WHAT REAL ITALIANS EAT

Mom0003

Part of the family

 

My great aunt, aunts, cousins and my mom with uncle Bobby (R).

My great aunt, aunts, cousins and my mom with uncle Bobby (R).

Cristoforo is an Italian equivalent of the English name “Christopher.” Specifically, the Italian and the English names are masculine proper nouns. They both trace their origins back to the original Greek name for “Christ bearer.” The pronunciation is “kree-STOH-foh-roh.”

I thought I would give you my Grandfather’s name as author because Rasmussen won’t sway many arguments for being Italian. We have the same first name.

Let’s first define a Mediterranean diet from By Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, LD WebMD Expert Column:

A growing body of research continues to prove that eating a diet rich in plant foods and healthy fats is good for you. Studies show that following a Mediterranean diet protects against the development of heart disease, metabolic syndrome, some types of cancer, obesity, type 2 diabetes, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease — and also leads to a longer lifespan.

The health effects of a Mediterranean diet have been studied extensively in the last 10 years, resulting in better science and more clinical evidence.

“There are numerous health benefits, the strongest and most profound evidence is the protection of cardiovascular disease and diabetes,” says Dariush Mozaffarian, MD, DrPH, a researcher, cardiologist, associate professor, and codirector of the cardiovascular epidemiology program at Harvard School of Public Health.

There is no single Mediterranean diet. Instead, each region across Europe — from Spain to the Middle East — customizes the basic diet to take advantage of food availability and cultural preferences.

Similarities include a reliance on plant foods such as vegetables, fruits, beans, whole grains, nuts, olives, and olive oil along with some cheese, yogurt, fish, poultry, eggs, and wine. These foods form the basis of the plan and provide thousands of micronutrients, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and fiber that work together to protect against chronic disease.

Most of the foods on the plan are fresh, seasonal whole foods – they’re not processed. Preparation methods tend to be simple; foods are rarely deep-fried.

Only small amounts of saturated fat, sodium, sweets, and meat are part of the plan.

The Mediterranean lifestyle also includes leisurely dining and regular physical activity, which are an important part of the equation.

Olive oil is what most people associate with a Mediterranean-type diet. But it’s not just any olive oil; it needs to be extra virgin.

As usual when you go to source like WebMD you tend to get more of the Elites version of reality. In this case it’s categorizing the Mediterranean Diet (MED diet) as “plant based.” Plant based is what you would call Indian foods from the subcontinent. It clashes with what I know to be true based on my Italian ancestry, ancient history and my personal experiences in Italy while traveling. Nor would many historians agree with ol Webby’s assessment of an Italian diet. Let me make one more point. The Mediterranean Sea is vast. It’s shores cover scores of countries but when anyone talks about a MED diet they are almost always referring to an Italian diet. Even though the article above talks about the vast differences and similarities with different MED countries we don’t, for example, use Algeria as the prototype for a MED diet plan. Instead we use Italy. That’s what Americans mean by a MED diet. I would add Greek cuisine because the Greek versions of Italian dishes are very similar and very healthy. For example Greek chicken, a fabulous dish, differs from my Grandma’s Italian chicken by one spice.

The plant based idea may be very accurate on the African coast but not Europe at least not where my Grandparents came from. Meat as an Italian staple is not a recent phenomenon either. Archeologists tell us the Ancient Romans loved meat especially pork which I don’t find surprising since my grandma cooked pork all the time. They also ate prodigious amounts of fish and sea life. There is a saying that if it crawls, swims or flies the Romans ate it. The only grain they ate was wheat-whole wheat-and they ate a lot of it. They seasoned their foods with a fish sauce that must have been much like the Vietnamese version. Take fish guts and salt and ferment it in large casks in the sun. Filter out the liquor and enjoy. The Ancient Roman table has never been plant-based as the revisionist Zelman (the author of the WebMD article) insists. In fact, you may be surprised to hear that in the later empire pork was doled out daily to the masses along with olive oil and baked bread.

