Italians are typically healthy and active despite living in the proverbial land of pizza and pasta. Funnily enough, a few of the stereotypes surrounding their diet are actually true – Italians really do, for the most part, eat pasta every day. And while it may seem bizarre that a country that loves starch and carbohydrates so much has one of the healthiest diets in the world, it’s actually not too hard to achieve a healthy Italian lifestyle.
Eating Is a Dining Experience, and Portions Are Smaller
Italians are masters of la vita lenta, the slow life, and that applies to the way they eat as well. Eating is a sacred experience to be shared with friends and family, and Italians make sure to fully enjoy the process. This means that going to lunch or dinner is usually an hours-long affair with multiple courses that are eaten slowly.
Italians typically eat an antipasto, a starter; a primo, a first course that is usually pasta; a secondo, a second course like white meat or fish that is accompanied by a contorno, a side of fresh vegetables, salad, or oven-roasted potatoes. The meal is usually punctuated with an espresso or a serving of seasonal fruit. While this may seem like a lot of food, the portions in Italy are small, so the variety of courses isn’t gluttonous but rather balanced.
Unlike in the United States, red meat is eaten in moderation, and lean white meat, including fish, is favored. Italians also love to cook and eat at home using fresh products grown in their own gardens or purchased from one of the many local farmer’s markets.
Italians Love “la passeggiata”
It's common to see Italians take leisurely strolls throughout the day, especially before and after meals, which aids with digestion and regulating blood glucose levels. While Italians love a vita lenta, it doesn’t mean that they don’t practice an active lifestyle.
Breakfast Is Light and Sweet
Forget about eggs, toast, bagels, waffles, and pancakes – an Italian breakfast is light and sweet, and there’s typically no protein involved. If having breakfast at a bar, a coffee shop, most Italians will have an espresso or a cappuccino, accompanied by some kind of pastry, typically a cornetto, a croissant that can be stuffed with Nutella, various jams, pistachio cream, or served plain. If having breakfast at home, it’s usually the same, albeit with some hard cookies to dunk into your coffee.
While consuming something sweet in the morning may sound contrary to a healthy lifestyle, all pastries are generally low-calorie, light, and eaten in moderation. Besides, anything consumed will be almost immediately walked off with a beloved passeggiata.
Italians Eat Seasonally
It’s quite common for restaurants to have seasonal menus to serve the freshest ingredients that each season offers. While this is a growing concept in the United States, Italians have been eating seasonally for generations, which ensures that they’re not only eating healthy, unprocessed foods, but also ones that are fresh, not frozen. Italians are very in tune with nature, and meals are prepared on what the earth yields during a specific season.
Asia London Palomba
Asia London Palomba is a trilingual freelance journalist from Rome, Italy. In the past, her work on culture, travel, and history has been published in The Boston Globe, Atlas Obscura, The Christian Science Monitor, and Grub Street, New York Magazine's food section. In her free time, Asia enjoys traveling home to Italy to spend time with family and friends, drinking Hugo Spritzes, and making her nonna's homemade cavatelli.