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Low Carb Diet in Italy?

Posted on September 2nd, 2006 filed in Nutrition    |   

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I am subscribed to the low carb eating lifestyle and try to avoid any foods that are abundant with processed flour, starch, sugar, and other addictive-and-health-damaging powder ingredients. Prior to embarking on an extended months-long trip around Italy, I wondered how hard it will be, if at all possible, for me to stick to this eating lifestyle while continuously changing locations, moving from city to city, always staying at hotels, and having no recourse to prepare my own food.

The more I thought about it, the more I decided it was not possible. After all, going for ‘Italian food’ is synonymous to a meal consisting mostly of pasta and pizza and this food in my mind is part of a conspiracy made to frolic with my insulin and sugar levels and thus make me later on suffer with my attempts to get rid of the subsequently gained pounds through endless hard sessions at the gym.

Now that I’ve been in Italy these last two months, I am glad to report that a low carb diet is not that impossible as long as you are capable of controlling the abundance of taste and smell temptations. There are concerns but they do not revolve around the standard restaurant menu but rather the ability to resist is the overwhelming smell of freshly baked bread and pizza and the endless supply of people going at them deliciously looking ice creams. See in your home, you have the luxury of deciding what lands in your fridge. That solves 99% of the sweet tooth craving situations. That particular luxury does not exist on the Italian streets. The common wisdom ‘When in Rome do like the Romans do’ has in that regard significant culinary ramifications to say the least.

Here are some strategies I find particularly useful for keeping your ‘damage’ to a minimum:

1) Have meals on time. Cravings are less likely to occur on a full stomach.

2) Keep restaurants to no more than once a day as much as possible. Many supermarkets have mozarella cheese, fresh produce, non sweetened yoghurt, occasionally a salad bar and rarely freshly broasted chicken. Have it as takeaway (That’s the only option anyways) and have your meal in your car or hotel. Do not forget a bottle of San Pellegrino, the fine italian sparkling water.

3) Try a healthy fast food franchise. My favorite is Subway. Take a roasted chicken six incher. Have them empty the roll inside leaving only the crusted part. Have it as double meat and fill it with vegetables. The result is a fabulously tasty high protein low carb meal.

4) Check the menu before deciding on a restaurant. All Italian restaurants are required by law to post their menu at the door. Skip the pasta and pizza sections of the menu. Many restaurants do not offer anything else but many others do so stick with these. My favorites include:

  • Caprese Salad (Ball of fresh Mozzarella with tomato, basil and olive oil ): Best in Southern Italy (Amalfi Coast, Sicily,..). It is yummy. And you cannot really compare it with the mozarella we get in North America. It is a fact that there are 4 grades of Mozarella: Grade 1 is reserved to South Italy, Grade 2 is for rest of Italy, grade 3 is for Europe and grade 4 is for everywhere else.
  • Beef carpaccio with melon slices: A generous portion of thinly cut beef meat with a couple of melon slices
  • Fresh berries salad: mostly strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries, no cream added

As for those temptation-succumbing moments, the above strategies will make them far less likely. 1-2 hours of walking (I try to keep my 15,000 steps a day) will take care of the rest.

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One Response to “Low Carb Diet in Italy?”

  1. Lili Says:

    Wow! I only wish I’d read your article before going to Italy. I spent one month in Italy and gained 7lbs!!!! Is that normal? Well, I will tell how it happened. I have always maintained an okay figure but with great effort, I have cut on all the junk food and sweets and in Italy I just had no control. As you say, most restaurants only served pasta and pizza and after a certain hour it was only pizza. But their pizza is heavenly, oh my Lord have mercy, I don’t even eat pizza here in Canada but in Italy I was craving it every day! And every day I would say that is it but then I would not resist the next day…They get this huge, really gigantic thin crust pizza with cheese melting and whatever else you wish…my mouth waters just thinking about it!!! And the pastas were divine, some were homemade, more expensive but worth it…. as for dessert, you gotta try the Tiramisu in Italy, and every single day I had to have Gelato ice cream….I mean, it is in your face, on every corner, every mouth is holding a cone and licking…so When in Rome…! Yummy, the flavors!

    Okay, I have to say, few menus did offer chicken, but it was a small portion and more expensive…As for the salad, it is good to have as an appetizer but not enough to keep you going for many hours when you are on vacation….

    Anycase, anyhow, I do find your articles helpful and will follow your food eating habits when I go out with my friends here in North America!

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