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Popular Diets of the World: The Italian Way with Food

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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.

Lunch -- the main meal. A typical Italian lunch has an antipasto, a primo (soup, rice, or pasta), a secondo (meat or fish), contorno (vegetables), and a dolci (sweet) -- all small portions, of course. Not every meal includes all these courses, Grant tells WebMD, but important meals like a Sunday lunch or festive meal would definitely feature them all.

Dinner -- small, but satisfying. Italians keep things light for their last meal of the day. A typical dinner might include soup, cold cuts, or a small plate of pasta, served with vegetables and a small piece of cheese.

Snacks and sweets. Italians seldom eat between meals, according to Susan Mckenna Grant, which keeps their consumption of junk food fairly low. When you visit a supermarket in Italy, you'll notice that potato chips, soft drinks, and breakfast cereals occupy a small amount of shelf space compared to stores in North America. When Italians do snack, they enjoy an espresso or piece of fruit, Frezza tells WebMD. As for desserts, most meals end with small portions of cheese, nuts, or fruit -- peaches, plums, grapes, pears, apricots, figs, or cherries. Cakes and other sweets are reserved for special occasions and holidays.

Italian food, American favorites. In this country, we can't seem to get enough pizza. In one recent survey, for example, 67% of respondents said they'd purchased pizza away from home at least once in the past month. But, at around 300 calories per cheese and pepperoni-topped slice, this out-of-hand consumption may play a role in the expanding size of the American waistline.

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