The Mediterranean diet has been long known as one of the healthiest diets in the world. It’s an overall healthy lifestyle, which promotes balanced eating. Note that when we discuss the Mediterranean diet, we are, as stated, referring to a lifestyle. It is how one lives daily, not a temporary fixture or a passing fad.
The Mediterranean Diet
When we talk about Italian cuisine, we’re really talking about a form of Mediterranean cuisine. When it comes to Mediterranean cuisine itself, it involves a number of countries that surround the Mediterranean Sea. You can think of Mediterranean food as the collective cuisine inspired by multiple countries.
Some counties, and thus other forms of Mediterranean cuisine, pertain to Spain, Greece, North Africa, Israel and Syria. Thus, when we discuss Mediterranean cuisine, we are discussing a cuisine which has been impacted by various Mediterranean countries, who tend to follow a similar diet.
You can think of the Mediterranean diet as an overview of the common ingredients, food associations and the way in which food is cooked and prepared, within these Mediterranean countries. For example, in most Mediterranean countries olive oil is commonly used, opposed to the European butter.
In most Mediterranean cuisines, there is a heavy reliance on fresh vegetables, fruit and complex carbohydrates. Also, given the wonderful access to the Mediterranean Sea, there is a heavy accent placed on the consumption of fish for protein, opposed to meat — although meat is of course still consumed on occasion.
What Makes The Mediterranean Diet Healthy?
Given that the Italian cuisine is a form of the Mediterranean cuisine, let’s analyze what makes the Mediterranean diet healthy, and later we can pick out key features in the Italian Mediterranean diet specifically.
The American Heart Association states that the Mediterranean diet has key characteristics. It is rich in the following:
- Olive oil
- Nuts and seeds
- Small amounts of dairy
- Small amounts of fish
- Small amounts of poultry
- Very small accounts of red meat
- Very small amounts of eggs
- Moderate amounts of wine
Moreover, the American Heart Association states that it is very typically for a Mediterranean diet to be high in fats.
In America, fats are given a bad representation. This is due to the fact that the most common fats consumed by Americans are saturated fats and trans fats. In America, these fats are often consumed in a very high volume, and are very unhealthy.
While a Mediterranean diet is high in fats, it is high in a very different type of fat. This fat is called monounsaturated fats, which are healthy fats that we need to consume, in order to maintain a healthy diet.
Differences In Mediterranean Cuisine
Of course, one cannot assume that each country has the same cuisine. Within the Mediterranean countries, they have an overlap of similarities when it comes to ingredients used and methods of cooking.
Due to these staple, core similarities, the Mediterranean diet is considered one of the healthiest. However, there are differences in the cuisines of each Mediterranean country. In this article, we’re going to focus on Italy.
As a brief idea, in regional Italian cuisine, pasta is often the basis of main meals. With that said, in Syria and Israel, barley and chickpeas are a key staple to main meals.
Each country will utilize the foods which grow there, which forms historical staples in their diets. The Mediterranean cuisine is far from a new concept.
Due to the ideal climate conditions for growth, the vast Mediterranean Sea, along with the ease of exporting goods — Mediterranean food has been consumed for civilizations.
Historically, and contemporary, societies have traded goods with Mediterranean countries, in order to receive their rich products.
The Italian Mediterranean Diet Is Not Americanized
In America, the type of Italian food we consume is often not traditional. It is also prepared in such a way that the nutrients of the food are heavily decreased.
Frequently, products are heavily deep-fried and greasy. In fact, a popular Italian-American dish is the Alfredo sauce. While it is a favorite among many, it is not a traditional dish, and is not served in Italy.
While it is possible to find authentic Italian food, it is more common in high to medium level restaurants. Of course, one can find a traditional Italian bistro, but these can hard to come by.
For further explanation, even the salad used in America is vastly different to Italy. Restaurants and cafés often used pre-packed dressings, which are filled with tons of calories and unhealthy fats.
In Italy, it is common to use fresh extra-virgin olive oil as a good source of fat. This is vastly different to the unhealthy dressings that are frequently consumed in American.
Furthermore, while traditional meals such as eggplant parmigiana can be found in American restaurants, it is usually far greasier than the authentic recipe; and often they replace the eggplant with meat. It is likely to be prepared with an excess of cheese, and is deep-fried. This takes most of the vital nutrients away from the dish.
What Is The Italian Mediterranean Diet?
At this point, you’re probably wondering what exactly the Italian Mediterranean diet consists of. In this section, I will explain exactly that.
Thumbs Up For Vegetables
When it comes to the Italian Mediterranean diet, vegetables are one of the most crucial components. Lunch and dinner dishes are usually vegetable based, whether it’s a fresh salad on the side, a soup, or pasta, it’s very important that vegetables are a staple.
Even basic dishes such as fish and potatoes are part of the Italian Mediterranean diet, ensuring that protein is paired with carbohydrates and starches.
A Balanced Portion of Pasta
The Italian Mediterranean diet is known for its frequent use of pasta. It’s a staple within Italian recipes. A balanced portion of pasta, paired with the right amount of vegetables, can be very healthy.
Pasta is a complex carbohydrate, which means it is slow releasing, and helps keep people fuller for longer. It’s an excellent way to pair vegetables, as not only is it delicious, but it’s an easy way to get a good amount nutrients and amino acids in.
If food is healthy and enjoyable, it is going to be more frequently consumed, which means that overall health will be increased, compared to fad diets which do not last very long.
Minimal Animal-Based Foods
When it comes to animal based foods, the Italian Mediterranean cuisine takes it easy. Fish is generally consumed two times a week, as it is a very good source of protein and fat. Eggs can also be consumed up to three times a week.
Milk and yogurt is a good source of calcium, and is often consumed daily in modest amounts. When it comes to meat, it’s advised that it should only be consumed once a week. Cheese consumption should also be at a minimum. Of course, there are general guidelines.
Olive oil is a vital part of the Italian Mediterranean diet. Olive oil is grown in the Mediterranean regions, which means that countries such as Italy, Spain, and Tunisia have easy access to high quality olive oil. The best olive oil to consume is extra-virgin olive oil, as it is the least processed oil.
Not only is it tastier than virgin olive oil, but it is much healthier. That’s because the olives are cold pressed, and undergo very little to no heat.
In virgin olive oil, the heat destroys vital nutrients which makes the olive oil healthy. Fresh, extra virgin olive oil is very healthy, and an excellent source of fat.
The Italian Mediterranean Diet is a form of the Mediterranean Diet. It’s one of the healthiest diets in the world, due to its focus on vegetables, fruits, fish and olive oil.
It is important to remember that the Italian Mediterranean diet is a lifestyle, and not a fad diet. Likewise, it promotes good health and longevity.