Italy is one of the most beautiful countries in Europe, renowned throughout the world for its incredible culture, architecture, fashion and stunning landscapes; though Italy’s beauty is not just skin-deep. Italy was recently voted as one of the healthiest countries in the world. The Mediterranean diet is one of the most nutrient rich and healthy diets you can follow, supporting a lifestyle that increases longevity, vitality and over-all quality of life.
Not surprisingly, food and wine make up a big part of the Italian lifestyle! In moderation many of the foods commonly found in the Italian diet are said to improve health in some astonishing and remarkable ways.
Let’s further explore Italian superfoods!
Tomatoes are a staple in almost all Italian cuisine. Some studies have shown that tomatoes can aid in fighting breast cancer. So don’t be shy to throw in a can of tomatoes to your stews, soups and pastas. Not only this, but tomatoes are loaded with vitamin C and D.
This Italian staple helps to lower cholesterol, fight heart disease, reduce the risk of certain types of cancer, lower blood sugar level and can aid in getting rid of unwanted belly fat! Boasting tremendous anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, the phytonutient in olive oil, oleocanthal, mimics the effect of ibuprofen in the body in reducing inflammation, therefore decreasing the risk of many health related challenges. It’s also wonderful as a hair mask and to apply on the skin!
Garlic is the famous natural antibiotic and is an anti-inflammatory as well as high in vitamin C and A. Sulmona in the central region of Abruzzo, has 2 culinary claims to fame in Italy: sugared almonds and delicate tasting red garlic. Not only is it delicious, but it contains the highest levels of natural antibiotics of any garlic or onion. In Abruzzo, a time-honoured cold and flu remedy is to simmer a couple of glasses of water with 5 slices of lemon, 1 bay leaf and 2 cloves of unpeeled red garlic as soon as you feel a cold coming on!
Like garlic, onions have been known since Roman times to have wonderful preventative properties and enhance the body’s immunity – Pliny the Elder documented 30 different ailments which could be treated just by eating onions! Tropea in Calabria grows Italy’s finest onions, a sweet red variety which science has shown to have better diuretic, hypoglycemic, and anticancer functions than any other onions. As well as being great for health, its delicate flavour means it is perfect for both cooking and slicing up in colourful summer salads.
Forget about addictive painkillers because basil provides symptomatic relief for inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis. Its fragrant nature makes it hugely popular in regional dishes throughout Italy, from pizza in Naples to pesto Genovese, Italians simply can’t get enough of it!
Italian food isn’t known for its spicy dishes, but hot chilli peppers are the most famous ingredient in the southern region of Calabria where they are traditionally grown. Here you’ll find them stuffed with tuna fish and preserved in olive oil, while further north in Rome, they are used in tomato sauce to make pasta arrabiata. Their bright red colour means they are high in both vitamins and antioxidants, while the spicy kick stimulates the digestive system and circulation.
Tartufo / Truffle – Tuscany, Umbria, Piedmont, Le Marche
Since ancient times, truffles have been considered one of the best aphrodisiacs around. The scent of this fungus is very similar to the male pheromone androstenone, which is probably why truffles are considered to be effective as an aphrodisiac. They have also been found to be effective in reducing depression and preventing early ageing and dementia – so definitely worth the extravagance.
For years, travellers to Italy have been drawn to Sicily’s intriguing history, smoking volcanoes and famed cuisine, but somehow the island’s distinctive chocolate – made in the UNESCO World Heritage town of Modica and inspired by the traditions of the ancient Aztecs – has remained one of the world’s best-kept secrets. Dark chocolate, flavoured with everything from chilli pepper to sea salt, can aid the circulation, reduce the blood pressure and, of course, do wonders for the mood.
We all know the great benefits of citrus fruits, from boosting the immune system to helping reduce cancer, there’s more than just the taste to recommend them and explain why spremuta d’arancia, freshly-squeezed orange juice, is such a popular order in bars across Italy. For some of the best, head to Sicily where they grow very sweet blood oranges.
Like oranges, lemons are powerful at preventing and fighting illness. They also make very good limoncello, a popular drink from Campania and very easy to make at home! Lemon water first thing in the morning is a perfect way to alkalize your system and promotes hydration. They’re great for your skin and work as a wonderful internal astringent! Lemons are known to aid digestion and support weight loss. Packed full of Vitamin C and anti-bacterial, they are even great in your homemade cleaners! Get your daily dose of lemons for luminous skin and a happy belly.
One of the pillars of the Mediterranean diet, which, thanks to almost every region of Italy having some coastline, can be found across the country. Lower in fat than meat, fish is full of good oils which contain Omega-3 fatty acids that promote brain health and lean proteins that fuel the body without adding weight. Fish oil also increases cardiovascular health and can aid in cancer prevention.
