It’s mid-January and the time of the year to make health goals and plan positive habits for the year ahead. You may be thinking I have never heard of an Italian being on a diet and you would be right. Most Italians do not diet but they are a big fan of portion control and less fat. Sure, Italians eat their pizza and pasta, socialize for hours over Sunday lunch/ dinner and yet they still manage to avoid excessive eating or drinking (with the exception of festive celebrations, of course).
The Italian way of eating involves home-made meals the majority of the time, no soft drinks/soda, limited take-away/high sugar foods and eating out on the odd occasion. They also do not snack after dinner or while watching TV/on the computer. The Italian diet and way of living has many health benefits from reduced obesity and risk if chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease, to living a healthier and longer life. The Italian diet is rich in fresh fruit and vegetables. Daily exercise also contributes to the foundation of a healthy Italian diet. Red meats, alcohol and butter are limited. Instead Italians eat a lot of fresh fish, skinless poultry, small portions of pasta cooked ‘al dente’ (we’ll explain why in health goal #5), whole grains , beans and healthy fats such as olive oil. Their diet is also low in saturated fat. The meal portions in Italy are much smaller compared to Australian and portion sizes in other countries (except for Sunday). Smaller portions of food can make all the difference to your weight and health.
Our 10 health goals to achieve in 2021 include:
Start the day right by restoring the right level of glucose that is necessary to supply energy to your body. How? By eating breakfast of, course. Breakfast is essential to rebalance blood sugars levels that fall during the night. Consuming fresh fruit and whole grains are ideal to awaken the body and fuel with energy to face the day. Studies have shown that people that do not eat breakfast in the morning are inclined to eat much more during the day, with the risk of gaining weight more easily.
Each meal should contain fruit and/or vegetables. Italians have a high consumption of fruits and vegetables in their diet – with many Italians still living off the land. Instead of thinking ‘what can I buy that is healthy’, Italians eat what they grow – which is healthy. Fruit and vegetables are rich in antioxidants to protect the body against free radicals. They also contain essential vitamins, minerals and fibre with health benefits including lower risk of chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease and reduced blood pressure in people with high blood pressure. The recommended fruit and vegetable intake is at least 400 grams per day, ideally five servings of 80 grams. Many Australians and people from other countries of the world are not eating enough fruit and vegetables.
Try our Fennel and blood orange salad, Salad of mixed lettuce, fennel, pear and walnuts and Roasted pumpkin, kale and barley salad
Yes – these dishes taste as good as they look.
To maintain heathy hydration, people should drink from 2 to 3 litres of water per day. We need water to maintain the balance of body fluids, which is essential for digestion, absorption, circulation, creation of saliva, transportation of nutrients, maintenance of body temperature and much more. Italians consume a high amount of water and why not? The more hydrated your cells are, the firmer and brighter your skin will be – there’s your fountain of youth right there. On the opposite scale, dehydration has negative effects on healthy aging. Are you drinking enough water each day? If no, this is one of the health goals to focus on.
The Mediterranean diet is high in fish and seafood. Fish is rich in protein, vitamins A and D, omega-3 fatty acids and various other vitamins and minerals which are important for optimal function of your body and mind. Omega-3 fatty acids are also essential for development of the brain and eyes which is why expectant and nursing mothers should eat a sufficient amount. Interestingly, omega-3 fatty acids have benefits in reducing symptoms of depression, and significantly increase the effectiveness of antidepressant medications. Consumption of fatty fish at least once or twice a week (ideally 2-3 times) can make you a happier person, reduce risk of diseases such as heart disease, stroke and dementia and may even lead to improved sleep due to vitamin D content. As Italians consume more fish, they have a lower risk of diseases and slower rates of cognitive decline which improve quality of life and contribute to living longer. Try our Oven baked salmon fillet with fennel salad, Baked snapper in aqua pazza, Swordfish alla Siciliana and Grilled sea bass with Salmoriglio.
Pasta can be part of a healthy diet when eaten in moderation. I would like to point out that pasta itself is not healthy or unhealthy. There are two important factors to cook pasta like an Italian which is healthier for you including:
• Cook the pasta ‘al dente’
If you read through all of our pasta recipes, you’ll see one thing in common. In absolutely all pasta recipes we advise to cook pasta ‘al dente’ (literally meaning ‘to the tooth’ in Italian and in other words, firm to the bite). Why? That’s how Italians serve it, but it is also healthier for you. The shorter the pasta cooking time, the lower the Glycemic Index (GI). Overcooked pasta causes blood sugar levels to spike suddenly and then crash a few hours later, leaving you feeling tired and hungry again. Instead pasta that is cooked ‘al dente’, takes longer for your body to break down the carbs, keeping your blood sugar levels more stable and body perfectly fuelled. This makes you less likely to overeat and snack after your meal which is a very unhealthy habit.
• Choose plant and fish-based pasta toppings
I like the ‘occasional’ rich and comforting pasta with slow-cooked meat however acknowledge that it is not a healthy choice. I remember reading ‘Fit for Life’ and ‘Fit for life – a new beginning’ by Harvey and Marilyn Diamond years ago which expressed that when eating animal protein to avoid combining it with complex carbohydrates. It makes the dish much heavier and Italians follow this view point.
Italians tend to choose simple plant-based toppings with tomato or other vegetable pasta sauce.
