March 02, 2010

Bonjourno! I was recently in Italy for a nutrition conference, my second trip to this amazingly beautiful country, and the food was some of the best - and healthiest - I've ever enjoyed. When you hear Italian, you may think mounds of pasta with meatballs or cheesy plates of lasagna, but beans and seafood are traditional Italian fare. After all, Italy is one of the Mediterranean countries, and 15% of all purchases in Italian supermarkets are fruits and veggies! Seafood is also an Italian staple. Check out this comparison:

Americanized Italian:

Cesar salad – 800 calories

Spaghetti & meatballs (typical restaurant sized entrée) - 1,100 calories

Total: 1,900 calories

Traditional Italian:

Mediterranean olives (5 black, 5 green) – 50 calories

1 cup Pasta e Fagioli - 130 calories

4 baked scallops 100 - calories

1 side (half cup) of broccoli rabe sautéed in extra virgin olive oil and fresh garlic – 60 calories

Total: 340 calories (savings of 1,560 & even more delicious!)

If you love Italian cuisine, here are my 3 tips for enjoying every bite without going overboard:

1) Keep your pasta intake under control by limiting it to your soup (Pasta e Fagioli or Minestrone). A typical entrée-sized pasta dish has 10 times more calories than soup, but you probably won't feel like you ate 10 times more food. Studies have also shown that starting a meal with soup (which is filling and takes longer to eat) will trigger you to eat less of your entrée – no willpower needed.

2) Make veggies the superstar, at least 50% of the bulk of your meal, and keep it simple. Grilled veggies, such as thinly sliced eggplant and peppers don't need any added ingredients. Just grill and garnish with a squeeze of fresh lemon and a dash of cracked black pepper or a sprinkle of balsamic vinegar. One of my other favs is roasted or grilled veggie kabobs – alternate cherry or grape tomatoes, button mushrooms and slices of peppers and red onion, lightly mist with an herb-infused oil and grill or bake in the oven at 400 F for about 10 minutes.

3) Make like a snail and slow it down – the slow food movement originated in Italy and now has 100,000+ members in over 130 countries. It's not just about eating slower, although that's part of it. Slow Food is about eating high quality, clean, ethically, naturally and sustainably grown traditional foods. And in my experience, quality translates to satisfaction, which can lead to weight loss. If you've ever eaten a tomato shortly after it was plucked from the vine (one that smells and tastes like a tomato), you know what I mean – it's like nature's candy! A high quality, "real food" meal that costs a few dollars more may prevent you from indulging in a few dollars worth of snacks (or more) in the hours after the meal. I've had countless clients who have attempted to lose weight by eating highly processed, low calorie frozen dinners, only to wind up bingeing on crackers or cookies a few hours later. Has this ever happened to you? In the long run, quality really does pay off, for both your waistline and your health.

So, what's your take on Italian? Please share!