Eat Like an Italian
By Rick Zullo
Eat Like an ItalianApr 28, 2023
The Mediterranean Diet vs. Fad Diets
Both the Mediterranean Diet and the Paleo Diet ask us to “eat the way our ancestors ate.” BUT, the Mediterranean Diet asks us to look back only 3-4 generations, whereas the Paleo would have us look back 2.5 million years, or roughly 80,000 generations. Evolution has had plenty of time to catch up…
During the Paleolithic period, early humans lived in caves or simple huts and were hunters-gatherers, which is the crux of the Paleo Diet. Approximately 75% of deaths at the time were caused by infection, including diarrheal diseases that resulted in dehydration and starvation. Other causes were injury/accident, animal attacks, and complications of childbirth.
Life expectancy back then was approximately 33 years. In other words, they did not have time to develop diseases of aging.
Then, agricultural communities developed approximately 10-12,000 years ago when humans began to domesticate plants and animals. By establishing domesticity, families and larger groups were able to build communities and transition from a nomadic hunter-gatherer lifestyle dependent on foraging and hunting for survival. Lifespans increased significantly.
But nowadays, we've become victims of our own success. Low quality food and sedentary lifestyles have caused a whole host of age-related degenerative diseases.
Fortunately, we have population data from generations of communities in the Mediterranean and other "Blue Zones" to show us how to get back on the path to health. For ourselves and for our planet.
Is Pasta Good For You?
Pasta has gotten some bad press in recent years. In the age of the "fad diets," pasta contains an awkward amount of that evil archnemesis, "the carb." Or worse, carb's ugly cousin, gluten.
Well, populations who follow the Mediterranean Diet have been eating carbs and gluten for centuries with no ill effects. Indeed, these are the healthiest, longest-living people on the planet. Which begs the question: Is there such a thing as too much pasta?
So what gives? Why are some people so eager to embrace misinformation?
No surprise, it's fed by a combination of factors:
• Intuition: It just "seems" like a good idea.
• Logic: If gluten is bad for people with celiac disease, maybe it's bad for me, too.
• Celebrity endorsement: If eliminating gluten is encouraged by someone I admire, maybe I should give it a try.
• Anecdote: Hearing about someone with bothersome symptoms that "magically disappeared" after eliminating gluten is difficult to ignore.
• Marketing: Those selling gluten-free products or books about gluten-free diets can be convincing, even if there's little science to back it up.
Before you buy into the gluten-free lifestyle, be aware: It likely won't help, it may actually cause trouble, and it’s going to cost you more at the supermarket.
The simple truth can be so boring sometimes. Pasta dishes created from whole ingredients and in proper proportions can be extremely healthy and do not cause weight gain.
Do you want actual scientific proof that pasta does not make you fat? Glad you asked, and here it is from The Journal of Nutrition and Diabetes: Association of pasta consumption with body mass index and waist-to-hip ratio
The Health Benefits of Red Wine
The general consensus is that red wine, in moderation, (maximum 2-3 glasses a day, depending on your age, weight, and sex) can impart cardiac benefits, and contribute to overall well-being. But it's more complicated than that.
Yes, experiments with laboratory animals have shown remarkable benefits for subjects given large doses of resveratrol, the so-called "magic" ingredient in wine. But these experiments were in ideal lab conditions where every variable could be tightly controlled... which is not the case in the reality of day to day human life.
So we look to the centenarians around the world, like in The Blue Zones Project. Lo and behold, almost all of them drink a couple glasses of red wine per day. However, beyond their modest consumption of red wine, they also have other lifestyle factors that would seem beneficial to wellness.
Therefore, perhaps the wine is just one ingredient in a larger recipe that includes clean air, close friendships, organic food, and lots of walking and other natural movements. In other words, it's an overall lifestyle rather than one magic ingredient.
The lesson here is avoid reductionist thinking. Resist clinging to any one ingredient, or even any one molecule, whether it's to be embraced (ex. resveratrol) or shunned (ex. gluten). Instead, simply adopt an overall healthy lifestyle, but try not to obsess over it. In any case, sooner or later, more research will become available and science will (rightly) change its mind.
Mediterranean Way of Drinking and Longevity
The Best Italian Cheeses
Recently there was an article published by Taste Atlas that listed the Top 100 cheeses in the world. Not surprisingly, cheeses from Italy took 8 or the top 10 spots.
I spoke about this with Robert Campana from Stop Italian Sounding, a brand dedicated to educating consumers on the differences between genuine Italian products and "fake" products that only borrow (read: steal) credibility from the real deal.
Have a listen to our conversation and let us know what you think about this somewhat "controversial" list. Ciao!
Stop Italian Sounding on Instagram
Stop Italian Sounding on TikTok
Food In Italian Culture
If you want to learn about Italian culture, there is no better lens from which to look than through Italy's food traditions and regional cuisines.
Today on the podcast we welcome Dottoressa Arianna Salomon, a PhD candidate at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Florida, and a graduate of Università Ca' Foscari in Venice, Italy. This semester at FAU, Dott.ssa Salomon is teaching a course entitled, "Italian Culture Through Food," and she was kind enough to share some of her insights on this episode.