Think about reducing pasta with animal protein and instead combining fresh fish, vegetables, olive oil and nuts. Use flavour intense and low-calorie foods like herbs (parsley, oregano, basil etc.), vinegar, capers and other foods for seasoning. Olive oil is one of the main ingredients of many pasta dishes and linked to living longer. It is particularly rich in monounsaturated “healthy fat” that is full of antioxidants. Regular consumption of olive oil has health benefits such as protection of the body against free radicals (unstable atoms that can damage cells, causing illness and aging) and reduced risk of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, stroke, diabetes and certain types of cancer. Garlic is super tasty in pasta dishes and the health benefits go on and on. Garlic is rich in antioxidants that protect the body against free radicals. It is also great for boosting the immune system, which is especially important for elderly or people with dysfunctional immune systems. Skip the cream-based sauces and try cooking a small portion of Penne pasta ‘al pomodoro’, Linguine pasta with Genovese pasta sauce or Fusilli pasta with cherry tomatoes and basil.
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It is important to get a good night’s sleep, every night. Quantity of sleep can be an indicator of your overall health. Poor sleep is strongly linked to weight gain. This is because it affects hormones that regulate hunger and also interferes with your metabolism. Additionally, when we are running on low energy, we tend to turn to high fat and high sugar foods (and bigger portions) for comfort and a boost. You are less likely to be active and achieve health goal #7 when you are tired and have overeaten. Six to seven hours each night is the recommended amount of sleep. You may be surprised to know that getting enough sleep improves cardiovascular, endocrine, immune and nervous systems and being well rested is key to boost longevity. It is also important to go to bed and get up at roughly the same time throughout the week. Italians are definitely onto something with their siesta, a short sleep after lunch. Having an occasional Italian siesta has many health benefits to reduces stress, help cardiovascular functions, and improve alertness and memory. A siesta is particularly beneficial if you tend to get less than six hours of sleep during the night – just make sure that your nap is not more than forty-five minutes.
Nutrition is very important however health goals are not just about the food that you eat. The Italian way of life involves daily physical activity as a form of entertainment. Everyone from young children to the elderly participate in outdoor activities and exercise on a regular basis – whether be swimming at local beaches, hiking, playing sport or a ‘passeggiata’ (a leisurely walk, usually with friends and family in the afternoon or after dinner). Italians also enjoy life to the fullest – enjoying good food and wine in the company of friends and family.
Mental health plays an important part of your overall health. 2020 has been a tough year for all of us. We can’t control what challenges and setbacks life throws at us. What we can control is having a positive attitude during the tough times and motivated to maintain your health goals. “Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit” is my favourite quote from Napoleon Hill in ‘Think and Grow rich’. It is one of the best books I have ever read. Imagine if we learned to see challenges as opportunities to grow and looked for ‘the equal or greater benefit’. A healthy mind is also about seeking beauty in our surroundings and gratitude. Feeling grateful reduces our stress levels and forces your mind to adopt an abundance mindset. I must say, I am extremely grateful to have a wonderful husband and two beautiful children. We are also healthy and so blessed to be living in beautiful Australia with wonderful memories of our many trips to the breathtaking Italy. It is important to remind yourself of the things you are grateful for each and every day.
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Buy Think and Grow Rich – Original from Amazon Australia.
There is also a moderate consumption of alcohol in Italy. Drinking alcohol increases your chances of developing diseases such as cancer, liver disease, and other chronic conditions. It can also negatively impact learning and memory, accelerates the aging process, and disrupts healthy sleeping patterns. Limit alcohol intake to one occasional standard drink (e.g. 150ml glass of wine) per day. Also avoid sugary drinks and fruit juice altogether.
We can all do with motivation to keep us on track with our health goals. Plan your chosen health goal milestones in advance (could be relating to rest, physical activity, weight, spiritual renewal etc.). Rewarding yourself for achieving milestones in your health goals and making great progress gives you something to look forward to along your journey to achieve your goals. Here are some ideas of feel-good healthy rewards to help you keep you on track without undoing your hard efforts.
• Pamper yourself with a massage, manicure, pedicure
• Treat yourself to a new outfit to show off the healthier you – You could even go an extra step and splurge on a new bag and shoes as well – you’re worth it!
• Get your hair styled – when your hair looks great you instantly feel good
• Plan a well-deserved holiday – We are in the middle of a pandemic so plan where you would like to holiday when it is safe to do so. You could set money aside for each of your milestones and start saving up for a future holiday with the family to reward your hard work.
Let’s be healthy together!
2021 is the year to take better care of ourselves which means setting one or more of these health goals. Let’s focus on what we can control this year which is healthy eating habits, being active, healthy mind and body, avoiding or limiting unhealthy beverages and getting as much sleep as possible. You are guaranteed to be continually faced with challenges and temporary setbacks in life. It’s inevitable. Having a positive attitude will keep you motivated to stick with your health goals. Even if you don’t live in Italy, you can take these principles and live a longer and better quality of life from anywhere in the world.
We invite you to share our recipes with friends, add these recipes to your favourites and plan your weekly meals by logging in/signing up as an Italian Spoon member today. There are so many benefits to meal-planning, and it can all be done on the Italian Spoon website. My Meal Plan is free and available exclusively to Italian Spoon members. Using My Meal Plan takes the stress out of the question ‘What’s for dinner?’ – there is also an automatic shopping list. Use My Meal Plan and My Shopping list functions today!
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