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Diet and nutrition

Diet and nutrition, Food trends



As we all become more and more aware of the climate changes and how they are impacting our lives, a brand new consciousness is developing at consumer level about green choices when it comes to buying food. In this perspective, it should not come as a surprise the storm that has recently hit the market and that goes by the name of plant-based food. From bread and pastries, to pizza and even burgers: 2020 saw an array of new green products popping up on the shelves of groceries and specialized stores in a rapid crescendo that culminated with the launch, towards the end of last year, with an entire plant-based menu by one of the most famous fast food chains in the world.

With veganism gone mainstream in the last few years (figures went rapidly from 2% of the world population in 2020 to an estimated 8% this year), it is no wonder that food industry had to move really fast to stay ahead of the game. Yet this new trend does not involve only those people who opt for a vegetarian or a vegan diet but it also includes those consumers who consciously decide to reduce their intake of meat or dairy, thus significantly broadening the audience.

Studies report that the global pandemic and all the local lockdowns somehow forced consumers to reassess their priorities. Now health and wellbeing have become the main drivers of a new behavior that entails reconsidering what they eat not only in terms of nutritiousness but also in terms of how the food they choose can impact the planet. Sustainability is the word as plant-based food is produced by using fewer natural resources thus putting less pressure on the environment. Ethics is the other matter we should also consider since the mindful choices that are being made safeguard animal welfare, which is another topic that has always been widely debated.

With that in mind, recent figures take a brand new meaning. A 43% growth in plant-based foods sales in the past two years (9 times faster than total food sales) vouch for the latest predictions made by the analysts of the Vegan Society that foresee a further increase of the plant-based food market of 11.9% by 2027, with an overall value of $74.2 billion. Data that we should all quickly take into account upon reshaping our commercial offer.

Diet and nutrition




They are known as Fake News: pieces of news, sometimes even published in or referenced from respectable news sources, which quickly go viral after having been shared on social media. They are considered one of the worst pandemics of modern day, due to the power they have to create new visions and change the public opinion and behaviour. Fake News mainly concerns the political and economics fields, but it also exists in the world of food.

Marcello Ticca, a doctor, adjunct professor, and Nutritional Science specialist, has recorded the most incredible Fake News pertaining to the food and beverage world in his book Miraggi alimentari – 99 idee sbagliate su cosa e come mangiamo (food mirages – 99 wrong ideas about what and how we eat, Laterza ed.). The text certainly debunks a few legends concerning what we eat, including the ones outlined as follows:

1- Never eat pasta in the evening.
As long as the sauce is not too heavy-duty, the body digests pasta far better than meat at night.

2- Fish is good for your memory.
Fish is no higher in phosphorous than other foods: it contains between 130 and 260 mg per 100 g, while meat contains 150/230 per 100 g, and legumes and dried fruit contain much more. Most of all, there is simply no proven correlation between the ingestion of the mineral and an increase in mnemonic ability!

3- Butter is fattier than oil.
Quite the opposite. Butter contains 17% water and thus 100 g of butter have a calorie content of 760. Instead, oil – of any type – contains 900 kcal. Of course, oil has other nutritional advantages over its white cousin…

4- Extracts and cold-pressed juices are like fruit.
Nothing but an illusion. In fact, juice extractors or cold press juicers make fruit lose most of its fibres, which are both useful in facilitating digestion in the intestine and in giving you a sense of fullness, which helps to eat less.

5- Eggs are hard to digest.
Eggs are unjustly among most demonized foods. They are digested much quicker than numerous other foods, and are not harmful for the liver. If they are eaten in the recommended weekly amount (4 times at most) they also help those with liver disorders.

6- Do not drink water over meals.
Many believe water dilutes gastric acids in the stomach lining, thus slowing down digestion. Au contraire, it favours digestion by improving the compactness of ingested foods. It also increases the feeling of fullness (thus making us eat less).

7- Do not eat between meals.
By now it is a proven fact that increasing the frequency of meals – eating food in the same quantity and with the same quality – positively affects a series of variables that contribute to staying healthy and avoiding the accumulation of adipose tissue.

