Rich pasta dishes, lots of bread and cheesy pizzas topped with meats are often the most popular dishes at Italian restaurants in America. With such high-calorie meals it is a curiosity how Italy maintains a low obesity rate. However, the traditional Italian diet is much healthier and more well-balanced than dishes found in Italian-American restaurants.
The Italian diet is very similar to the Mediterranean diet which is considered one of the healthiest diets in the world. Found in the same region, both diets offer balanced meals from a variety of food groups. Common dishes composed of vegetables, fruits, beans, fish, little red meat, grains and olive oil have been proven to reduce the risk of several chronic illnesses as well as improve overall health.
Portion size in Italy tends to be much smaller than in the United States, Web MD said. Pasta and bread may be common Italian staples, but they are served as smaller portions and balanced out by other foods such as vegetables, beans and whole grains. Some pasta dishes use heavy cream sauces, but many traditional Italian meals feature vegetable sauces made of olive oil and different vegetables.
Olive oil is used heavily throughout Italy. According to livestrong.com, olive oil is used in place of butter and oils with saturated fats when cooking. It is also common to use olive oil rather than high-calorie dressings on salads. Balsamic vinegar can also serve as a flavorful but low-calorie dressing choice, Web MD said.
The Experience of Eating
In Italy, eating a meal slowly and enjoying all of the flavors is part of the culture. When Italians sit down to eat, they relax and socialize with friends and family for hours. Eating leisurely allows one to realize when one is full rather than eating quickly and rushing through a meal, livestrong.com said.
It is also common to go on walks before and after meals in Italy. Walking through town while talking to friends and family can have many health benefits including breathing in the open air, improving mood and engaging in physical activity.