Health Lessons from Italy
One of the things I love about travelling is that you get to see how other people live. It has been more than 20 years since I last visited Italy and I have probably changed more than the country has, which was a really nice surprise. It was time to go back and re-discover a part of myself, my love of food, of preparing and sharing meals, it is in my blood and nobody does it better than the Italians.
What I noticed was how they really know how to be healthy, they don’t obsess about it, dietary trends pass them by, yes in Milan they know what vegan is and there are more gluten free options! They are a couple of juice bars but for the large part things continue to tick over as they always have.
They start their day with a coffee, not a super charged double shot like we do that sends our adrenals into overdrive but rather a single shot that just gives you a gentle lift, sometimes with a light brioche (croissant). This is often taken at a Bar with friends or alone. A quick 10 minute chat and catch up and then off to work, connecting to community is a daily ritual.
Often their main meal of the day will be at lunch time, and I loved the fact that restaurants offered a generous fixed price menu a choice of primo (usually pasta) and main courses with a side dish, a glass of wine and a coffee all thrown into the price, generous portions and a veritable feast.
What do so many of them do after work? Meet friends for an aperitif, of course, usually just one drink with a few snacks. Some places offer such great snacks that it would do for dinner. Another opportunity to socialise and share news of the day with friends.
After dinner, if you still have someone you want to meet then the local Gelateria is the perfect place, delicious ice-cream made with natural ingredients, usually just one one scoop, less is more. I do love Italian ice-cream.
They have supermarkets but they still support farmers markets. I have always loved these markets. Come Saturday local farmers will drive into the city with whatever they have harvested so eating in season is the only option. No packaging, no middle men. The traders are only too happy to let you sample their produce. Trade is brisk and relationships with customers are long standing.
I loved the fact that even elegant Milanese women ride bikes, just regular bikes in their smart work clothes, and in heels! This is transport as it is intended no fancy bikes or gear, just a healthy way to get around and commute. I hardly saw an obese person they all looked so healthy and take pride (maybe a little too much) in how they look.
So while we study Blue Zone diets (those areas in the world where populations have many centenarians) the Italians just live it. Fresh local food, vegetables, fruit, food made using real ingredients. A glass of wine (not a bottle) a coffee or two. Connecting with friends and companions on a daily basis. Having relationships with the barista, the baker, the farmer. Exercising as part of life cycling and walking. Feeling part of a community. These are the things that keep us healthy.