My wife Arabella and I recently returned from a trip to Italy to visit our 21-year-old son, Macgill, who has been studying in Rome for the semester. We had traveled to Italy once before and knew that we were going to be in for some great eating experiences. We were not disappointed! What really distinguishes the local cuisine in Italy from American fare is the consistent use of fresh ingredients and the reasonable portions. Add in the fact that Italians walk more and sit less and you can see how we might learn something about health from them.
We had absolutely delicious meals morning, noon and night. Italians tend to place a lighter emphasis on breakfast than we Americans. Breakfasts typically consist of coffee (or cappuccino), tea, juice, rolls, sliced meats (e.g. prosciutto), sliced cheeses and pastries. Eggs at breakfast are relatively rare.
Lunch usually provides choices of moderately sized pasta dishes, fresh bread, salads and side dishes of marinated or sautéed vegetables. Dinners are often focused around fish, pasta and/or pizza, all prepared with fresh ingredients. Accompaniments can include appetizers (antipasti) of marinated or sautéed vegetables or cheese assortments, as well as salad or soup. Desserts may include cakes, tarts or gelato—all moderately portioned and all made with fresh ingredients.
So, from an American’s perspective, the consistent themes that emerged were fresh ingredients—most of which would earn one or more Guiding Stars—and moderate portions. When you combine the quality of food with their active lifestyle, it’s easy to see why there is much lower level of obesity in Italy than in the U.S. (9.9% in Italy vs. 27.5% in the U.S., according to the 2010 OECD report.)
Before going to Italy, Arabella and I had thought of ourselves as fit Americans. We generally cook with fresh ingredients at home. Arabella walks every day and is a passionate gardener. I run or Nordic ski most days of the week. And yet, after eight days in Italy, eating generously at every meal, we both lost a few pounds.
This brief but enjoyable immersion in another culture absolutely convinced me that a “Mediterranean diet” combined with regular activity (and fewer hours of sitting in front of computer and TV screens each day) is the ticket to improved overall health for us Americans!
John Eldredge is the Director of Brand and Business Development for Guiding Stars Licensing Company. John’s 30 years of consumer products experience — ranging from General Mills to Earth’s Best organic baby food — have made him a believer in a healthy lifestyle and good-for-you products. He has enjoyed leading the charge in bringing the Guiding Stars program to a growing number of consumers and strategic partners. But call John during lunch and you’re likely to get his voicemail. He enjoys running or Nordic skiing most days at noon.