The most recent World Economic Forum named Italians the healthiest population in the world right after the Spanish. Sure, it was a hard blow for the average healthy Italian. Italy is a country that has often been viewed as the healthiest for many years running. In fact, many people have been disputing this result because nothing is more important to Italians than their cuisine.
Inhabitants of the island of Sardinia have many times held the title of the oldest living person through history. At the moment however that record is currently held by Kane Tanaka of Japan, but with the second oldest being, you guessed it…one healthy Italian!
So, what is the secret to being a healthy Italian? Why are Italian women so beautiful and considered thin? Is it something to do with the food, eating habits, lifestyle, surroundings… or does it all come down to genetics?
There are definitely many factors to consider, but in this article, we will concentrate solely on the food aspect.
Reason 1: Italians Eat Fresh Food
The first reason Italians are so healthy is that they eat food that is fresh. It’s been that way for generations.
Unfortunately, supermarkets are now slowly taking over the small, family-run shops which primarily dominated the market in previous times. However, if you step foot into an Italian supermarket, you will be astounded by the variety and the quality of food that is available to consumers.
Italian supermarkets often provide seasonal vegetables and fruits and feature Italian grown items. You won’t always be able to find strawberries in the winter, or peaches and blueberries. In Italy, you have to wait for those!
Italians are very proud of their agricultural heritage and as a result, are very adamant about buying local. They called this kilometer zero. They also stick to buying fruits and vegetables that are in season. Many foreigners that come to Italy are often caught off guard when they are looking for a particular ingredient that is not available in a certain season (you’ll never find cherries in December, even if your life depended on it!).
Though it might take some getting used to, this habit ensures that Italy’s population is consuming fruit and vegetables that are extremely fresh and either grown right around the corner or in another part of Italy. Being the patriotic bunch that they are, they do prefer to buy Italian-grown items over imported items.
Reason 2: Origin and Quality of Food is Protected
Freshness is not the only thing that counts in Italy either, the quality and origin of food is actually a protected entity! There are many different consorzios that are responsible for monitoring where food comes from and how it is made. Acronyms such as IGP and DOP aren’t just on your favorite Parmigiano for fun. These three letters pack a punch.
The first one, IGP, stands for Indicazione Geografica Protetta (Indication of Geographic Protection) and demonstrates that the particular food you’re holding does indeed come from where it claims to be from. Its geographical origin is protected and consumers can shop easy in knowing this.
The second, DOP, stands for Denominazione d’Origine Protetta (Protected Designation of Origin). This is even stricter as it guarantees that a product is not only made in a specific area of the country but also makes sure that each step in the process is regulated according to set rules and traditions.
Wine lovers, you may be more familiar with the designations of DOC and DOCG, which were introduced in the 1960s and 1980s respectively, to put limitations on where specific wines can be produced and the exact methods used to make them:
- DOCG stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin, DOCG)
- DOC stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata (Denomination of Controlled Origin)
The fact that there is so much attention given from the very beginning of food production all the way to the packaging of it may also explain why Italians are so particular about how things need to be cooked correctly.
You’ve probably seen the odd meme here or there, or the infamous video of Italians seeing red and letting all their emotions out on a delivery boy after being pranked with a Hawaiian pizza. This steadfast loyalty to their food and to tradition is what has allowed Italian recipes to stand the test of time while remaining just as healthy as they were generations ago.
Reason 3: Italians Are The Masters of Slow Food
In addition to supermarkets, Italy is still full of outdoor markets that tend to pop up in the same spot every week and where locals will go to stock up on groceries for the next few days buying their produce directly from the farmers of their region.
It is not completely uncommon, especially in central and southern Italy, to find little ladies who come to the market to sell what they have cultivated in their own backyards. In this way, you can be assured that no pesticides or strange chemicals have been used on the fruits and vegetables that you are buying.
In our private Roman cooking class, you will have the opportunity to shop for ingredients at a local market where are you will get a peek at the wonderful food culture that Italy has continued to embrace through the passing of the years. Or if you prefer to embrace more eating and less cooking, join us for an Evening Food Tour in Rome in the Trastevere neighborhood’s winding streets to discover and taste typical salumi and cheeses with your private guide.
Reason 4: Italians Love Cooking at Home!
A second reason that Italians are so healthy is that they truly value eating at home. This is not to say that Italians do not eat at restaurants, you’ll notice that they are almost always full of patrons, but it is not a typical habit of Italians to eat out as frequently as other countries do.
In other parts of the world, meals are seen as something of mandatory sustenance rather than a moment during the day to unwind and take a break with family and friends. The slow food movement was created in Italy in 1989 to “prevent the disappearance of local food cultures and traditions, counteract the rise of fast life and combat people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, and how our food choices affect the world around us“.
In a nutshell, it encourages the concept of good, wholesome foods enjoyed in good company. The fact that so much importance is placed on the meal and on mealtime likely helps Italians in terms of weight loss and maintenance.
Numerous studies have shown that the benefits of eating slowly include the ability to digest better and have greater satisfaction at the end of our meal so that we are less likely to go rummaging in the cupboard for a midnight snack!
Get the real family cooking experience on our private cooking class in a family-owned Tuscan villa in the heart of the Chianti region to live the experience for yourself!
Reason 5: Aperitivo Hour!
Another thing that is very unique to Italian culture is the aperitivo hour. Sometimes compared to happy hour this is the moment during the day typically before an actual meal where friends will gather to share a drink and a few light snacks.
The idea is to get the stomach “ready” for the actual meal, the drinks and finger food are meant to stimulate the appetite. When you think about it, this might actually prevent people from binge-eating or over-eating during lunch or dinner.
Research has also shown that eating throughout the day in smaller portions helps keep the metabolism running, again preventing significant weight gain. Whether the aperitivo plays a significant part in how healthy Italians are is debatable but it’s certainly not doing any harm being one of the countries most beloved pastimes.
Reason 6: Italians Drink in Moderation…
Using the aperitivo as an introduction to this next factor as to why Italians are so healthy, it’s only logical that we comment on wine. While drinking in excess has always been seen and proven to be detrimental to health, wine has always been a mandatory presence at most Italian meals.
You will rarely see a table without it. Italians see wine as a necessary pairing with food. White wines with seafood dishes and reds with meat dishes. While there is always an ongoing debate about the extent to which the latter wine is good for you, various studies in the past have shown that moderate amounts of red wine can have on blood pressure and heart health.
With all these health benefits and the predominance of wine in Italian culture, we are not surprised that Italians are so healthy. So if wine is up your alley, make sure to inquire about our luxury wine tasting tours in the Chianti or Montalcino regions of Tuscany or lesser-known wine regions such as the on our Castelli Romani tour which will take you to wineries just outside of Rome. Our tours are perfect for both lovers and connoisseurs of wine.
So, how can you learn to be healthy like an Italian?
In summary, there are so many factors that play into why Italians are so healthy, and in this article, we’ve only just touched on a few. Perhaps genetics also plays a part (as it typically does) but even if you don’t have a drop of Italian blood in your veins, Italy’s culinary traditions are what make it so easy to stay healthy while eating delicious food!
Remember to eat fresh foods, cook at home so that you can control what goes into your food, eat slower to savor each bite, and eat in good company not alone!
If you’d like to start planning your perfect food tour in Italy, or would like to speak to our experts about some of our other private tours – get in touch today by filling out the form on our custom tours page.
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