23 June 2010

How Do Italians Stay So Slim?

Our culture seems to revolve around fast-food, decadent desserts and colorful candy. Unfortunately, more often than not, we order our dinner at a drive-through and ten minutes later, we are on our way home with dinner in a bag. Americans are a driven society, and with both parents often working away from home, “fast” food or packaged food has a high appeal.

The truth is, most of these “fast” foods are loaded with calories, artery-clogging fat, sodium and MSG. Where is the healthy stuff? More often than not, these meals offer nothing but an expanded waistline and very little nutrition. We wonder why our nation ranks the highest for chronic illness and obesity. Compared to nations such as Italy or France, what are we doing wrong?


Perhaps our biggest fault is portion size. Americans are very accustomed to huge portions and have a hard time recognizing what a “healthy” portion size really is. A perfect example of out of control portion size can be found in restaurants like Black Bear and Claim Jumper. Their portion sizes could feed three people!

We wonder how countries such as France, who are notorious for their rich fare, have such low instances of obesity? In fact, obesity is rare in France. This is largely in part to the attitude towards food in European nations. They make each meal a huge production and take the time to enjoy it. Meal time in European countries centers around savoring the food and relishing in each other’s company. In addition, their portion sizes are substantially smaller than American portion sizes.

What We SHOULD Be Eating

Abundant in seeds, lean protein such as chicken and fish, and plant foods of all colors, the Mediterranean style of diet is a more whole-foods approach to eating. These types of foods are rich in cancer-fighting, disease-preventing antioxidants, and vital minerals and vitamins that keep the immune system operating efficiently. Since most of the vitamins and minerals needed by the body are abundant in this type of diet, the need for additional supplementation nearly vanishes.

The Mediterranean diet is beneficial in lowering bad cholesterol while raising good cholesterol due to its high content of monounsaturated fats. These friendly fats can be found in foods such as olives, olive oil, fish, avocados, nuts and seeds. The Mediterranean diet is also a major threat against diseases like cancer and arthritis due to anti-inflammatory properties prevalent in most of the foods. Anti-inflammatory foods are also extremely beneficial in lowering the risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease.

How Do Italians REALLY Eat?

The pinnacle of the Mediterranean meal is food derived from plant sources. Lean protein is included as well, but plant foods as well as whole grains dominate the meal. The main difference between American fare and Mediterranean fare is that the focus is more on the vegetables and grains, not the meat. Breads made of whole grains are a bulk of this diet, but the use of butter is extremely rare. The use of olive oil and balsamic vinegar is a typical spread, as it is lower in saturated fat than butter.

The Mediterranean diet also centers around freshness. Each meal is prepared from scratch. No boxed meals or frozen T.V. dinners here. Meals generally consist of grilled chicken or fish, steamed or grilled veggies with bread or rice, such as basmati. The body can assimilate more nutrients in fresh, unprocessed foods than it can in boxed foods.

Getting into the habit of preparing your meals has its perks. Not only does a healthy meal of fresh foods taste good, but you can prepare it in the time it would take you to sit in a drive-thru line. The next time you feel like boxed chicken nuggets and fatty French fries would be the best choice, opt for grilled chicken and steamed veggies instead. Your waistline will thank you.

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