8- Frozen foods are less nutritious.
Freezing is the best preservation method possible, of course when it is initiated swiftly and when the cold chain is never interrupted. In fact, defrosted foods remain untarnished, and certain vitamins and minerals even have a higher bioavailability than usual!

Diet and nutrition




The tomato is one of the symbols of the Mediterranean diet, even though it comes from a very long way away. Considered to be the most Italian of all vegetables, it actually arrived here from the Americas in the middle of the 16th century. Thanks to its countless qualities, it is now considered to be the emblem of a healthy diet. “The high water-content helps keep the body hydrated and reduces the overall calorie intake” explains nutritionist Elena Dogliotti, who adds, “It also contains very little sugar and a good dose of vitamin C, which has a strong antioxidant effect, and lots of potassium, which helps keep the blood pressure within the limits and is important for muscle function and cellular exchange. Thanks to fibre, it is an excellent pre-biotic, properly nourishing the “good” bacteria present in the gut and promoting a correct intestinal balance”. This balance, as we know, is essential to keep us healthy and to avoid the development of allergies, autoimmune diseases and obesity. The tomato also has lots of bioactive molecules, like antioxidant polyphenols, which have valuable anti-ageing properties, and is well-known for the presence of lycopene, a carotenoid which gives it its red colour as well as promoting the function of the immune system and helping to prevent cancer. “Vitamin C is absorbed better when tomatoes are eaten raw, while lycopene absorption is better when they are cooked: higher temperatures break the cell walls, increasing its availability” says Elena Dogliotti. “The best thing is to serve cooked tomato with a drizzle of raw olive oil, to maintain all the properties of the condiment intact too”. Tomato sauce, a typical Italian condiment for pasta and pizza, is a healthy food which is also ideal for children and teenagers.

The origins
The tomato originated in Mexico and Peru, where it was greatly appreciated and was known by the Incas and Aztecs as xitomatl (hence the English name, tomato), meaning “plant with juicy flesh and lots of seeds”. It was eaten every day, also as a sauce. The tomato arrived in Europe in 1540, when the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés took some back home to Spain. The fruit of the first plants arrived in Europe and wascultivated mainly in France, in a cold climate, remaining small and yellowish, often twisted and not particularly appealing.
The tomato made its appearance in Italy in 1596 as an ornamental plant in Northern Italian homes. Twenty years later it moved south, where the favourable climate produced bigger orangey-red fruit. Southern Italian farmers began eating it raw and cooked almost a century before other Europeans and today the tomato is one of the most widely used foods in Italian cuisine.

Diet and nutrition




Bologna’s F.I.CO. (Fabbrica Italiana Contadina) Eataly World, the biggest food park in the world, opened its doors in 2018, the year of Italian food, with an intense programme of talks, discussions, lessons and seminars entitled ‘Fico Mediterranean Lectures’.
Marino Niola, an anthropologist, journalist and populariser, inaugurated the series of international keynote lectures with a conference on ‘Being and Well-being: the Mediterranean Recipe’.
According to Niola, who is the scientific director of MedEatResearch, a social research centre studying the Mediterranean diet at Naples’s Suor Orsona Benincasa university, ‘the Mediterranean diet lengthens our lives, brings us well-being and increases our feelings of contentment, because it isn’t merely a nutritional model based on seasonal produce, traditional cuisine and biodiversity; it is a way of living well that re-establishes the balance between the environment and development.’
It was in order to define this ideal – an ideal way of life as well as an ideal form of nourishment – that the American scientists Ancel Keys and Margaret Haney invented the term ‘Mediterranean diet’ in 1975. Italy has the honour of being the place where it was discovered: the two researchers were in the Cilento region when they wrote their bestseller How to Eat Well and Stay Well the Mediterranean Way (Doubleday, New York).
‘In 2010, UNESCO put the Mediterranean diet on its list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, propelling it into the world’s nutritional mainstream’, said Niola. ‘In any case, the Mediterranean diet has always been international because it is made up of mixtures, loans, crosses and contamination. Even the most traditional dish, the most identity-forming standard has traces of others. It’s no coincidence that many of the basic ingredients of our cuisines come from distant countries: they are foreigners we put in our plates… and thank goodness they’re there. Our spaghetti with tomato sauce would never have existed without entirely American tomate. If aubergines hadn’t arrived here from the East, we’d be without our beloved aubergine parmigiana. Not to mention potatoes, peppers and chocolate. In this way, every recipe is none other than the mixture of different ingredients that become one single thing.’
Niola’s conclusion was greeted with resounding applause: ‘In such a scenario, the Mediterranean diet is a recipe for co-existence, made not only out of foods but also, and above all, out of ethical and social values, models for convivial life, for an awareness of sustainability, an openness to exchange, a welcoming of integration. In short, an example of how humanity in the future could be.’

