Combining the words “healthy” and “Italian” in the same phrase may seem like an oxymoron, but I am going to attempt to change that misconception. I am a prime example of a healthy Italian, better yet, a healthy older Italian. Yes, it is possible to be an Italian and be healthy!
What we eat is an important aspect of our health and well-being, if not the most important aspect. We can exercise many hours a day, but we can still harm our body if we give it unhealthy food.
This month’s topic: The Mediterranean Diet
Among competing claims of the latest fad diet and pricey “super foods,” the Mediterranean Diet has, for many years now, proven its efficacy as a healthy way to eat. It also boasts an impressive roster of health benefits including heart protection, weight regulation and cancer reduction.
The Mediterranean diet is based on the traditional cuisine of countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, primarily Greece and Italy, and is inspired by their eating habits. While there is no easy definition of the Mediterranean diet, typically it is high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, and olive oil while moderate in fish, dairy and wine and low in meat. Other important elements of the Mediterranean diet are sharing leisurely paced meals with family and friends, enjoying a glass of red wine and being physically active.
When I was growing up, food and drink were always plentiful in my home for guests, but we always ate in moderation. A small glass of my dad’s homemade wine was served at every meal and my sisters and I were offered a sip eradicating that “I cannot-wait-until-I-am-old-enough-to-drink” mentality. Since we only had three channels on TV and no digital devices to keep us constantly mesmerized and inactive, we were outside playing from morning until dark in the summer and whenever we could the rest of the year.
Healthy fats are a mainstay of the Mediterranean diet. They are preferred over saturated and trans fats, which contribute to heart disease. Olive oil is the primary source of added fat in the Mediterranean diet while nuts and seeds provide monounsaturated fat, which is said to lower total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or "bad" cholesterol levels and may lower the risk of all-cause mortality.
Other cultures around the world who travel and forage for local and seasonal fare and who aren’t exposed to processed foods, report an amazing lack of chronic disease. In Italy, the readily available source of fresh, local and organic foods at small neighborhood groceries and farmer’s markets and lack of fast-food restaurants helps the Italians keep la bella figura.
Tip of the month: Eat more like the Italians do – the Mediterranean way.
Pick up a good bottle of organic, cold-pressed olive oil and use it to sauté a new green vegetable that you haven’t tried yet; kale (cavolo), escarole (scarola) or beet greens (bietole).
Try my mom’s original recipe: Zuppa di Scarole (Escarole Soup)
Chicken Soup Base: Boil a large pot of water with half a chicken or selected chicken pieces with parsley, salt and pepper. Shred some chicken for the soup. Clean and cut escarole in small pieces. Put it in boiling water for a couple of minutes until wilted. Let cool and chop into pieces small enough to fit in a soup spoon.
½ C. Parmigiano cheese
½ C. Romano cheese
1 Egg yolk
Salt and pepper
Mix the above ingredients and form into tight balls the size of small meatballs. Combine the escarole, chicken pieces, cheese balls, salt, and pepper into a pot and cook until tender. Serve with a sprinkle of Romano cheese. Vegetarians – remove the chicken, vegans – remove the chicken and cheese, add chopped tomatoes and replace chicken fat with olive oil. Sautéing the escarole in olive oil and adding vegetable broth, tomatoes and salt and pepper is all you need for a delicious, cholesterol-free soup.
The Mediterranean diet is a delicious and healthy way to eat. Many people who switch to this style of eating say they'll never eat any other way. I know I never will!
Diana Lucarino-Diekmann, has been working in the field of Health and Fitness since 1980, helping others achieve optimal health and happiness. She has a BA in Exercise Physiology, as well as Pilates and Yoga certifications and an extensive knowledge of nutrition and disease. Having taught almost every type of exercise class, she now specializes in Yoga, Pilates, meditation, and mindfulness, not only in exercise but also in life.
The contents of “The Healthy Italian” are for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medial condition or your personal health.