The Big Difference Between Typical Italian And American Meals

Ah, Italia. This nation has created a cuisine so iconic, it is quite literally America's second favorite cuisine behind our own (via YouGov). It is so easy to see why the country that birthed pizza, lasagna, and infinite varieties of pasta would be so popular here in America. Over a 40-year period between the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, over four million Italians immigrated to America to start new lives for themselves and their families (via PBS). Bringing their incredible food with them. 

While images of heaping plates of pasta piled high with meatballs, baskets of bread, and carafe after carafe of red wine might come to mind — actual Italian culture itself is quite different. According to La Cucina Italiana, food in Italy is seasonal, regional, and, above all, a lifestyle. It's diverse and unique, from the mountains of Piedmont to the sun-drenched shores of Calabria. It's not that the authentic cuisine is better than our renditions, just different, with the biggest variation being in how we structure our meals. Italians build their meals in a way that places emphasis on ingredients that we Americans, despite our best efforts, have never really prioritized.

The inverse of SAD

The American diet really is SAD. Really, it is. The Standard American Diet (SAD), according to Doctor Kiltz, is an acronym used to describe what types of food groups are prioritized by Americans. As evidenced by the Nutritional Examination Survey, our eating preferences are for carbohydrates, protein, fat, and sugar. Vegetables and fruits barely appear on SAD's radar. But hold on a minute. You might be thinking, the Italians, eat pasta and pizza and bread, aren't carbohydrates idolized there too? Not as much as you would think.

According to chef Michael Chiarello, as quoted in Real Simple, "Italian food is really a celebration of produce, and protein is a secondary thought." Chiarello explains that an Italian meal will start with a large serving of antipasti, which is usually vegetables, and a small selection of cured meats. Antipasti is followed up by a small pasta and a simply prepared protein. And then the meal is done. Dessert is seldom served. So, the authentic Italian meal is the inverse of our own SAD diet. Large portions of vegetables are prioritized over carbs and protein. And as Italians are among the most long-lived people on Earth, per Travel and Leisure, perhaps we should take their eating habits into consideration.