The Ancient Romans and modern Italians did and still do consume oodles of olive oil as do the Greeks. So for the last two thousand years Italians ate indigenous fruits and veggies, pork, fish, seafood, bread and olive oil for the masses. Beef, birds of all kinds and more unusual meats were constant fare among the aristocracy. Honey was the main sweetener until cane sugar was introduced after the first Crusade. That’s your original Mediterranean diet. OK so pork isn’t technically red meat but it’s still meat and they ate it daily.

catherine_de_medici

catherine_de_medici

Recall that it was Catherine De’ Medici of Florence who introduced the Florentine culinary arts, along with wine grapes, to the French court in the early 15th century on her marriage to the future king of France, Henry of Orleans. There is no question that meats of all kinds were the mainstay of those culinary arts as were hundreds of dishes using beans, peas and pastas, including the now famous dish duck in orange (canard a l’orange). Jean Orieux wrote that “It was exactly a Florentine who reformed the antique French cooking of medieval tradition; and was reborn as the modern French cooking.” That tradition has been carried on into our modern era. Recall also that Provence was an early Roman settlement and the most Roman of all European cities that they founded.

I do not know what region of Italy the author of the above article is referring to since red meat is enjoyed all over the country. In fact, Tuscany prides itself on their own special native stock of steer, and pigs fed various regional items like acorns and forage from the warm hillsides while tilling the soil. A feat pigs are considerably good at doing. You can actually taste the grasses in the meat especially the bacon.

Then there are the regions of Italy as famous as Spain for their hams. What about Crete and Greece and their affection for lamb which in actuality is goat (at least on this one occasion) that they slaughter anytime they need to party. I was watching Anthony Bourdain when he was in Crete where the inhabitants easily live into their late 90’s as they slaughtered a goat for their “lamb.” I guess it sounds cooler if you call it lamb but it clearly was a goat, not a fuzzy little baby sheep. Many of these Elitists like to revise history because they simply cannot accept red meat eating as healthy. Nowhere in Mediterranean Europe is a diet plant-based, implying that meat is more of a condiment like it is in Southeast Asia unless it’s a poverty stricken region.

This to me is a clever way of trying to imply a Mediterranean diet is nearly vegetarian. The message can then remain consistent with the dead paradigm that saturated fat and cholesterol are harmful and that eating huge plates of grains, beans, lentils and rice are healthy. Therefore, their version of the MED diet is still in keeping with the low fat, low cholesterol, Diet-Heart Hypothesis, model that has been sickening people for 30 years. Even if all of the people in the entire Mediterranean Basin were vegetarian is it proof that the benefits of a MED lifestyle are due to avoiding meat? No, because observational studies show correlations not causations, and this cannot be true for another good reason.

Denise Minger in her new book Death by Food Pyramid reveals the sad science behind vegetarians verses meat eaters. When compared together and all of the confounding variables are eliminated meat eaters actually live longer and are healthier than their meatless brethren. Now don’t spit your coffee (or carrot juice) across the room as you recall the vegetarian Seventh Day Adventists studies which show them to be remarkably healthy. It turns out that the social network they enjoy and other variables play a much greater role in whether you develop heart disease or other illnesses. This has been shown in studies of Japanese immigrants too.

Experts like Anthony Colpo author of The Great Cholesterol Con, would not agree with our revisionists either. Mr Colpo is Italian and he tells a similar story. He was raised with plenty of red meat on the table. After all, it’s called spaghetti and meatballs not spaghetti and lentilballs.

