Italian Diet Secrets

How the Italian people manage to stay slim in the land of pizza and pasta.

By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD/LD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

We've all heard about how the French diet and lifestyle help protect Frenchwomen (and men) from the obesity epidemic that plagues the U.S. But what about the other Mediterranean countries -- like Italy, where obesity is rare despite an abundance of pasta and other delectable dishes? Are there Italian diet secrets we could learn from as well?

Studies show that a Mediterranean-style diet has many health benefits, from reducing the risk of heart disease and cancer, to living a longer life. But something must be getting lost in translation. Many of Americans' favorite Italian foods, like cheese-laden pepperoni pizza and fettuccini Alfredo, are anything but healthy.

On a recent trip to Italy, I decided to see for myself what the Italians' diet secrets were. My trip started in northern Italy, in the Tuscan region, and ended 12 days later further south on the Amalfi coast. My mission was rest, relaxation -- and finding out how the Italians manage to enjoy delectable Mediterranean foods, yet maintain healthy weights.

Italian Diet Secret No. 1: Dine Leisurely

It quickly became clear that the Italians, like other Mediterranean cultures, know how to really enjoy the experience of eating. They relax and socialize while dining for hours, over lunch and/or dinner and coffee. Yet sitting at the table for long periods of time does not appear to lead to excessive eating or drinking.