Healthy Italian diet is common base on the popular Italian, Mediterranean type of cuisine. As an Italian, nutritionist, and a wife, I am trying to cook at home as much as a can – just like my mamma does. And sometimes, I think that the secret of Italian cuisine is nothing more but the homemade cooking with love.
Olive oil, basilico, and pasata are the three main ingredients in our home. Well, pasta and coffee are also “must have”. And all of these ingredients and smells are even more significant and appreciated when you are in Italy.
I wrote a great part of this article in Verona (Illasi) in the casa of my dear nonna Angela. Well, I was truly inspired by the smell of the olive trees in the garden and the morning coffee con crema – prepared in the Moka coffee pot. The weather was balmy, adding to the enjoyment of the day…
So, in this article, I’ll give you little useful suggestions on how a healthy Italian diet can improve your life and overall health – we start from 2 basic “ingredients” of the Mediterranean diet: olive oil and coffee…
Significantly, the typical Italian diet is rich in olive oil and low in some other forms of fat. So, let’s start with this amazingly beneficial silky oil!
It has long been known that people who live in Mediterranean countries be likely to enjoy better cardiovascular health than people living in other countries of the world.
Olive oil is a major component of the healthy Italian diet. It is rich in monounsaturated fatty acid. Populations from the Mediterranean countries have longer life expectancies and lower risks of high blood pressure, stroke, and heart disease, compared with Northern Europeans and North Americans.
Monounsaturated fatty acids are healthy dietary fats, as opposed to trans-fats and saturated fats.
What is Olive Oil?
Olive oil is a fat attained from the fruit of the olive tree, which is a traditional tree harvest of the Mediterranean region, where olives are pressed to crop olive oil. The oil is used in cooking, medicine, soaps, and cosmetics, and was also used as a fuel for traditional lamps. Even though originating in the Mediterranean countries, olive oil today it’s used worldwide.
According to the North American Olive Oil Association, Greece has the greatest olive oil intake per person in the whole world. People in Greece consume, on average, about 24 liters per-person-per-year. Italians and Spaniards consume around15 and 13 liters-per-person-a year, respectively.
Apart from monounsaturated fats, olive oil also contains some amount of vitamins K and E. True extra virgin olive oil is rich in antioxidants, some of which have potent health benefits.
It’s now scientifically proven that the antioxidant properties of olive oil can improve circulation and reduce blood pressure, while decreasing triglyceride levels, lowering the formation of plaque build-up in artery walls, and boosting levels of the “good” cholesterol; all factors that help to keep arteries healthy and clear and decrease the risk of stroke and heart disease.
Moreover, olive oil contains oleocanthal and oleic acid, nutrients that fight inflammation. Olive oil is considered as one of the healthiest foods you can consume for cardiovascular health. It keeps LDL particles from oxidation, lowers blood pressure, reduced inflammation and can help prevent blood clotting. There is also preliminary evidence that this oil can help fight Alzheimer’s disease and cancer, although this needs to be established in human controlled trials.
But, there is still one big problem with olive oil… it is not always the right one – what you think it is. There are lower quality versions that can be diluted with some other cheaper oils, or extracted using chemicals.
For that reason, buying the right type of olive oil is truly important.
The best type of olive oil is extra virgin olive oil. It’s extracted using natural procedures and standardized for purity and precise sensory qualities like smell and taste.
Olive oil that is exactly extra virgin is high in phenolic antioxidants and it has a distinctive taste, the main reason why (true) olive oil is so beneficial.
Then, there are regular, “light”, or refined olive oils that have often been extracted with diluters, treated with heat or diluted with cheaper oils like canola and soybean oils.
Therefore, the only type I recommend is extra virgin olive oil.
However, keep in mind that there are numerous frauds going on in the olive oil market and it’s essential to purchase from a reputable seller. Even olive oil that is labelled as “extra virgin” might have been adulterated with some cheaper oils.
Coffee plays a great role in our lives – many of us cannot start their day without a good cup of coffee. Well, if you are an Italian – then you are definitely one of those people! In fact, that is the reason why I decided to add Italian coffee on the list of main Italian ingredients.
A cup of coffee in the morning is a great energy boost.
Coffee has become an essential part of Italian culture, with about 8 million bags imported every year. Italians consume coffee either at home, where it’s usually prepared in a Moka pot, or in workplaces, cafés, and restaurants, where it is distributed from espresso coffee makers.
Both the Moka coffee pot and espresso system have revolutionized the way Italians prepare and drink their coffee.
Homemade Italian Coffee: The Moka Pot
The Moka coffee pot was invented by Alfonso Bialetti, in 1933. This coffee pot hasn’t changed its design over the years. Initially named the “Moka Express”, it comprised of 4 main parts made from aluminium, with a Bakelite handle. Even though today Moka coffee pot is made from steel, it still works in exactly the same way and needs to be closed with the classic screw-on gesture.
As a nutritionist…and Italian – I suggest drinking coffee in moderation. Though, it’s worth remembering that coffee is an anti-nutrient.
It can hamper the absorption of essential minerals including magnesium, iron, potassium, and zinc, as well as the B vitamins, by more than 50%. So, my point is – instead of drinking coffee immediately after your meal, or any time of the day, it simply makes sense to opt for having a coffee break in between meals, or the traditional Italian “pausa caffè”, to ensure you are getting the maximum nutritional benefits from the food you eat.
Following traditional Italian food preparation techniques, in which olive oil is used both to cook with, as well as to ‘dress’ foods, might, therefore, be an excellent way to guarantee optimum cardiovascular health. The purpose of this article is to explain the significance of the above stated, main ingredients (olive oil and Italian coffee) as a part of a healthy Italian diet and a well-balanced life. Find more information about “why Italians don’t get fat”: LINK