.
Dinnertime in a modern working family has become the major meal of the day. Not eating too late, giving time to digest before going to bed. I usually cook a one course dinner with a salad or vegetables. Sometimes I make "pasta e fagioli" (pasta with navy beans) or a soup with fish and vegetables. During the weekend I might have friends over and cook a two course meal like pasta or rice with meat or fish and salad or vegetables and fruit.
According to a 2002 FAO study "The high and increasing consumption of sugars and sweetened drinks consumed by
children in many countries is of alarming concern. It has been estimated that a glass of sugar sweetened drink increases the risk of becoming obese by 60%. Most of the evidence relates to carbonated drinks but many fruit drinks and cordials are equally sugary, and may promote weight gain if consumed in large quantities. The evidence against high intake of sweetened drinks in promoting weight gain is considered moderately strong. Italians consume a limited amount of carbonated beverages and prefer mineral water to accompany their meals.
Unfortunately, the Italian diet is changing for the worse. According to new studies in Italy kids are getting fatter. This is due to an increase in proteins and fatty foods in the Italian diet. A large part is due to time spend in front of the television and playing video games versus inventing games out in the yard and running around.
By Paolo Nascimbeni
You may read on similar subjects here: Mediterranean Food Diet