Less Meat And Cheese, More Fish And Legumes!
Ideally, each main meal should contain a source of carbohydrates (pasta, bread, cereal grains, potatoes), a source of protein (meat, fish, eggs, cheese, legumes), a source of fibre (vegetables and fresh fruit), and one source of fat (e.g., extra virgin olive oil). The food pyramid tells us to rotate protein-source foods following the following frequencies:
- Legumes: 4-5 servings per week
- Fish: 3–4 servings per week
- Meat: maximum three portions per week
- Cheeses: 2 pieces per week
- Eggs: 1-2 servings per week
If you are far from these indications, start increasing the consumption of legumes (beans, chickpeas, lentils, peas, soya, broad beans, grass peas, lupins, etc.), both fresh and dried, alternating them with animal protein sources. You can use them to create tasty sauces for your first courses (e.g., lentil ragù, tomato and pea sauce, etc.) or to make soups or veloutés.
Still, they are also excellent for preparing burgers, meatballs, hummus, farinata, pancakes, focaccia, etc. By combining them with cereals, you will always get a complete dish, even from a protein point of view! If you are particularly sensitive and their intake causes the production of annoying intestinal gas, prefer hulled products or eliminate the peels of the legumes by passing them through a manual vegetable mill; try introducing 100% legume pasta, which is usually well tolerated.
Remember to consume fish, preferring caught fish, small in size, and the blue variety. You will ensure lots of good fats (the famous omega 3), limiting the problem of environmental pollutants from large predatory fish. Moderate meat consumption, including white flesh, to a maximum of 3 portions per week, and limit cured meats and red meats as much as possible.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has included processed cured meats, rich in sodium and saturated fats, among potentially carcinogenic substances; for these reasons, their consumption must be very moderate and occasional.
Fats: Few, But Good!
For a complete and balanced diet, it is necessary to consume small quantities of fats, which, in addition to providing a lot of energy, play critical structural roles and guarantee the correct absorption of some vitamins. About 30% of energy should come from fats, and 2-3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil represent the minimum quantity that should never be missing! However, fats are not all the same, and in particular, those rich in saturated fatty acids tend to raise our cholesterol levels; their intake should be at most 10% of total calories.
But how can we guarantee a correct intake of “good” fats to the detriment of saturated ones? Among the seasoning fats, limit the consumption of those of animal origin (butter, lard, cream, lard, etc.) or vegetable fats such as tropical oils with a high content of saturated fats (palm, coconut, rapeseed, and palm kernel) and prefer fats of vegetable origin, such as extra virgin olive oil. Moderate the quantity of fats and oils you use for seasoning and cooking, like cooking in foil, microwave, steamed, etc.
Prefer the consumption of raw fats; do not over-fry; choose lean meats; permanently eliminate the fat visible before cooking; preferably consume blue fish; and limit the consumption of eggs to 2-4 per week. Consume 1-2 portions of partially skimmed milk or natural yogurt daily, but restrict your cheese consumption to a couple of pieces per week, favoring the consumption of fresh cheeses or ricotta.
Limit Sugars, Sweets, And Sugary Drinks
Speaking of sweet foods, we must make a distinction between:
- Products that naturally contain sugars, such as fruit and milk
- Products that contain free sugars but also other essential nutrients such as complex carbohydrates, fats, proteins, fibers, and vitamins (e.g., baked goods)
- Sweet foods consist almost exclusively of simple sugars and fats (such as sweets, bars, chocolate, carbonated drinks, etc.)
To satisfy the desire for a sweet flavor, it is preferable to orient your choices towards the first two categories, remembering that in a balanced diet, the total consumption of simple sugars should not exceed 15% of total energy. How to do it? Moderate the consumption of sweet foods throughout the day and avoid sugary drinks; get used to consuming coffee and tea without adding sugar, and in any case, gradually reduce its addition.
Satisfy the desire for sweets by consuming fruit and milk, and possibly introduce baked products with less fat and sugar and more starches, such as biscuits and unfilled cakes; limit the chronic consumption of sweets, nougat, milk, or white chocolate. Remember that white sugar and brown sugar are nutritionally similar; the differences in flavor and color depend on small quantities of plant residues (molasses), which have no nutritional advantage. Honey or syrups used as alternative sweeteners are still sugars and, as such, should be consumed in extreme moderation.
Moderate Your Salt Intake
Each gram of table salt contains approximately 0.4 g of sodium; since our sodium needs are meager, we would not need to add salt to food since the mineral content in nutrition is more than sufficient to cover the body’s needs. Yet every Italian adult consumes, on average, 9 g of salt per day, increasing the onset of risk factors for cardiovascular diseases such as arterial hypertension.
The nutritional objective would be to limit intake to less than 5 g per day, a quantity well above our needs, representing a compromise between taste satisfaction and preventing health risks. How to do it? Gradually reduce salt in the kitchen and at the table; salt less pasta; put less salt in vegetables; and never add salt to already cooked dishes. Limit alternative condiments containing salt, such as bouillon cubes, soy sauce, ketchup, mustard, etc., to give flavor.
Increase the use of lemon juice and vinegar and flavor with herbs such as garlic, onion, celery, and leek; use aromatic herbs (basil, rosemary, sage, mint, oregano, etc.) and spices (pepper, chili, nutmeg, saffron, and curry) in moderation.
Be careful of hidden salt: prefer consuming fresh bread without added salt rather than crackers, breadsticks, biscuits, and similar; Only occasionally consume ready-to-eat foods rich in salt; limit salted foods (e.g., pickled olives, tuna, and cured meats); and do not consume too much cheese. For the little salt you use, choose iodized!
Also Read: The Pillars Of Having A Healthy Life