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Popular Diets of the World: The Italian Way with Food

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The family table. Food plays a big role in the life of the average Italian, says Susan McKenna Grant: "Meals are still important daily events and families sit down together for them." Because meals are prepared fresh and eaten slowly, friends and family members have time to talk and enjoy each other's company.Since more than four in five Americans wish they had more time to spend with family (according to a poll commissioned by the Center for a New American Dream), designating two or three nights per week "Family Dinner Nights" could help enhance family closeness. Family dining may have health benefits, too. Research shows that American families who eat dinner together tend to feast on healthier foods than those who rarely or never eat meals as a family. It turns out that families who eat together consume more fruits and vegetables, and fewer foods that are fried or high in trans fats.

Beverage basics. Italians don't drink sugary sodas with meals; instead, they quench their thirst with water, wine (or watered-down wine), or beer. Portions are kept small -- a glass of wine, not a bottle, according to Frezza. And refills of beer are unusual at dinner. Not so in America, where non-diet soft drinks, including sodas and other sugary beverages like fruit drinks, lemonade, and iced tea, now account for nearly half of all the added sugar we eat or drink -- and are the main source of calories in the average American diet, according to preliminary research from the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University. All this sugar doesn'tlook good on our waistlines. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition examined more than 40 years' worth of research and found a clear link between the rise in sugary drink consumption and the swell in obesity.

The pleasure of food. When was the last time you really enjoyed eating? Although we're consuming more calories, the average American derives less pleasure from them than in the past, a survey from the Pew Research Center finds. Despite a barrage of magazines and cookbooks devoted to the pursuit of gustatory pleasure, only 39% of respondents claimed to greatly enjoy eating, compared to 48% who said they did in a 1989 Gallup survey. We can learn a lot from the Italians, to whom food and eating are a pleasure. "You eat to taste the food and enjoy it -- not to get full," according to Frezza. Which could be part of our problem -- Americans are prone to consume without tasting; to eat, but feel too guilty to relish our food. The Pew Research Center survey found that people who enjoyed their food were more likely to also enjoy cooking. To Italians, preparing the food is as important as eating it, says Frezza, since it's part of the ritual.

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