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Italian Diet Secrets

How the Italian people manage to stay slim in the land of pizza and pasta.

Italian Diet Secret No. 2: Stop When You're Full

Italians are not concerned with calories because they stop eating when they are full, says one Rome physician.

"We eat by our stomachs, not by our heads, and since we dine leisurely, we get the signal that we are full and can just enjoy a coffee and the company," says Stephano Gumina, MD, PhD.

Gumina also describes a very active lifestyle, with lots of walking or bike riding, especially in urban areas of the country. Then there's the Mediterranean-style diet, with plenty of fruits and vegetables, fish a few times a week, lean meats or chicken, whole grains, olive oil, and red wine. All of this helps Italians enjoy long lives, he says.

"Where we differ from Americans: We eat small portions, do not eat after dinner, never in front of the television, computer, or while sitting sedentary reading a book, and no junk food," he says.

In addition, Italians usually satisfy a sweet tooth with fruit instead of higher-calorie desserts.  A typical dessert could be fighi e albicocce -- figs and apricots picked from the garden trees. In southern parts of Italy, the enormous and delicate lemons are the basis for desserts such as gelato and lemon ice.

Italian Diet Secret No. 3: Balance Quality and Quantity

On the sunny Amalfi coast up in the village of Ravello, the famous "Mamma" Agata runs a fabulous restaurant overlooking the sea, teaches Italian cooking classes, and plans to publish her first cookbook next year.

She sizes up Italian eating plans quite simply: "We balance the quality and quantity of ingredients -- not too much fat, just enough carbohydrates, lots of fish, chicken, and turkey, and just a little red meat."

"People think Italians eat a lot every day but they are wrong, because while we do eat a big family meal on Sunday, the rest of the week we eat small portions of healthy foods, such as pasta, vegetables, lean meat, fish, and cheese," she says. "But we never drink soda [or eat] chips, junk foods, or mayonnaise." 

Olive oil is the preferred oil, used extensively in cooking and on salads. But you won't typically find it on the table for bread dunking as we enjoy in America. Italians enjoy the healthy, monounsaturated fat, but don't overdo it.

"Healthy fats are better than trans or saturated fats, but olive oil is fat, has the same number of calories as other fats, and needs to be eaten in limited quantities," says Gumina.

Italian Diet Secret No. 4: Enjoy Simple, Fresh Food

The Tuscan diet is loaded with beans, which are high in protein and soluble fiber that fill you up for a long time for very few calories. Riboletta soup and pasta e fagioli are two popular hearty dishes that feature beans.

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