How can you be so thin when you eat so many carbohydrates?
This is one of the questions I get asked the most by non-Italians when we chat about Italian eating habits. I actually have no quick answer and I always just reply with a smile and “I don’t know”. But after having been asked such a question so many times, I started thinking about it.
I thought about the way I have been raised and how food is perceived in our culture. I have also thought about the standard Italian eating habits and compared them with what I have seen abroad – mainly in the US, I am so sorry guys – and I tried to identify what I think can be some positive ways of behaving when it comes to food and healthy life in general.
Needless to say, I am neither a nutritionist nor a food scientist and not an expert in the topic at all, so please just take this post as me answering to that question above in a more articulated way than just a smile and “I don’t know”. I don’t want to teach anything about eating or being healthy, I just want to share my point of view as I would do with a friend or a student of mine.
So, what are the Italian eating habits? Again: how can we be so thin when we eat so many carbohydrates?
Well, again, the first thing that comes to my mind is “I don’t know”. Jokes aside, I think that there are multiple reasons. The ones you’ll see listed below are some of the habits that have kept me thin throughout my whole life and, even if younger generations may be raised in a different way, I think they still apply in most cases.
Water is our drink of choice.
When we are thirsty, we don’t drink Coke; Pepsi or other types of sodas, we just drink water. And water is plain, with no added flavors or tastes. It is only water, which is obviously very healthy and keeps you super thin. Moreover, since we don’t drink sugary beverages throughout the day, we can enjoy a glass of wine at dinner without feeling guilty.
Food is fresh and homemade.
Well, this doesn’t happen every day, in every meal, we all live busy lives and we may eat packaged food as well, but as a general rule, we take time to choose fresh ingredients and to properly cook our meals. We shop at local markets, we choose seasonal products – that not only are healthier but also taste better than other ones – and we cook our meals from scratch in most cases.
We don’t eat in the car.
Or on the couch, or in front of the computer, or while doing something else. Again, we might do it occasionally if we are having an extremely busy day but, as a general rule, we take the time to sit down and eat, and we mindfully focus on what we are doing instead of just filling our stomach while doing something else. As I kid, I was never allowed to eat in front of the TV, we all had to gather around the table and eat together as a family and this habit has somehow accompanied me my whole life.
Our taste is simple.
I will always remember an American friend of mine who told me “you Italians have such simple taste, how can you be satisfied with such simple food choices?”. Well, I think that if the ingredients are good, you don’t have to add dressings, or toppings, or whatever you may need to make your dish flavorful. We just need mozzarella, tomatoes and good olive oil and we are happy, we are such simple persons!
If you eat out, the choice is limited and portions are small.
When you go to a restaurant or to a coffee place, you don’t have endless choices about what you can have. Coffee is just coffee and you may just ask to add some milk in it, no other stuff. Things are more or less the same in restaurants too and portions are not as huge as in the US, for example. We are not used to asking for doggie bags, so we sometimes even complain when portions are too big!
At home, we don’t eat as you’d expect us.
Forget carbonara or amatriciana or all that lovely fried food you get in restaurants, Italian eating habits at home are way plainer. Yes, we eat a lot of pasta but, in most cases, it is only topped with some fresh tomato sauce or even with just some olive oil and nothing else. And we never eat three or four courses, as you would do in a restaurant (we don’t do it in restaurants too!): we are fine with just a pasta dish and some vegetables afterwards.
Until a couple of decades ago, we didn’t know what fast food was.
When I was a kid, the only food that could be considered something like fast food was a slice of pizza or focaccia. This is what we would eat when we had no time for lunch – and we still do – and we had no McDonalds and no other big fast food chain store. And I have the feeling that we still prefer that slice of pizza, even if fast food is very popular among kids, as it is somehow part of our DNA.
Well, these are all the things that came to my mind and that I consider healthy habits when it comes to food. Things may vary from person to person, depending on personal habits and likes, but these traits are quite common for many Italians. So I strongly believe that these behaviors help us to be healthier and thinner, so it is not a problem even if we eat more carbohydrates than the average diet!
What do you think? Do you think that we Italians have healthy eating habits? I’d love to hear your opinion!
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