Italian Cooking Can Help Your Health & Satisfy Your Appetite

Liz Krause's picture

Whether losing weight or maintaining your health, food choices play an active role.
Italian food is one of the most favored International cuisines - if not the most favored. Much of the Italian diet balances carbohydrates with proteins, along with lots of fresh healthy fruit and vegetables.

Is it a Diet?

If a person believes that the act of organizing and planning meals to meet the criteria of a well balanced food regiment is a diet - then yes, this would be considered a diet.

However, for the rest of us it boils down to knowing what is good and what is bad. For example, if you were to buy a car, would you choose a car with lots of mileage, holes in the roof, a rusty carburetor and a missing fan belt and thinning brake pads? Of course not! You would pass on the offer because you know this car will only lead to troubles and more issues further down the road.

It is the same with the food we choose to eat. We have food offers all around us, from fast food joints to cheap boxed dinners that wreak of processed and chemical laden ingredients. Italians prefer food which is nutritious and healthy. They understand that fresh ingredients are what can turn a plain dish of pasta into a wonderful aromatic and delicious main course which leaves the eater begging for more.

If you are unfamiliar with eating or cooking well balanced meals, take heart because here are some simple tips to help you begin incorporating these changes.

Key Healthy Ingredients:

Olive Oil: Olive oil is a healthy oil to use when cooking. It contains the good monounsaturated fats that your body benefits from. In fact, according the mayo clinic, olive oil can help lower your risk of heart disease. When shopping for olive oil, aim to buy those which are labeled "cold pressed". This means no chemicals were used during the extraction process. Extra Virgin cold pressed is even better as this often has more full body which delivers a richer flavor. It also contains low acidity level less than 4%, which makes it perfect for salads, breads and other seasonings.

Garlic: Garlic is a must have for nearly any Italian recipe. Try to buy garlic which is locally grown, in other words, not overseas. As with any perishable food item, the longer it takes to get into your store the older it will be.

Garlic has many health benefits from contributing to lowering cholesterol to its use as an anti-fungal agent. It is also been used as a parasitic cleanser.

Herbs: Nothing adds flavor like fresh herbs. The most common herbs in Italian cooking are basil, oregano, and parsley. Basil is great for adding to sauces during the summer, and can be used as a topping for pizzas, such as a margharita pizza. Parsley is used to season many meats, such as roasted chicken and lamb. Chop the parsley and together with some slices of garlic insert into small crevasses, or slits in the meat made with a knife. Rub the meat with olive oil, add a dash of salt and cook in the oven until the proper internal temperature is reached.

Parsley is one of the healthiest herbs available. It is not only a natural breath freshener, but also helps cleanse the blood which in turn helps contribute to healthier arteries.

Pasta: It is easy to think one must avoid pasta because of the amount of carbohydrates it contains. However, pasta in moderation is fine. You can buy pasta made from semolina, whole wheat flour, quinoa (which is very high in protein) and even corn or rice flour. Keep in mind whole wheat pasta, although healthier, will still be high in carbohydrates. Serving pasta along with a serving of meat is a great way to reduce the amount of carbohydrates since the pasta will not be the only main dish served. Eating carbohydrates along with protein is found to be a great balance and is a common practice in Italian culture. So next time you fill a large pasta bowl full of spaghetti, add some poultry on the side, such as breaded chicken breasts.

Vegetables: When thinking of vegetables in Italian cooking, you can remove any thoughts ideas of bland broccoli or overcooked zucchini alone and tasteless sitting in a bowl. Italians love their vegetables, but only when they taste good. A wonderful tip is to incorporate your vegetables along with your main recipe - such as pasta.

For example, you can create a nice eggplant and zucchini pasta dinner in the following manner: Heat some olive in a large frying pan over high heat. Sauté a properly drained eggplant, cut in cubes, along with a few zucchini chopped to the same size. Add in some crushed garlic. When almost cooked through, add about 4 cups of pasta sauce and sauté for about 10 more minutes until the flavors have blended. Add your cooked pasta to the pan and heat through. Serve with grated cheese on top.

Incorporating vegetables in a recipe is an easy way to make sure everyone at the table gets a good dose of their daily vegetables.

Meats: In Italy, good meat is important, and most people will go to the local market to buy it. Not all of us have this luxury to buy local meat. However whenever possible buy local and buy organic. Organic meats are free of antibiotics and hormones. Many of these higher quality meats are also from free range farms where the animals are free to eat grass in a natural habitat. The meat as a result, is leaner and healthier. This means it is healthier for you too. Aim to have no more than one serving of beef a week - two if you must.

Fish: Italians also tend to eat quite a bit of fish. Much of this is due to the fact that nearly any location in Italy is less than 100 miles from the water, thus making it much easier for markets to acquire fresh fish. Fish is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids which help lower cholesterol, and in many studies have found to help improve cognitive functions.

Adding fish into your diet at least once a week is a good choice - if the fish is healthy. Try to buy "wild" fish, rather than those raised in fish farms. Next time at a superstore, take a look at the ingredients list for farm raised salmon. You might be surprised to find a food color additive is used to add color to the salmon to cause it to appear healthier. Salmon should be a beautiful deep orange/red color - without the help of additives.

Desserts: Next time when you are in the mood for something sweet for dessert, try skipping the frozen ice cream and reach for some fresh ripe fruit instead. After all, that's how the Italians do it! A delicious fresh apple, a bowl of juicy strawberries or peaches will satisfy the sweet tooth in all of us. Try adding some fresh berries on top of a serving of ricotta cheese. Your palette will thank you.

Understanding these few principles and incorporating them into your food habits will help you begin to eat a well balanced diet - without being on a "diet". Italians undoubtedly love to eat, and eating should be enjoyed - as long as we are using the right foods!

This article was brought to you by, a resource for easy Italian recipes.

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