Food is a central part of Italian life, and it is used to celebrate special occasions, such as holidays and weddings. It is also used to show hospitality to guests. But perhaps more significantly, it has a central role in daily life. The Mediterranean Diet, Slow Food, the regional cuisines in Italy… these concepts all speak to the importance of what we eat, how we prepare it, and whom we share our meals with.
The Best Food In Puglia
Looking for the best food in Puglia? From traditional Italian dishes to unique regional specialties, listen to this podcast episode to learn about typical food from Puglia.
Scott Maxwell, a Scottish expat in Puglia, leads us through a culinary journey of the regions most iconic cuisine. This is the Mediterranean Diet at its best, with fresh seafood, great local wines, and "killer" pasta. Here's a link to his site and his recommendations: https://www.gaypugliapodcast.com/puglia-for-foodies/
Join us in Puglia!
Italian Food Traditions at the Holidays
On this episode, we discuss Italian food holiday traditions with Robert Campana from "Stop Italian Sounding." We explore such topics as The Feast of the Seven Fishes, including its historical context and how it became a strong tradition in Italian-AMERICAN households, yet still remains relatively unknown in Italy. We also dive into the annual debate over Pandoro vs Panettone, and offer our opinions on which one is "better."
Stop Italian Sounding Products
Today I talk to Robert from "Stop Italian Sounding" about the ways that imitation Italian products infiltrate and confuse the marketplace, causing a very real economic impact on the producers of genuine Italian products in Italy.
I have talked about this topic on the podcast before, and written about it on the blog. But Robert has some first-hand experience on the difference between products that are authentically Italian, and those products that seek to profit by "impersonating" the real culinary treasures of Italian culture.
Read more about this discussion and other topics related to the Italian Mediterranean Diet on the website, Eat Like an Italian.
Foods That Help Fight Cancer
It’s easy to take for granted during our busy routines, but food plays such an important part of our lives. It nourishes us, it comforts us, it connects us to our culture… and it can help heal us, too.
Cancer is a serious illness that affects millions of people around the world. While there is no guaranteed way to prevent cancer, there are some foods that have been shown to help fight it off. (Of course, there’s more to it than that, and you should always consult with a physician.)
My guest on this podcast episode is Judy Witts Fancini. Besides all the aforementioned roles of food in our lives, for Judy, it’s also her livelihood. She’s been involved with the procurement, preparation, and most importantly, the enjoyment of food at every level. Better still, not “just” food, but the traditional regional dishes of Italy.
What Do They Eat in Venice?
Even though it's technically on the Adriatic Sea, can we still consider Venetian cuisine as part of the "Mediterranean Diet?" Well, there's lots of seafood and vegetables. Perhaps more polenta and rice than pasta, but otherwise, yes the traditional dishes in Venice are healthy and diverse. If you want to know where the locals eat in Venice on a regular basis, it’s in little stand-up bar places called barcari. The most authentic food in Venice is often “hidden” inside these little gems. But you’ll need a bit of local knowledge to find the best of the best.
The Italian Food Rules
The Italian Food Rules might seem trite to a foreigner visiting Italy. But these guidelines are very important if you don't want to "fare una brutta figura," make a bad impression. And they are good for your health, too!
Read the full list here: https://eatlikeanitalian.com/34-italian-food-rules/
Crimes Against Italian Food
Listen, I get it. It takes effort to stay on the path of righteousness, especially when every marketing message is screaming about the bounty of Olive Garden’s endless pasta bowl (with unlimited garlic-butter breadsticks). Yes, there is such a thing as too much pasta.
But let’s at least not fool ourselves. Concoctions dubbed as “Italian food” outside of Italy are usually a gross bastardization of their lineage; just barely even resembling the humble beginnings from which they arose.
So indulge me, if you will, with this rant in the defense of all things holy and Italian. The crimes against Italian food will not go unpunished!
Read the transcript here: https://eatlikeanitalian.com/crimes-against-italian-food/
Starvation: Quarantine and The Fasting Mimicking Diet
Last time I talked about time-restricted eating and how fasting is NOT synonymous with starvation. Well, that was before the Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns of our normal societal routines.
During this strange times, grocery shopping has become a challenge, and for some who are out of work, it's also an economic challenge. So some degree of starvation is not out of the question, even within the wealthiest nation in the world.
On the plus side, it gave me the nudge I needed to give Dr. Valter Longo's Fasting Mimicking Diet a try.
And still, all of that says nothing of "emotional starvation" in this time of social distancing. Perhaps that's a topic for another conversation.
Stay safe, my friends.
Six Steps to Achieve the Mediterranean Lifestyle Diet
Starting a new diet or lifestyle regime can be daunting. The trick is to break it down into "bite-size" steps so that you don't get overwhelmed and frustrated, causing you to give up too soon.
In this episode I outline six simple steps to achieve the Mediterranean Lifestyle Diet. Each one is fairly easy, and in the end, you've made some big changes towards improving your health.
Introduction to the Mediterranean Diet
American physiologist Ancel Keys championed a diet that mimics the traditional diet and lifestyle of Mediterranean countries. Let's explore how we can implement the same practices in 21st century America. To read more go to our website, eatlikeanitalian.com