Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Why Italian food is healthier than you think

Pizzas, parmesan, fresh cream and tiramisu: much of the Italian food that we choose to eat in the UK isn’t conducive to a low-fat or healthy eating diet, partly due to the adaptations made to traditional recipes in the UK and US, such as loading our pizzas with extra cheese and adding cream to carbonara sauce – sacrilege in many parts of Italy.

But cooked correctly, authentic Italian cuisine is actually one of the healthiest diets you can eat. Like most Mediterranean cuisines, traditional Italian food uses simple, natural ingredients and aims to enhance these flavours naturally, without lacing recipes with an overdose of salt and sugar – typical traits of modern diets in the UK and US.

If you love Italian food but are conscious of your waistline, an Italian cooking holiday is a great way to discover how to cook authentic, healthy Italian dishes and reduce the calorie content of your favourite foods, without spoiling a traditional recipe. Here’s a quick taste of why Italian food is so good for you:

Fresh vegetables form the basis of many Italian recipes, and ragu sauces – made from tinned tomatoes – are a staple in Italian kitchens. Vitamin C levels tend to be high in many dishes, owed to an abundance of tomatoes and peppers in Italy. Tomatoes also carry high levels of lycopene – an antioxidant thought to help prevent some cancers. On a cookery holiday in Italy, you’ll learn how to prepare tomatoes in a variety of different ways, maximising their health giving properties, whether they’re raw, tinned or roasted.

Italian food is beautifully seasoned with fresh herbs and spices which are great for boosting your immune system and aiding digestion. Chopped or crushed garlic is also a key ingredient in flavouring Italian food, and is thought to lower breast, colon, stomach, throat cancer; expect to rediscover this kitchen staple whilst on a cookery holiday, and understand how mincing and chopping, smashing and slicing can each give different flavours and health properties.

Whilst oil is a staple in Italian cuisine, a preference for olive oil means an intake of healthier, unsaturated fats which help protect your heart health by keeping cholesterol levels low and preventing arteries from clogging. Many traditional dishes and salad dressings call for extra virgin olive oil, which is high in antioxidants – important for a healthy heart. Dark leafy greens are a staple ingredient in Italy, but one that’s underused in the Italian food we typically eat in the UK. Brassica, chard, kale, escarole and collards all feature regularly in Italian meals, providing stacks of vitamin C, potassium, calcium and fibre. Leafy greens are also thought to contain cancer-fighting properties, making them a true super-food.
Beans - Lentils and chickpeas offer a healthier alternative to meat in many Italian recipes. Rich in fibre, protein, calcium, iron and zinc, as well as low in saturated-fat and containing antioxidant-rich flavonols, learning how to cook with beans and pulses can add a serious health kick to your diet. Regional specialities in Siciliy and Puglia include bean soups, lentil fritters and lentil salads - some of Italy’s favourite dishes.

From seafood rich in omega-3 to fresh pasta, packed with carbs and fibre, the health benefits of Italian cuisine are endless. We must, of course, allow ourselves some indulgence, but the trick is learning how to cook authentic dishes and use the best fresh ingredients so that you can control what you’re eating.

The Italians have got it right, when they say ‘Mangiare per vivere e non vivere per mangiare’ – ‘Eat to live and not live to eat’ - except perhaps, when the tiramisu comes out!


House of Flavours said...

When reading about Food Flavours, it's good to see some countries dishes coming out on top, even if you think there are hidden health risks and it turns out there aren't as many as you first thought!

catering service in manila said...

Cooking is such an art which not only make you happy or earns you appreciation but also can counter your appetite in a very delicious manner. This is such an wonderful instinct that can make you creative day by day.