When you think of Italian cuisine does your mouth salivate at the though of pasta, pizza and pepperoni? If so then you may be focused on the tip top of the iceberg and missing some of the tantalizing Top Ten Italian Foods for Health.
This article is designed to help you expand your horizons and culinary knowledge regarding the fantastic foods of Italy to enjoy new tantalizing treats that will help maintain your vibrant energy and health.
The Italian Diet
Unlike in the U.S. and other developed countries where pasta and pizza are served as fast foods and often served in large portions as the only entrée, in Italy meals are meant to be savored with a wide variety of healthy salads and side dishes. The Italian versions of these dishes contain less cheese, meat and refined and processed ingredients.
The Italians pride themselves on preparing and serving food maintaining family traditions and a loving environment. They use primarily farm fresh ingredients that have fantastic flavors. Contrast this with the cheap pasta and pizza made with bleached white flour, a can or jar of tomato sauce (often with sugar or high fructose corn syrup) and loaded with layers of fatty cheese and meat as well as chemicals, colorings, flavor enhancers and preservatives.
Therefore let’s take a closer look at the real foundation of Italian cuisine that delivers the healthy benefits of the Mediterranean diet we hear and read so much about. If the following ingredients do not get your taste buds tingling and your mouth watering then you may be a unfortunate victim of too much salt, sugar and sodas from the Standard American Diet (SAD).
Top Ten Italian Ingredients for Health
1. Tomatoes and tomato sauces offer one of the most amazing aromas and tantalizing tastes in Italian cuisine. Whether you crave fresh tomatoes, ensalate, sauce, soup or sun-dried tomatoes these are main ingredients in Italian cuisine. Tomatoes are rich in antioxidants, minerals, phyto-nutrients and vitamins. Many people have heard that tomatoes contain Lycopene which is a powerful carotenoid which protects against cancer, free radicals and heart disease.
2. Herbs like basil, garlic, onions, oregano, parsley rosemary, tarragon and thyme are very common in Italian cuisine. They are used as much for their great taste as well as their antioxidant and therapeutic health benefits. Herbs produce potent essential oils and complex compounds that maintain and protect the plant from being destroyed by animals, insects or pathogens. These same substances are also beneficial for animals and humans to protect against disease and invasion by harmful organisms. By ingesting the plant or topical essential oil exposure a person can absorb the beneficial oils and complex compounds which offer significant health benefits. There are also many beneficial secondary metabolites (over 12,000 have been identified out of a potential of 100,000 plus that are estimated). The alkaloid compounds serve as the defense mechanisms for plants to portect against being destroyed by herbivores, insects and microorganisms. Herbs and spices are great for seasoning food and providing useful medicinal compounds.
Basil, oregano, rosemary and thyme contain powerful antioxidants that also protect cells from free radical and radiation damage. The volatile oils are known to be anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-parasitic and anti-viral They are also a good source of minerals, phyto-nutrients, trace elements and vitamins.
3. Grapes, grape leaf and grape seed oil are great foods. Grape vines are common throughout Italy and yield three great sources of year round nutrition by producing grapes, grape leafs and grape seed oil. Many varieties of grape vines are grown which provide a great source of antioxidants, minerals, phytonutrients, resveratrol, trace elements and vitamins. Grapes are dried for use when fresh ones are not available. The grape leaves are a great food and many delicious dishes in Italy use them. Stuffed grape leaves can be filled with meat, rice and vegetable combinations which are very popular and as delicious as they are nutritious. Grape seeds yield oil which is a great source for healthy essential fatty acids and also provide beneficial fiber, minerals and trace elements.
4. Olives and Olive Oil Olives are one of the oldest foods known and it’s believed they’ve been used for food and oil for at least 7,000 years. Olives and olive oil are an integral part of almost every authentic Italian meal. Italian olive oils have even been compared to fine wines based on the many different colors, flavors and varieties they produce. Extra virgin olive oil is the unrefined oil from the first pressing and it is important for it to be cold pressed which is the best since heat damages the oil. Olives are rich in monounsaturated fatty acids which are deemed as heart healthy and found to reduce the risk of atherosclerosis while increasing HDL (good cholesterol). Olives and olive oil also provide antioxidants, flavonoids, polyphenols, and vitamin E.