My better half is Italian (yes, I know Rasmussen is not even close to being Italian it’s Danish): my Grandpa was a Volpano (the name may have been Valpaccio or something very similar before it was changed at Ellis Island by some official that couldn’t pronounce it) and on my Grandma’s side Mascia which can also be French. We happen to know a French family with the same last name. But I was raised all Italian having been nurtured in a traditional Roman Catholic Italian household with 5 kids, 2 parents not divorced. My Grandma and Grandpa on the Italian side along with my Aunt Annie and Uncle Joe the only Sicilian ate dinner at our house every night in what my brother and I affectionately called “project dinner” because it was such a raucous affair. That was every night: eleven of us all shouting, goofing off, laughing, getting slapped or hugged and of course eating fresh homemade Italian meals. Uncle Joe was a cool guy. He could dance like a “brother” they say and he used to wear zoot suits back in the 40’s when they were fashionable.

I’ll tell you what we ate as Northern real Italians. I would also like to stress that my Great Aunt, my Grandma’s oldest sister Florence (Pucci family) was born in Italy. They were first generation so the foods we ate were the same foods they ate in Italy. My Grandma’s little town Gretcha (sp?) de Puglia was on the coast of the Adriatic Sea way far north. My Grandpa was from Abruzzi. I believe both of my great-grandfathers moved from Italy to southern WI as stonemasons because of the many quarries located here after living in Yonkers first.

My ancestors did not subscribe to the revisionist romantic notion of what a nutritionist thinks is supposed to be a Mediterranean (MED) diet. There were some striking differences. Like real Italians we ate much more red meat and pork than WebMD or the Harvard Review would have you believe: roasted pork loin, tasting not unlike the Cuban variety, was a big deal as were pork chops, string beans and potatoes in red sauce. We also had the other tomato sauce varieties using chicken and potatoes or meatballs and rolled steak. We all have versions of rolled steak braciole (bree zhole or free zhole in my grandma’s dialect) that go right with the meatballs into the sauce. True we eat many more veggies and fruits than the standard American family but we also eat lots of meat with those extra veggies. My family also ate plenty of Italian cheeses the full-fat, hard and soft varieties with fresh baked Italian bread. One of my all-time favorites was stuffed peppers using ground beef, no rice and if my great aunt made them they would contain all sorts of fun stuff like sardines and pine nuts which I love.

Roasted Italian chicken and potatoes was a favorite. It was unlike anything I had in a restaurant except for this little place outside New Orleans that my friend Dave (rest his soul) took us to. I was shocked because everything on the menu tasted exactly like my Grandma’s cooking. They had to be from the same region and the place was packed. We had to drive outside New Orleans on some country road for about a half hour or so to find this place. Wow, I wish I could remember the name of that place.

I remember buying cheese with my aunt Annie: she would make old man Tom Busalacci go back into the store room and get a fresh “thing” of it. I call it a thing because it was huge-the size of a person-of imported, aged, provolone. The good stuff made the roof of your mouth itch and smelled a bit like baby vomit. Big fat olives and Italian tuna were staples too. We also have this very special dish simply called Italian salad which can only be made when the tomatoes are finally ripe in late summer. Store bought tomatoes stink even the organic ones. To make this salad correctly you need home-grown tomatoes. It involves fresh garlic and a small amount of red onion and some other things which you would have to beat out of me before I would ever tell you. It is so good and absolutely unique that you literally dream about it when everything comes together just right for a particularly tasty version.

We never ate whole grain anything, always had fresh fruit every day, rarely had fish and only on Fridays and my Grandma used corn oil not olive oil. We always had nuts on the counter and there was bread and butter and salad with every dinner. Of course my Grandma has, I think, the best meatball recipe in the country. I have had them all over the US and as I’ve mentioned before mine, based on my Grandma’s cooking, are always better. Spaghetti sauce is to die for. There is no better.

Sadly the corn oil was wrong and I wish I could go back in time and save them from the inflammation that it caused. We also had sweets but not the typical ones you might think-those I believe are more southern and Sicilian. Now what we did have a lot of was fresh fruits and veggies, FAV’s, and always some sort of salad and veggies with the meal. Was the refined pasta a bad move? It turns out that it may have been a good move. Whole grains have all of the anti-nutrients within the bran and in some cases like rice, there are carcinogens in the bran. Either way the fiber content of whole grains is wimpy compared to fresh FAV’s and the glycemic loads are essentially the same for whole wheat and refined wheat. In other words the “whole” part of the grain doesn’t make up for the fact that you really need to eat less of these products to be healthy.

