Anywhere in the world, you'll always find an Italian restaurant with its check tablecloths and straw bottles of wine. Italian food rates as one of the most popular cuisines and nutritionally it's one of the best for you. It's a cuisine that suits our warm Australian climate. And it's easy to produce at home with minimal effort thanks to its strong flavours - from garlic, tomatoes, olives, basil, oregano and capsicum.
With its liberal use of olive oil, Italian cuisine is not a low-fat way of eating. On the contrary, it is rather high in fat with up to 40 per cent of the kilojoules coming from fat - but it's a healthy type of fat. This is considered one of the key factors responsible for the low rates of heart disease in Mediterranean countries like southern Italy.
Four other elements give the Italian diet the edge over others:
- garlic and onions add strong sulphur compounds
- fish and seafood supply their powerful omega-3 oils (think of calamari, prawns, octopus, fresh sardines or mussels)
- salads and vegetables are packed with a load of antioxidants; oil-vinegar dressings lower the GI so your blood sugars stay low
- red wine offers polyphenols and resveratrol to keep your arteries "unclogged".
Choose pasta dishes based on tomato sauce like Napoletana or Marinara rather than cream or cheese. Always order a tossed salad with an oil-vinegar dressing to balance out the starchy pasta.
Good choices for mains are chicken cacciatore, veal al limone, osso buco and grilled lemon sole or John dory. Order steamed vegetables to go with the dishes.
Go for fresh fruit or gelato for dessert.