By Marissa Bognanno, Professional Chef & Zumba Instructor, and Author / Owner of The Boot Blog
I get it all the time. “How do you live in Italy and not gain so much weight?” And the people who know me know that I am what they call here, “a good fork,” in that I love to eat. So how do I not gain the freshman 15 every year that I’m here? Well, I simply eat like an Italian. I don’t limit myself, and I even have dessert. I’m not saying that Italians are the portrait of good health - they could incorporate more whole grains - but their diet is based on the Mediterranean formula of changing as little as possible from garden to table, keeping a balance, and sticking to the rules.
1) No snacking. Italians have breakfast, lunch, and a small dinner. That’s it. No extreme Doritos or high calorie, low-fat granola bars in between meals.
2) Olive oil. They put it on everything: salads, grilled fish, pasta, bruschetta. Think of all those calories you’d save and all the good, mono-saturated fat you’d gain if you opted for olive oil and balsamic vinegar instead of ranch dressing.
3) Fruit for dessert. After a meal, fruit is the finisher, not dessert. Those are reserved for Sunday lunch (mini pastries) and Saturday night (a small gelato).
4) Lots of fresh vegetables. Lunch and dinner are almost always packed with tomatoes and fresh, fiber-licious veggies. In the winter, they amp up with inexpensive legumes like lentils, chick peas and cannellini beans.
5) Seafood. Living on a peninsula, and some islands, Italians can afford to eat seafood at least twice a week. There's not much in nature that does more to fight disease and keep the body healthy. Italians eat it right by simply grilling or baking the whole fish with a splash of lemon.
6) Portion control. Most people wonder, “How do you eat pasta everyday? Isn't that a lot of carbs?" Well, we’re only eating about 80 grams of it, which is about two slices of bread. The important thing is to raise the vegetable to pasta ratio, and make sure not to go crazy with the cheese.
[penne with swiss chard and pancetta]
Some other factors that add to the Italians' overall health? Walking everywhere, avoiding pre-packaged foods, drinking a glass of heart-healthy red wine with a meal, light dinners and eating together. It's less likely that you'll pig out on the whole lasagna if you're eating with your family and friends.
What do you think? Doable, right?