Many of the popular press authors like the one I quote above from WebMD, are of that dreaded persuasion called licensed dietician. They need to inject part of their dead paradigm, like some doddering senator who’s lost his mind, that saturated fat causes heart disease. They simply cannot get it out of their vacuous skulls, in the face of overwhelming contrary evidence, that you can be healthy while eating animal meat and fat so they simply rewrite history and tell you the Italian’s and the rest of the Mediterranean’s are nearly vegetarian and in particular don’t eat red meat.

I bring this up because I am getting worn out reading about some non-Italian, Bravo channel metrosexual, telling everyone what Italians eat while spinning his pasta in his spoon-something no real Italian would ever do. You spin it on the plate. The revisionists also stress grains-healthy whole grains. You’ll notice that many of the Elites have to add the word healthy before grains lest you realize they are not. Do we call them healthy whole fruits or veggies? I do not agree with the notion that grains in any form are powerful wellness producers. In fact, they are the only class of agricultural plants that research clearly shows can decidedly harm you in quantities greater than condiment doses with meals and even those doses can hurt some people. That is where we depart from the regular Mediterranean diet to my Super Mediterranean Diet (more on that some other day). Luckily durum semolina wheat has nearly half the GI of regular wheat. It’s therefore much safer to eat especially in the quantities Italians like to consume.

Many researchers insist that at least part of the power of the Mediterranean diet is sunlight exposure and the much higher plasma levels of vitamin D these people have. That’s probably true but the message is lost on the American consumer who is told to fear the sun. The rest of the article I agree with which includes exercise and eating a large variety of fresh fruits and veggies. When I was growing up we had a huge bowl on the kitchen table that was always chock full of fruits year round.

The key word here is fresh and unprocessed everything. All meals were cooked using primary ingredients from the market with no processed crap to lighten the load or make your job easier in prepping. That means fresh chicken that you have to take home and cut apart not Tyson frozen Reddimade® chicken slices in a convenient 45 pound bag like a sack of Purina dog chow. One last thing to store into your memory banks is starting your children out on fresh, unprocessed foods from infancy on. Studies confirm that children who eat whole, unprocessed foods while growing up will tend to prefer them as adults. That may be the very best gift you could ever give your child since it will ensure he or she always prefer real food over unreal food any day.

In summary, modern Mediterranean people like the Italians, real Italians, eat red meat quite often as they do with pork and chicken. They also eat plenty of full-fat cheeses both hard and soft. The fundamental difference is the ubiquitous use of EVOO over the cheap seed oils, eating far less processed junk in favor of real food, consuming much more fresh fruits, nuts and vegetables, wine and moderate use of sweets. White bread and white pasta were served in our house as it is all over Italy. There is essentially no difference in the glycemic load of white verses whole wheat. As long as you are not eating large amounts of bread and starchy carbs this form of eating is anti-inflammatory and high in polyphenols. You do not have to be politically correct to have a healthy diet based in reality. You are far better off eating a grass fed steak and organic salad than a bowl of conventional, Roundup soaked, kidney beans, lentils and elbow macaroni mixed with heart healthy safflower oil as you will see.

 

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Category: Mediterranean Diet

About the Author ()

Dr. Christopher Rasmussen (aka Reality Renegade) is the author of his upcoming book, "InflaNATION: Industrial Diners & A Doc In The Box." By deliberately avoiding harmful industrial foods and the Commercial Sick Care System with its Pills and Procedures paradigm, Dr Rasmussen cured himself of a deadly disease-which became the reason for writing this book. In the book, he provides the facts you must know and the solutions to regain your health, maintain wellness, and outlive your parents' generation in an extraordinarily toxic world.

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  1. Maisie says:

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