Diet and nutrition




After having been demonised by health fanatics the world over for years, butter is having its rightful revenge.

As far back as 2014, it ended up on the cover of Time magazine with the title ‘Eat butter. Scientists labeled fat the enemy. Why they were wrong’. Thus, the humble pat of butter has slowly made its way back into the kitchen. Even researchers studying social change have looked into the case. ‘We are faced with nothing short of a comeback as far as butter concerned,’ writes sociologist Enrico Finzi, ‘thanks to its sensory characteristics, which are often associated with the pleasure of eating and the extraordinary contribution that butter makes when preparing certain foods and recipes.’

In actual fact, much more lies behind the rediscovery of butter. A recent study by Coldiretti, the Italian farmers’ association, explains how ‘demand has increased thanks to the recognition of its health benefits: experts say that a portion of butter (10 grams) contains 24 milligrams of cholesterol, i.e. 8% of the recommended daily amount. But demand has also increased because, especially in professional kitchens, butter is used as an alternative to fats like palm oil, which is being abandoned by a growing number of industries.’ It is no coincidence that the price of butter has doubled over the past year in Italy. ‘In the last decade, the percentage of consumers who prefer this product has significantly increased, and it now accounts for 47% of the Italian population,’ writes Renzo Pellatti in his book Conoscere e Gustare il Burro (‘Getting to know and appreciate butter’), published by Daniela Piazza Editore.

While in the United States, people like Elaine Khosrova, the author of Butter: A Rich History, have invented the profession of butter taster, today in Italy the number of types of butter – produced by skimming the cream off whey or churning milk fat – is growing. Goat butter is the latest novelty: with its stronger flavour and pure white colour, it is easily digested by those who don’t drink cow’s milk. In contrast, clarified butter (ghee) has no water content and is casein and lactose free. In short, it only contains butter fat. What’s so special about ghee? It has a higher smoke point, so it is the perfect fat to use when frying, particularly meat, without burning anything. Then there’s low-fat butter, which contains a low percentage of fat (around 60% compared to the 82% of normal butter) and is perfect for eating ‘as is’ or spreading on bread.

Diet and nutrition




Why does the best basil in the world grow in Prà, in the western part of Genoa? Soil and sunshine certainly have something to do with it, but it’s also a question of wind: the northern Mediterranean breeze that meets that of the Maritime Alps there. The best basil in the world is the result of a series of extraordinary circumstances that combine in an area measuring 18.5 square kilometres, nestled between the districts of Pegli and Voltri. If you take a step back and look at the whole of Italy, you’ll see that Prà is just one of myriad cases like it. That’s because Italy benefits from unique geographic conditions: it’s a peninsula surrounded by a calm sea whose winds meet the mountains that run along the length of the country. That’s why it’s fair to say that biodiversity – i.e. the variety of animal and vegetable species that live within a particular ecosystem – is one of Italy’s true treasures. As many as 58,000 animal species and 7,000 varieties of edible fruits and vegetables have been registered, including 1,200 native grape varieties and 538 olive cultivars: incredible figures if we consider that the country only covers 0.20% of the Earth’s surface.

The threats that menace Italian biodiversity

During the International Day for Biological Diversity on 22nd May 2017, the United Nations raised concerns regarding the danger of extinction faced by many species of flora and fauna. Italy, the champion of biodiversity, also has to tackle a number of problems, starting with the reduction in the range of crops grown at an international level. However, it is also true to say that, in recent years, Italian agriculture has become the most environmentally friendly in Europe, with the highest number of PDO/PGI certifications awarded to food products, and it boasts the highest number of organic farms.

