The not-so-secret Italian secret for a happy and healthy life

How is it that most Italians are in such great shape and fit though they live on delicious food unfailingly accompanied with wine? It is the not so secret Italian secret: eating genuine food (a far cry from fast and processed food) and being physically active.

People underestimate the power of eating fresh and unprocessed foods and how that can affect one’s well-being. Nowadays it is well documented in scientific literature that a healthy diet, combined with regular exercise, can prevent various diseases such as cancer, metabolic cardiovascular diseases and mental disorders. It is the winning combination. From coffee culture (cappuccino only for breakfast and espresso after meals!) to shopping at the local markets, you can pick up some of the Italian habits that can change your life. Here are a few fundamental tips for a happy and healthy life, even if one doesn’t live in Italy.1.

1. Go to the market more. Most Italian cities have markets twice or three times a week, some big ones every day. Make a list of “good” food (not junk food) and buy only what’s on the list. Going from one stand to another also allows you to develop a relationship with the people you are buying from. Talk to the vendors … shopping at the market is fun and a way to socialise.

2. Prefer quality to quantityEat more fresh and seasonal fruit and vegetables. They taste better and are richer in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fibre. Each season nature offers the best for that period of the year. Eat fruit and vegetables according to the colours of the rainbow. Think about tasty and juicy citrus in winter, rich in vitamin C, good to fight cold and flu.Eat more healthy carbohydrates (such as whole grains and legumes). Pasta is an excellent dish (fuel for the rest of the day), but don’t add too much sauce, you are eating pasta with sauce and not vice versa. Remember to cook pasta and rice always al dente, because overcooking starchy carbs increases glycemic index (the glycemic index is a value based on how slowly or how quickly food causes increases in blood glucose levels). Enjoy pizza (not more than once a week) like the Italians do: a thin crust with fresh tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese and only one or two other healthy toppings, rather than thick slices overloaded with unhealthy toppings (the more you add, the more you increase the number of calories).Reduce unhealthy carbohydrates (such as simple sugar, Italians don’t have a sweet tooth) and unhealthy snacks.Use less salt and fat, preferring extra virgin olive oil (rich in many nutrients).

Avoid unhealthy fats such as trans fats.Eat fresh fish(at least 3 times a week). Italy is a peninsula; therefore, fish is part of the Italian weekly diet.Eat less meat, preferring poultry to red meat.Drink more water and eliminate soft drinks. During meals, you can indulge in a glass of good wine. Several studies demonstrated that red wine is rich in antioxidants and other beneficial compounds, therefore good for your health. Wine is also a pleasure of life. But don’t exceed!!

3. Think about smaller portions: use smaller plates, so the amount of food seems bigger. You will be eating less.

4. Eat home-cooked foods as much as possible. Take time to prepare your own food. It is an expression of love for yourself and the people you care for. Italian cuisine is family and conviviality too. Most Italians eat their family dinner together at home, sitting at the table and talking to each other, sharing the day’s experiences. Food is much more than nourishment; it is a daily pleasure to share with your loved ones. Learn the ability to enjoy food.

5. Exercise more. Regular exercise is important for your physical fitness and your general health, including your mood. Italians walk, ride their bikes and take the stairs whenever it is possible, instead of using cars and escalators. Many Italians live in small cities and also take a walk after dinner (especially in summer and on the weekends) with their family and friends, the so-called passeggiata in centro. This also adds to their regular daily physical activity.So there you have it. Adopt these rules and your body and soul will thank you.It is not difficult to achieve it. It depends on your motivation and priorities.

‍Photos Giorgia Maselli