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Italian Diet Secret No. 3: Balance Quality and Quantity continued...

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.

Balsamic vinegar from Modena is another flavorful, yet very low-calorie, product of Italy that is used freely to flavor foods and salads.

Down south, the fresh fish, herbs, artichokes, capers, and gigantic lemons contribute to delicious and healthy cuisine. Pasta is served al dente, with a little olive oil or tomato sauce and vegetables, and always in small portions.

"Our cooking is simple and genuine," says Agata. "We start with fresh ingredients, often from our own gardens. We don't buy precooked foods. [We] eat lots of vegetables, keep it simple, and try to eat like our grandparents."

To make sure the kitchen secrets are passed along from one generation to the next, small children can always be found in the kitchen with their parents -- learning from the masters.

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