What comes to mind when you think of Italian food? Pasta or pizza? Delicious? Absolutely. Healthy? Well that’s what we’re here to talk about. 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?
This could be for a few reasons, our westernised Italian faves are pizza and pasta which are carb heavy, and in the FAD diet world carbs have been demonised over the years, these fan faves can also be very rich in terms of fats due to cream and cheese. So, naturally people pop them in the naughty corner. When really we shouldn't be scared of carbs or fats, when eaten in moderation.
Another reason Italian may get a bag wrap is portion size, which doesn't actually reflect the true size in Italy as their portion sizes are alot smaller than here in Australia.
So, can it be healthy?
What we forget is that Italian food doesn't stop at pizza and pasta, in fact most people living in Italian would practise a mediterranean diet which can be seen as the gold standard of lifestyles.
The Mediterranean diet, 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).
How to practise the Mediterranean diet!
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, slow cooked vegetables, stews, 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. Learn more about the benefits of Olive Oil 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.
As always, 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!