5. Green leafy plants such as Agretti, arugula, cabbage, chickory, lettuce, mustard, radicchio and spinach are commonly made into delicious and nutritious dishes. They are a rich source of antioxidants, fiber, phyto-nutrients and vitamins. Green plants are also rich in chlorophyll which is very similar in composition to the hemoglobin in our blood which carries oxygen to our tissues. Green leafy plants are a great source of enzymes, minerals, phyto-nutrients, protein and trace elements to fuel our bodies and protect our health. When served in a salad or slightly warmed dish and drizzled with olive oil and spices they are totally tantalizing. Green plants are very alkalizing which is great to help reduce acidity in our bodies.
6. Sea foods such as anchovies, herring, mackerel and sardines are abundant in Italy. These small fish are rich in nutrients and typically lower in mercury and other heavy metals than larger fish. They are commonly sold canned, cooked, fresh, pickled and smoked. They are rich in omega 3 fatty acids which reduce the occurrence of cardiovascular disease. These fatty acids also appear to help lower blood sugar levels and help provide a steady supply of energy amd endurance. They offer a good source of calcium, protein and vitamins B 12 and D. Squid and octopus are additional sea foods frequently enjoyed in Italy. One of my favorites is raw anchovies marinated in fresh lemon juice and olive oil.
7. Beans are a staple in Italy and offer some of the healthiest and oldest foods we know. Adding beans and legumes to your diet is an easy way to enhance your health and well being. Some of the most common beans enjoyed in Italy are cannellini beans, fava beans, green beans, lima beans, kidney beans and white beans. Lentils and garbanzo beans (chickpeas) are a staple part of many Italian dishes. Beans are an excellent source of nutrition and offer many health benefits. They are very high in fiber which is great for lowering cholesterol, fighting heart disease and stabilizing blood sugar levels. They are a complex carbohydrate and source of protein. They also provide many minerals, trace elements and vitamins.
8. Peppers in Italy come in red, orange, yellow, green, purple and black and have a wide variety of uses in dishes. Peppers are especially rich in health enhancing antioxidants (carotene, lycopene) , nutrients and vitamins. They add great flavor to vegetable dishes to make them more appealing and provide many immune enhancing benefits themselves.
9. Fruits from Italy make up the largest percent of production in Europe. You can find fantastic fruits such as apples, cherries, currants figs, kiwi, melons, oranges, pears, pomegranate and tangerines. As we all know fruits are full of antioxidants, bioflavonoids, minerals, phyto-nutrients and vitamins which all enhance your health and immune system.
10. Vegetables such as artichoke, beets, broccoli, carrots, celery, cucumbers, eggplant, kohlrabi, parsnips, pumpkins, squash and turnips are abundant in Italy and provide amazing dishes to be enjoyed. You can find a rainbow of colors to tantalize your taste buds and support your health needs
Raw nuts and seeds like almonds, sunflower seeds and walnuts are bonus health foods abundant in Italy.
The following is a recipe for making pesto, which is perfect additional to mix in with Living Cuisine vegetable dishes.
[colored_box title=”Tasty Pesto Recipe” variation=”teal”]
- 3 Cups fresh Basil or 1 cup dried Basil
- ½ Cup fresh Oregano or 1 Tablespoon dried Oregano
- 6 Tablespoons Sun Flower seeds (soaked in water for 6 hours)
- 2 Cloves of Garlic
- 1/3 Cup Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
- Optional Parmesan cheese for flavoring (finely grated)
- 2 pinches of Sea Salt
- Place basil, oregano, sun flower seeds, garlic and sea salt in the food processor and process for 1 minute. Place this mixture in a pint jar with a lid.
- Then add in the olive oil until you reach the desired consistency and mix well.
- Makes about 1 1/2 cups of pesto.[/colored_box]
These health enhancing foods will help you expand your culinary delights regarding the fantastic foods of Italy to enjoy new tantalizing treats to help maintain your vibrant energy and health. Now that you know more about the tantalizing top ten Italian foods for health it is time to plan, shop and prepare some great meals with lots of love (amore). Ciao!
Mastery Action Plan
Make a commitment to enjoy twenty one of the above mentioned food items over the next twenty one days. This is a great way to add some spice and variety to your life as you expand your culinary awareness. Also read “Some Spice is Nice” from the previous blogpost.
Our next blog post will share: Top Ten Wonderful Walking Workouts