Tuesday, 8 April 2014

The Italian cuisine

When talking about Italian food pasta, pizza and risotto are the first things that come to our minds. We are used to eat Spaghetti alla Bolognese or pizza with a lot of stuff on it. But what is Italian food? Is it healthy or not? We often hear that t he Italians eat far too many carbohydrates. Is it true? 
Pasta with broccoli - photo: Jessica Giandomenico - http://tuscasblogg.wordpress.com/

Spring is coming and a lot of people talk about carbohydrates. We can read about diets in magazines and online and many of them are almost without carbohydrates. We know that Italians rarely have a dish without bread and they are known for pasta and pizza meals, but is it true that the Italian cuisine is unhealthy?

Actually it's not easy to talk about Italian food, because Italy has only been a unified country for 150 years , and each region has its own specialties. Sometimes the same recipe can change from village to village , but there are some peculiarities that all regions have in common and one of these is that each meal traditionally includes several dishes. But why?

I recently had some Swedish friends at my flat me in Rome, and when we went out to eat, I realized how little Swedes know about the Italian cuisine. While Swedes eats pasta with proteins , such as meat and fish dishes , it is a first course in Italy. If we take a look at the history of Italy we can easily understand why .

Tuna with arugola. Photo: Jessica Giandomenico - http://tuscasblogg.wordpress.com/

Try to imagine a traditional Italian family with 5-6 children where the mother is a housewife and only the father works . This is what a  "normal" family looked like not too long ago in a land that traditionally lived on agriculture. Even today, the first course is important to many families. When you have eaten some pasta, you aren't as hungry as when you started eating and the meat or fish will cost less. It is also important to keep in mind, that traditionally an Italian meal is the climax of the day for the whole family. Therefore, it should last a while.

I have had the pleasure to spend time with families like above. Mothers waiting home the others and everybody having lunch together communicating. I actually also know a family where it is the contrary, the father is the one waiting for the wife and two children for lunch. I spent last Sunday lunch at their home and we sat at the table for......4 hours!

All these things need to be considered when putting the budget for the shopping at the supermarket: How many people have to eat with the money we have? How long are we going to spend at the table? How much time can we use for cooking? Vegetables are very cheap ad an important component of the Italian cuisine. The traditional meal always ends with fruit.

During my years in Italy I have spoken to some nutritionists and they agree that the carbohydrates are needed in our lives since they give us energy. Carbohydrates are the fuel for the brain to work as the central nervous system and muscles , says my friend and nutritionist Francesca Quattrone. The Mediterranean diet is a balanced diet , she explains , it gives us everything we need. She advises to follow the Mediterranean diet by eating carbohydrates like pasta for lunch, because the energy is consumed during the day, and the to eat a light meal in the evening consisting based on vegetables and meat, fish or eggs.
Vegetables at the market: Photo Jessica Giandomenico http://tuscasblogg.wordpress.com/

What Francesca describes is just the way the Italian families used to eat a long time ago, before women started working outside the homes. They ate pasta, rice or soup as first course " primo " and meat , fish, eggs or cheese and vegetables for the main course, " secondo " and it finished with fresh fruit. For dinner they ate proteins such as meat, fish or eggs and vegetables and a piece of bread or potatoes.

What might be considered the most unhealthy meal in Italy is the breakfast, which traditionally consists of cookies and milk at home or coffee and pastries, " cornetto " in the bar. For a long time I asked myself why mothers mixed " kids biscuits " in the children's baby bottles until I realized that these biscuits are studied to contain the correct nutrition for the children. Right or wrong? I don't know...
Fresh asparagus - Photo: Jessica Giandomenico -http://tuscasblogg.wordpress.com/

According to the UN, many countries have had problems with overweight due to junk food  this is true. In many industrialized countries we don't have time enough to sit and enjoy a home cooked meal but we have to et fast calories and we often don't have time to do enough exercise.  Italy is no exception , but the rate of overweight people are 8-9 percent for about 10 years, compared to e.g. the US where almost 70 percent are overweight. Maybe we should go back to old habits?


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