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Sicily and the Mediterranean Diet:

Sicilian food falls into the "Mediterranean dietary group." The basic Sicilian diet is similar to the typical Mediterranean diet. In the Middle East, unlike Italy, pasta is not as common, so chick peas and other grains replace the pasta in their diet. However, the dietary principles are similar: it is a balance of simple and complex carbohydrates, proteins, and non-saturated (and some saturated) fats. There is a heavy reliance upon complex carbohydrates, vegetables and fruits, though it differs from the northern European diets. The extensive use of olive oil is common in both diets, and as a monounsaturated fat is healthier than saturated fats--studies claim it helps lower cholesterol levels.

How the Sicilian diet fits into the Mediterranean dietary group:

  • Fruits, vegetables, bread and other grains in high amounts
  • Vegetables and legumes; potatoes, peas and beans
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Olive oil-an important source of monounsaturated fat
  • Dairy products
  • Fish is consumed in high amounts
  • Poultry is consumed in low amounts and little red meat is eaten
  • Eggs zero to two times a week
  • Wine consumed in moderate amounts

Americans' idea of Italian food in the United States is not what Italians eat in Italy! (from a nutritional viewpoint). According to FAO, data for yearly food consumption is as follows:

England: 91kg fruit 89kg vegetables
USA: 113kg fruit 129kg vegetables
Italy: 140kg fruit 180kg vegetables

You can see from the data that the English do not consume a large majority of fruits and vegetables, and cooking vegetables in the traditional "English style" results in even less nutrient consumption. Italians consume large portions of fruits and vegetables, which is unlike the Italian-style cooking habits in the United States where the most 'popular' Italian food is pizza. Americans often think of pizza, pasta with "Alfredo" sauce (which doesn't exist in Italy!), or plates smothered with cheese. In reality, only high-end Italian restaurants in the United States offer a good variety of vegetables more similar to that of an authentic Italian diet. Another Italian staple is to eat fruit at the end of every meal. Salads and pre-prepared dressings are unknown creations to Italians and don't compare to the taste of fresh olive oil and a quality balsamic vinegar. Overall, Italian-American cooking lacks the essentials of a good, traditional Mediterranean diet.

Try eating pasta with a simple sauce with fresh tomatoes. Avoid "Alfredo Sauce" and cream and butter based sauces. In Italy, cream-based pasta has been out of style since the 1980s. Avoid those strange bread sticks that come with American Pizza - fresh bread is healthier.

A Sicilian Mediterranean Diet example:

  • A brioche or croissant for breakfast OR 1 slice of bread, toast, or cereals for breakfast with honey or jam
  • A portion of fruit 2 times per day (as snacks)
  • A portion of vegetables 2 times per day
  • A portion of fish 3 times a week
  • No more than 2 eggs per week
  • No Fast food
  • Eat legumes more than once a week
  • Eat pasta or rice at least 5 times a week - only for lunch (not allowed for dinner)
  • Use olive oil as dressing (to replace saturated fats)
  • Do not consume too much alcohol
  • Eat less than 150g of meat two times in a week

An Italian Breakfast:
An Italian breakfast is frugal - it usually consists of yogurt or milk or coffee and milk with a brioche or biscotti. While in the U.S., people are taught to eat a large, healthy, filling breakfast, many consider the Italian breakfast insufficient. While there is some truth to this, breakfast is important to give you energy for the day... we're no longer working the fields and instead find ourselves seated behind computers. The goal is to limit our calorie intake. A high fat breakfast is different than a high energy breakfast. Fat makes your body slow down, takes longer to digest, and fogs the mind. Grains give high energy without all the fat and mind fogging. If we take in more calories than are burned throughout the day, these calories or sugars transform themselves into fat. Cereal, or toast with fruit are fine for breakfast, so the Italian breakfast is right on track.

Snack: Having a snack in the middle of the morning is good. Usually an Italian snack is either a piece of fruit or a juice.

Lunch: One example of a Sicilian lunch is a one course meal like pasta or a panino and a salad or piece of fruit.

Afternoon snack: A yogurt or some fruit.

Dinner: Fish, meat or chicken dishes are usually eaten for dinner with a vegetable side dish. Fresh pizza is usually eaten only once a week (generally on Saturday night).

Drinks: Natural mineral water or carbonated "sparkling" water are generally consumed by Italians anywhere from 1 to 2 liters per day. No more than half a liter of wine a day (of course varies, but this in an average). Other drinks, like sodas, are consumed rarely compared to Americans. They are usually consumed on the weekends as companion to the weekly pizza.

The "Slow Food" movement, initiated to encourage the enjoyment, moderate consumption, and in effect counter fast food, began in Italy and Sicily. This Slow Food movement has now spread globally and many chapters can be found in the United States as well. In Sicily, each province has it's own Slow Food Chapter that organizes events and public demonstrations.

Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet:
Mediterranean diets are characterized by olive oil as the dominant fat source and a high to moderate consumption of fruit and vegetables, grains, fish, and legumes, in combination with a little meat and wine with meals. The actual phrase "Mediterranean diet" differs according to country, but is associated with good health and eating practices extending life expectancy.
After studying countries on the Mediterranean diet, a decrease has been seen in coronary heart disease, cancer and other food-related disease.

The Mediterranean diet is low in saturated fat and high in monounsaturated fatty acids, high in antioxidants (especially vitamin C and E), and high in fiber and folic acid. Several epidemiological studies have investigated these dietary components in various forms and further support the positive health effects of the Mediterranean diet. Intervention studies in East Finland and Southern Italy have convincingly shown that the coronary risk profile (lower LDL cholesterol and blood pressure levels) is improved by a Mediterranean diet. Compared to the control diet with cardiac patients, the "Mediterranean diet" has proven to lower cardiac related mortality.

In addition to lower disease risks and increased longevity, the Mediterranean way of eating is tasty, enjoyable, flavorful, and results in an overall sense of well being and satisfaction.

italian friut and vegetable market










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