Italians don’t get fat is a popular saying used to describe Italian food and lifestyle. Italian are famously devoted to their great food, yet their obesity rate is really low compared with the other countries in Europe and in the United States.
According to the Global Status Report released by the WHO (World Health Organization), the prevalence of obesity is highest in the U.S.A with 61% overweight in both sexes 1 . Other red countries are Australia (49%), Canada (59.1%), the UK (61%), and other countries with high prevalence of obesity in people aged 18 years and over. Obesity rates are low in the Southeast Asia Region, with just 22% overweight, ranking it the least obese area in the world. Obesity in Italy (with 44% overweight) has been increasingly cited as a major health problem in recent years 2 .
Overall, the Italians, along with the Swiss and the French, are considered among the slimmest people in EU on average. However, childhood obesity rate is the highest in Europe with a surprising rate of 42%. That’s why scientists from the University of Verona created a new form of the park in order to help deal with obesity in Italian children 3 .
But, experts still recommend the Mediterranean diet along with the traditional Italian habits as a healthy way of eating and living 4 . Therefore, in this article, as proud Italian, I will offer you some tips how to eat good and shed pounds on traditional Italian way; and still enjoy la dolce vita!
How the Italians Don’t Get Fat in the Land of Pasta and Pizza?
Italy is a Mediterranean country where obesity and overweight are rare despite an abundance of pizza, pasta, and many other delectable meals. So, the question is there Italian diet secret we can learn from, too?
Many studies found that a Mediterranean diet has numerous health benefits, from reducing the risk of cancer and heart disease, to living a healthier, longer life 5 6 7 . However, something must be getting lost in translation. There are many of Americans ‘favorite Italian foods, as fettuccini Alfredo and cheese-laden pepperoni pizza, which are everything but healthy.
On a recent trip to my homeland, Italy, I decided to see for myself why the Italians don’t get fat. My trip started in Verona (where my family lives), in the northern Italy, in the Veneto region, and ended 15 days later further south on the Amalfi coast. Apart from spending time with my family and relatives, my mission was to finding out more information that I can share with you on my blog – how the people in Italy manage to enjoy delicious Mediterranean foods, still maintain healthy weights. So, in this article I present you some tips, little secrets, why Italians don’t get fat:
- Dine Leisurely
It quickly became very clear that the Italians, just like some other Mediterranean countries, know how to really enjoy the experience of eating. They socialize and relax while dining over dinner. Before and after dinner, most people in Italy engage in a leisurely stroll through town, called passeggiata. Peers walk together, talking and keeping alive a valued tradition.
As a person who used to live in Italy and the U.S., I can say that the classical Italian diet is very different from what we see on an American-Italian restaurant menu. People in Italy enjoy a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, fish, beans, tomatoes, poultry, whole grains, olive oil, red wine, dairy — and they consume very little red meat.
Usually, Italians start the day with a quite small breakfast of coffee with/or without milk along with a cornetto (a small biscuit) or cereals. Lunch varies all over the country and from family to family but normally consists of a “1st plate” and “2nd plate,” such as a salad and sandwich, or a small plate of some pasta followed by a little piece of chicken or fish and vegetables.
- Stop When You’re Full
Many people in Italy aren’t concerned with calories because they usually stop eating when they are full. Italians also lead an active lifestyle, with lots of bike riding or walking, mostly in urban areas. Moreover, they usually satisfy a sweet tooth with fruits instead of sweet desserts.
- Balance Quality & Quantity
Italians simply balance the quality and quantity of foods — not too much fat, just a little red meat, lots of chicken, turkey, and fish, and just enough carbohydrates.
Extra virgin olive oil is the preferred one, used extensively on salads and in cooking. However, you won’t usually find it on the table for bread dunking as people enjoy in the U.S. People in Italy enjoy the monounsaturated fat, but they don’t overdo it. These healthy fats are much better than saturated or trans fats, but olive oil is also a fat and it needs to be consumed in limited quantities.
- Enjoy Homemade Meals
Beans are a great part of the Tuscan diet, which are high in soluble fiber and protein that fill you up for a longer time for a few calories. Pasta e fagioli and ribollita soup are 2 popular health dishes with beans.
Balsamic vinegar is another flavorful, very low-calorie, product of Italy, which is used freely to flavor salads and other foods.
Down south, artichokes, the fresh fish, herbs, gigantic lemons, and capers contribute to healthy and delicious cuisine. Pasta is typically served al dente, with some olive oil or vegetables and tomato sauce, and always in small portions. And what I personally like the most is that the kitchen secrets are passed along from generation to generation, little children can always be found in the kitchen with their mammas – learning from the masters. As an Italian, I’ve learned from my mamma about cooking, and I really love homemade meals – and maybe that was one of the reasons to become a nutritionist.
- Do not ‘Diet’
Italians learn to eat well and just enjoy something sweet on occasion, and this way they aren’t frustrated. That is so right! Because when people go on diets, they usually get depressed and gain even more weight. Therefore, the next time you are in the mood for Italian food just serve up a dish inspired by the land of Romeo and Juliet that includes all the health benefits of a well-balanced Mediterranean diet.
Try to skip cream sauces on pasta and fried foods. Instead, go for a simple vegetable pasta sauce, tomato salad, and use some olive oil. Moreover, use lemon, herbs, capers, vinegar, and other low-calorie foods for seasoning.
Italians typically eat smaller portions than our quite huge U.S. ones. An Italian mealtime should be a relaxed occasion enjoyed in the great company of family and/or friends.
Most of us have such busy lives that meals are often an afterthought, with suitability becoming the central meal-time aim. It is not uncommon to wolf down meals at our desks in front of the computer screens, or at home in front of the TV. Search from some healthy Italian meals and try to prepare them at home. Cooking at home and avoiding junk food and restaurant food are some of the reasons why Italians don’t get fat. So, always opt for homemade food and try to be active after eating.
For more information about Italian culture and lifestyle, check out this amazing website http://www.italialiving.com/
Thanks for some of the eye opening facts mentioned in your article. I just came from 2 weeks trip to Treviso and I feel great after changing my meals habits. Personally, I think food should be taken with a friend or partner and never alone. It just add to the taste of the food.