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Popular Diets of the World: The Italian Way with Food

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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.

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.

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