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  • 4 Ways Italians Make Mealtime Healthier
    Our Paesani

    by Francesca Di Meglio

    JUNE 6, 2004 - Food brings people together. The proof: Every family photo album you have ever looked at included at least one shot of people gathered around a table, blowing out candles on a cake or toasting with flutes of champagne. Special meals mark life events - from baptism to funeral.

    People identify themselves by the food that they eat. What Italians are saying with their cuisine is that they are passionate artists. For example, Margherita pizza, which was born in Italy, was created to symbolize the Italian flag (red sauce, white cheese, green basil) as a tribute to Queen Margherita.

    An Italian's entire day revolves around food - and mealtime still means something there. That is why Italians, although gaining on Americans in the weight wars, still tend to be healthier. Here are four mealtime tips you can glean from the Italian diet:

    1. Super-size it at lunch, not dinner. Most of us know that eating a heavy meal right before bedtime helps us put on the pounds. In Italy, especially in the south, many families still go home for a big lunch in the middle of the day. Midday meals might include pasta, sausage, bread and pastries for dessert. Then, they eat light at dinner - a tomato salad or calamari dressed in olive oil. This schedule is much nicer to the digestive system. It also gives people a break from work that might cut down on stress levels and improve the rate of metabolism. The lesson: Try taking that hour for lunch if you can.
    2. Long walks in the piazza follow the pizza. Traditionally, Italians go for the "passegiata" or walk after meals. Their days allow for more leisure time than those of Americans. Therefore, they lead much more active and social lives. It is common to see your neighbors strolling and chatting in the piazza - as opposed to racing to the office or grabbing a sandwich on the run. Walking is a common part of life in the cities and smaller towns of Italy. And all that legwork helps Italians work off that pasta. So, the next time you are about to jump in your car to run an errand down the street, do as the Romans and consider walking instead.
    3. All hail the Mediterranean diet. You've probably already heard that the Mediterranean diet, rich in fruits, vegetables, lean meats and olive oil, is a heart healthy choice. Italians, especially those on the Mediterranean coast, tend to favor these staples. The food is fresh (often from their own backyards) and is minimally processed compared to the Big Macs and frozen dinners many Americans crave. Often, the meal is accompanied by wine and when it's red, it's extra healthy. The bottom line is that Italians realize everything can be enjoyed in moderation. Remember that the next time you binge on ice cream after a month of denying yourself.
    4. Savor your meal. Italians appreciate food the way they do people. Their lunches last for hours - and every bite is like a revelation. Now, that is how we should all be living!

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