Agriculture: the future belongs to the young

According to a memorandum drafted by Coldiretti, the Italian farmers’ federation, Italy is the only country in the world that can boast 4,965 registered traditional food products, 291 PDO/PGI specialities recognised at EU level, 415 DOC/DOCG wines and 60,000 organic farms. It is no coincidence that agriculture was the industry that saw the highest increase in employment in 2016 (up 4.9% year on year). According to Coldiretti, employment grew thanks to a phenomenon whereby many young people are returning to the land. Almost one in ten companies run by under-35s works in agriculture (8.4%), which amounts to a total of 51,123 farms, up 6% in 2016. Their work ranges from food processing to wholesale, from teaching farms to farm kindergartens, as well as recreational activities, social agriculture for fostering the integration of people with disabilities, park, garden and road maintenance, nature wellness, landscape gardening and the production of renewable energy. The result is that, compared to the industry average, farms run by under-35s are bigger (with a 54% larger surface area), provide more work (50% more) and have a higher turnover (75% more).

Diet and nutrition, Food trends




According to the Health/Wellness: food as medicine global survey compiled by Nielsen after studying a sample of 30,000 people from 63 countries, consumers from all over the world are increasingly concerned about how and what they eat and increasingly interested in discovering new healthy foods. Food is seen as a treatment/medicine, and diet is no longer just a nutritional regimen: it is, instead, nothing short of a way of life.

Why are consumers increasingly seeking out healthy foods?

Nielsen’s survey identified four reasons behind this phenomenon:

– The ageing of the world population;
– Growing rates of food allergies/intolerance and chronic illnesses;
– An increase in self-treatment and prevention;
– Consumers who are increasingly informed and online.

What sources do consumers consult when deciding whether a food is healthy or not?

Nutrition labels 34%
Packaging health claims (‘high fibre’, ‘low fat’) 28%
Medical/health-based websites 21%
Relatives/friends 21%
Medical professionals (doctors, dieticians) 20%
Magazines, newspapers or books 20%
TV programmes, films or documentaries 14%
Signs/labels on shop shelves/products 14%
Consumer blogs 10%

Healthy food in Italy

Italy was ranked the healthiest country in the world in the 2017 Bloomberg Health Index, which analyses the health of 163 countries. Italians are paying more attention to food than ever before, they are increasingly health-conscious and careful about what they eat. According to a report by Coldiretti (the federation of Italian farmers), the consumption of wholemeal foods is growing (up 11%), as is the consumption of gluten-free foods (up 26%), organic foods (up 20%) and vegetable drinks (up 7%). What’s more, Coldiretti has identified a trend linked to so-called ‘superfoods’: foods that combine taste with health benefits. The most popular superfoods include goji berries, adzuki beans, ginger (which has seen an increase in trade of 141% in a single year) and turmeric (with a 93% growth in trade). As well as exotic options (turmeric, adzuki beans and ginger are mostly produced in India and China), Italy also boasts a wealth of products that naturally aid well-being and the environment. Coldiretti has dubbed these products ‘Grandma’s superfoods’.
These extraordinary foods include Polignano purple carrots, considered nothing less than an elixir of long life, thanks also to the high quantities of polyphenols, flavonoids and anthocyanins they contain. Then there’s The barattiere, an old variety of cucumber from the Puglia region; it’s the perfect food for people on a diet, as it provides high levels of potassium whilst containing low levels of sugar and sodium. In the Calabria region, they grow Diamante chili peppers, known as an aphrodisiac. The red onions of Cavasso Nuovo, in the Veneto region, have strong anti-stress benefits and are helpful in the fight against high blood pressure and cholesterol. Last but not least, there’s Piedmont’s white carrot, which is good for the liver because it regulates bile production.



Diet and nutrition

The properties of Chili Peppers

chili peppers benefits

Chili peppers are used worldwide in foods for their pungent flavor, aroma and to prolong food spoilage. The different varieties offer a wide range of options for people all over the world. In addition to their use in cuisine, chili peppers have been explored for their antimicrobial and antifungal properties. Continue Reading…