There’s no shortage of wines to choose from in Italy, and vineyards across the country happily open their doors to visitors. Moderate amounts of red wine provide powerful antioxidants that heal the body at a cellular level, like quercetin and resveratrol.
Its name means ‘mountain joy’, revered as a symbol of happiness by ancient Greeks and Romans. The world wide tradition of newlyweds crowned with a laurel of oregano is attributed to this very symbolic belief! Oregano is native to Europe, North Africa, and parts of Asia, typically in mountainous regions. This is uncelebrated herb can be applied topically to treat a number of skin conditions, such as acne and dandruff. It’s further medicinal benefits include therapeutic effects for digestion and respiratory conditions. Loaded with antioxidants, it’s anti-bacterial and anti-viral– and naturally delicious! It’s known to contain vitamins essential for the body such as Vitamin A, E, C, & K- as well as iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium, folate, and B6!
The aphrodisiac Saffron is a spice that comes from the sativus flower and belong to the iris family. Dating back to Hippocrates, the medicinal benefits of saffron have long been boasted for coughs, colds, insomnia, and heart trouble among others. A primary use of saffron is for dyeing textiles as a single grain of saffron can color 10 gallons of water with its rich golden hue. Known as a very experience spice, there is a very good reason why! So what may that reason be? It’s still harvested and cultivated with it’s most ancient tradition: by hand. As for further health benefits, it’s super high in manganese which helps regulate blood sugar and metabolize carbohydrates. It also offers healthy doses of vitamin C, B6, magnesium, and iron. It’s aphrodisiac properties just make this magical and well revered spice a solid gem!
Prickly Pears (Fichi di India)
Figs, the sweet fruit with seeds and soft skin can be eaten both ripe or dried. Different varieties can have varying colors. Figs can be also used for jam and spreads, to make pies, puddings and preserves. Indian figs are found in the regions of Calabria, Puglia and Sicily. They are known to aid in moderating blood sugar levels, increase circulation, and reduce high blood pressure. They are rich in minerals such as magnesium, manganese, sodium, and calcium. They can help to strengthen bones and control diabetes. Also supporting eye sight, figs are a true superfood!! They are also great for skin and hair and used to treat a number of skin conditions. Don’t miss figs when they’re in season, your body and taste buds will surely thank you!
Now how many of you have taken the time to cut open and marvel at the wonders of a pomegranate?! This fruit is truly remarkable. It requires patience to de-seed and it’s certainly worth it. Whether you eat the seeds alone, put them in a salad, or make pomegranate juice, every time I eat pomegranate I feel like I’m a part of some special secret. Loaded with antioxidants and vitamin C, they are very supportive of a healthy heart. Really good for digestion, they stimulate natural probiotic bacteria and therefore can fight bacteria growth. They are also anti-inflammatory and greatly support cognitive functioning with their polyphenols so they are a great brain food!
Pomegranates are a natural aphrodisiac. Many cultures has linked this fruit with fertility and abundance for centuries. Pomegranate seed juice is the source of grenadine syrup, which is well known for its use in the traditional nonalcoholic beverage, a Shirley Temple.
If not for the rest listed here, the antioxidant benefits alone are enough reason to enjoy pomegranate whenever possible.
Also known as cepes, the scientific name for porcini mushrooms is Boletus edulis. A type of edible mushroom found across parts of North America, Europe, and Asia, it’s known for earthy flavor that can be used in a variety of plates. They are particularly beneficial for aiding in weight loss, promoting digestive health, a plant based source of protein, a high antioxidant count, and anti-inflammatory! Their high fiber content promotes healthy digestion, and just one ounce of dried mushrooms boast a high protein content of 7 grams. It’s often oven-grilled or roasted. They can be added to pasta and risotto! With it’s high iron content, it does make a great option even for meat eaters.
Eggplant (botanical name of Solanum melongena) rich in antioxidants, fiber, potassium, and magnesium, offers of variety of ways to enjoy it from baking, grilling, and broiling. They contain an impressive array of vitamins and minerals such as vitamin C, K, and B6. There are many different varieties of eggplants from small and white to larger and purple. First making their appearance across Europe in the 14th, they remain a staple items in a multitude of Italian dishes. They can aid in digestion, weight loss, prevent anemia, and improve bone health. Most certainly a super food!
We certainly hope that this enticing peek of delicious superfoods celebrated in Italy and among the Mediterranean inspire you to come experience the decadence first hand.
Why not delight your senses and palette with fresh local ingredients that are designed to not only nourish your body, but the spirit too!
We offer seasonal cooking classes and each one of our tours are designed to curate remarkable dining experiences where you personally experience the local fare of the region. Italy’s food practices and culinary expertise is for a reason— centuries of passed down recipes and farming practices that produce the very best of the best!
Email email@example.com for a list of our exclusive and affordable Food & Wine tours.