Popular Diets of the World: The Italian Way with Food
When it comes to weight, it's clear the Italians know something we don't.
According to the International Association for the Study of Obesity, just 9% of
people in Italy are heavy enough to be considered obese, compared to 32% of
Americans. It's not that Americans are unfamiliar with Italian food.
In Italian restaurants across the country, Americans enjoy heaping plates of
spaghetti and meatballs, pasta smothered in Alfredo sauce, and slabs of
buttery, cheese-coated garlic bread. Italian food is tied with Mexican as the
most popular ethnic food in the U.S., and is served regularly in American
homes, according to market research firm NPD Group in its 21st Annual
"Eating Patterns in America" report. But is the Italian food
we know and love in the U.S. the same food people eat in Italy?
Far from it, experts say. So forget everything you think you know
about Italian cooking. Here's the real story behind this healthy cuisine.
Not just pizza and pasta. In Italy, pasta is never intended to be an
entire meal, says Susan McKenna Grant, author of Piano Piano Pieno:
Authentic Food From a Tuscan Farm. Instead, it's eaten as a small first
course, and either preceded by an antipasto -- salami, olives, and maybe some
crostini (small, thin slices of toast with toppings such as olive oil, garlic,
and diced tomatoes), or followed by a "secondo" -- meat, fish, or even a plate
of fresh, seasonable vegetables, such as grilled mushrooms or asparagus -- or
both. Fresh, seasonal vegetables -- not pasta -- are the mainstay of Italian
Lighter fare. American portions of Italian food are much larger than
those in Italy, agrees Eldo E. Frezza, MD, chief of general surgery and
director of the Bariatric Weight Loss Center at Texas Tech University Health
Science Center, and author of Slim the Italian Way. The sauces here are
much heavier, too, nearly drowning the pasta instead of simply enhancing
its flavor. Italians do eat American favorites like meat sauce and
Alfredo sauce, but during a normal week, most pasta dishes are served in
a light sauce with basil or a small amount of meat.
Small portions, many courses. In Italy, even a light meal
includes more than one course, but portions are small. A plate of pasta is
probably half the size Americans normally eat, according to Frezza, who
recommends ordering kid-sized portions at Italian restaurants. Knowing that a
second or even third course is coming tends to limit overeating because you
want to leave room in your belly for whatever is going to arrive next.
Breakfast -- light and delicious. Italian breakfasts are small --
usually a coffee, espresso, or cappuccino with a pastry, piece of toast, or
light brioche (a type of bread or cake), according to Frezza.