Just like you can learn something from everyone you meet, you can also learn something from every place you visit. This is especially true for approaches to different areas of health including food, movement, rest/ relaxation, and connection. Join our intern Priyanka, as she describes big differences she saw during her time abroad in Rome, which gave her an entirely new perspective on food, health, and lifestyle.
Eating in Italy means conforming to an Italian schedule as they eat meals at specific times. Breakfast is eaten at a cafe or at home from 7:00am to 9:30am. Cappuccinos are the most common drink for breakfast, and cornettos are the most common pastry. Cornettos are similar to croissants, though they are sweeter, and less flaky. Cornettos can be filled with jam or have glaze on top. Lunch is from 12:30pm to 2:00pm. In Italy, lunch is traditionally the most important meal of the day unlike in the US where we consider breakfast the most important. Restaurants then close after lunch and re-open for dinner at 7:30pm or 8:00pm. Aperitivo is a pre-meal drink between work and dinner and is typically at 7:00pm. Italians then move to a different location for dinner, which is from 8:00pm to 9:00pm. A typical meal for dinner includes five courses – appetizer or antipasto, first course or primi, second course or secondi, side dish or contorni, and dessert or dolce. Drinking an espresso is also common after dinner.
Food Rules and Pairings
Chefs honor a particular schedule and will not prepare courses together or out of order. A group of friends and I went out to dinner at an upscale Italian restaurant and experienced being told no by the waiter when trying to order an appetizer along with the first course. He explained to us that ordering courses to be served at the same time is frowned upon and will anger the chef.
Food and wine pairing has much significance in Italian culture as successful pairing enhances the dining experience. Many times when ordering, I would ask the waiter what drink pairs well with the dish I ordered to fully experience and appreciate the food. Olive oil is another crucial pairing as it changes the flavor of a dish and when paired correctly can exponentially heighten the positive attributes of the dish.
Health Benefits to Lifestyle
In Italian culture, food is celebrated and a means for enjoyment, appreciation, and connection. Dinnertime is not just seen as a meal but an event. It is a time where Italians enjoy sitting down together and socializing. Just as they value work, relaxation is seen as important to everyday life as well. These gatherings foster connections with each other as well as with the food they eat. They practice mindful eating as they spend time savoring their food and drink as well as their time around the table. Italians cook with fresh and simple ingredients and eat seasonally. They rarely diet or “cut out” foods. In this way, Italians eat very healthy and intuitively. Their eating habits promote better digestion as well as better overall health. Sardinia in Italy has been identified as one of the five regions having the world’s healthiest, happiest, and longest living populations or a blue zone. A common practice among all blue zones is natural movement. These populations engage in daily physical activities, walking being among the most frequent type of daily movement. Generally Italians walk places rather than using public transportation or driving as it is seen as a natural form of everyday movement. In Sardinia specifically, their diets are mostly plant-based, comprising of fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole-grain bread. Another common practice across all five regions is social networking or connectedness. This is important for maintaining psychological and physical well-being. Sardinians prioritize strong interpersonal relationships, ultimately improving their mental and physical well-being.
Overall, this experience had a great impact on my outlook towards practicing healthy lifestyle habits including eating intuitively and mindfully. Their lifestyle approach encourages positive physical health as movement is naturally incorporated into their daily routine. Furthermore, their approach to food promotes positive mental and emotional health as there is less likelihood of experiencing food guilt and restricting food. Since being back in the US, I have become more appreciative of daily movement and more aware of foods while eating. As I adapted to Italy’s food culture, I also treat dinnertime now as an event rather than a mundane meal I have to eat. Viewing meals this way creates excitement and enjoyment around eating. Adopting their ways of living has brought light to a new perspective of what living a happy and healthy lifestyle looks like.