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Popular Diets of the World: The Italian Way with Food

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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.

In Italy, pizza is the type of food you'd eat on a Saturday, when you're out and about with friends, Frezza tells WebMD. While young Italians are increasingly turning to American-style toppings, traditional Italian pizza is eaten only with cheese and vegetables, keeping it lower in calories and higher in both fiber and nutrients.

As for the butter-soaked garlic bread that is often served with pasta, it's very different from the Italian version. Italians rarely use butter on bread, according to Frezza. They sometimes use olive oil, but just a drop! The Italian version of garlic bread, called "Bruschetta," is never served with pasta, but with fish, salads, or stews.

Food awareness. To Italians, ingredient quality is of utmost importance, says Grant, and people spend more time and money on their food than Americans do. Food is seldom imported, and Italians are generally suspicious of products that aren't local. Besides knowing the source of their food, most Italians know just what to do with it -- how to prepare and cook it to maximize taste, nutrition, and presentation, she says. Americans, on the other hand, are motivated more by convenience than concern for health or freshness. Even though 92% of respondents to a recent NPD Group survey agreed that it's important for the food we buy to be fresh, last year less than half of main meals prepared in U.S. homes included even one fresh product.

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