Pasta or pizza are the first things that come to mind when we think of Italian food. Delicious? Absolutely. Healthy? Well that’s what we’re here to talk about. So often the whole cuisine gets lumped into the unhealthy category and if you ask us, it might be a bit of an unfair call. That’s exactly why this week, we’re taking a look at whether Italian food can be healthy.
WHY DOES ITALIAN FOOD GET A BAD WRAP?
The main reason… potion size. Which is an interesting notion because portions of high-carb meals like pasta are often much smaller in Italy that what we serve here in Australia or the U.S. It’s a no brainer that eating a massive bowl of carbs daily is unlikely to lead to a balanced diet, but a true portion can provide a great way to get your required serves of grains and the carbohydrates that your body needs to fuel it.
CAN IT BE HEALTHY?
An Italian diet is based largely around the Mediterranean diet, which originally stems from the notion that you ‘eat what you grow’. It celebrates seasonality local produce and the idea that food should be shared (yep, part of it is how you eat, not just what you eat).
CELEBRATE SEASONAL PRODUCE
Most traditional Italian dishes celebrate the ingredients found in their region of origin, which is why food can vary so much from region to region. That means drawing inspiration from traditional recipes and using ingredients that are fresh, and readily available to you. From pasta dishes, to pizzas, right through to simple salads, using seasonal ingredients are a great way to get big flavour and nutrient-rich meals (not to mention bang for your buck).
The use of ingredients like extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), are a wonderful source of healthy fats which moderate intake to maximise monounsaturated (healthy) and limit saturated (unhealthy) fats. Fats play a critical role in helping your body function at its best, but not all fats are created equal. Read more about healthy fats here.
Fish plays an important role in the Mediterranean (and Italian) diet, with oily fish being eaten at least twice a week. When it comes to other meats like beef and chicken, these are eaten less often, and are prepared simply with local ingredients like herbs, citrus or tomatoes depending on the dish.
EVERYTHING IN MODERATION
No matter the dish in Italy, the rule is everything in moderation. Pasta is eaten in smaller serves than we are used to here in Oz (yes, the number of servings on the pasta pack are accurate). Often pasta is followed by a protein (meat or fish) with beautifully prepared vegetables or a simple salad. Small serves with a variety of flavours and textures, shared around the table with family.
So, the answer to our original question, can Italian food be healthy?... YES! Absolutely! Draw inspiration from the fresh ingredients available to you, eat in moderation, and mix up the proteins that you are eating. Spring and summer are the perfect time to try new dishes and make the most of the produce out there. Get to the markets & get cooking!
Tell us in the comments what your favourite Italian dish is & what else you’d like to see added to the menu!