When I first arrived to Northern Italy, one of the first things I noticed is that nobody is really fat. But with all the pasta & delicious cuisine they have, HOW COULD THIS BE? Their eating habits are different than that of Americans. This article will explain some of the leaner characteristics of Northern Italian food I have noticed as well as my personal approaches and recommendations.
1. PORTIONS: Not just sometimes…all the time!
Portioning involves making a conscious effort of telling yourself when you’re hungry and when you’re full. While it sounds easy, I think I’d rather squat my sub-max til I pass out than watch what I eat for a day…but thats just me;) I understand that if I want to be lean, I need to portion control my meals. I’ve recently started paying way more attention to this aspect of nutrition as I’m seeing that my metabolism isn’t as fast as it used to be. I think Adam Sandler’s got it right in Big Daddy when he says, “These days, I have a chocolate shake, my ass jiggles for like, a week. Enjoy the metabolism while you got it.” Umm, TRUE STORY.
Not only should you be aware of the quality of foods that you put in your body, but also the quantity. Read up a little about portioning if you’re not so familiar. For example, a serving of pasta is 2 oz of dry pasta (comes out to between 3/4 to 1 cup of cooked pasta depending on the type). Put that into perspective by actually measuring it out the next time you eat. I’ve gotten pretty good at approximating my portions, but use cups or a scale next time you cook to be sure. You’d be surprised!
Everything, including cars, come a bit smaller in this country. Northern Italy & most of Europe think petite and that makes a huge difference in the way you eat. Don’t let America’s “Go Big or Go Home” mentality take you by the horns. While I whole heartedly live by this quote when it comes to lifting (BRAHH!–that’s another topic), try to be conscious of how much food you’re putting into your body. Not just sometimes…all the time!
2. GOING OUT TO EAT: A special occasion
A menu at a real Italian restaurant always consists of several courses–Antipasti (appetizers), Primo (Pasta-1st course), Secondo (Meat-2nd Course), Dolce (Dessert–which is only sometimes), & Formaggi (cheese). Hey there! Thats a lot of food yo! While this surely sounds like it’s a ton at the table, your servings are usually smaller and you’re going out to eat less often.
Eating at a restaurant is surely an event here in Italy. For Italians, it occurs less often per week than our norm. I know people in the U.S. who eat out more than four times per week. I say, go ahead and order the cream sauce pasta and the fatty steak. Eat the cheese, drink the wine and down the tiramisu, but don’t do it every freakin night! Make your restaurant meal all out and decadent, yet a special occasion.
3. FRESH INGREDIENTS: Fabulous this season
In the fashion capital of the world, Milan, clothing is chosen based on whats “in season”. For Italians, this is no different when it comes to selecting food. During the spring, artichokes are “sooo in” and everyone is going nuts about them. We had an entire special dinner menu at my stage restaurant, Peck Italian Bar, devoted to them. While artichokes will be “sooo last season” come May and June, the fresh green asparagus will make its debut.
Fresh produce is good for you. It’s not packed with preservatives, and it tastes better than the frozen stuff! Artificial and prepackaged foods have unfortunately paved the way in America. Our bodies were not meant to digest and metabolize that stuff. Now, I’m not suggesting that you start going cold turkey organic or anything, but find out what’s in season, find out where it comes from, and start cooking with it! Think fashionable. What’s fresh and fabulous this season?
4. RESPECT FOR FOOD: Taste & appreciate
I have noticed that in Italy, there is a special respect that people have for their food. I am gaining this respect while here in Italy. I try to be mindful of the effort that went into the dish and dissect the ingredients that are within it. Maybe you’re thinking that you’re not going out to eat at these types of restaurants that really care about what they’re serving to their customers. Well then start to! Find restaurants that have a special culinary niche in the market. Restaurants that support local agriculture. Restaurants with a tradition. This goes not only for restaurants, but in your own cooking as well.
Respect for food and where it comes from is important, and I think that’s something that Americans lack. Re-teach yourself to eat and R-E-S-P-E-C-T dat grub! Make the effort to actually taste & appreciate the food that is presented to you.