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What Are the Health Benefits of Italian Cuisine?

By Karen Curinga

Italian food is packed with healthful benefits. The cuisine features an abundance of minimally processed plant foods and olive oil, along with low to moderate amounts of wine, sweets, dairy, eggs and red meat. According to a study in "Clinical Interventions in Aging" in March 2008, Mediterranean cuisine supplies certain nutrients that help reduce the risks associated with some chronic diseases.

Weight Management

A variety of fresh fruits and vegetables plays an important role in traditional Italian cuisine. Many foods included in Italian dishes, such as tomatoes, spinach, leafy greens, citrus fruit, onions and garlic, are low in calories and fat but high in nutrient value. They're packed with nutrients like vitamin A, which helps promote healthy vision, and iron, which helps carry oxygen throughout your body and is essential for chemical reactions. These foods, along with a portion-control program, can help you not only maintain a healthy weight but also aid in weight loss.

Fiber Benefits

Dietary fiber is abundant in traditional Italian cuisine and provides important benefits for health, especially the digestive system. Fiber, a form of carbohydrate found in plant foods, is indigestible in humans. It helps to reduce blood cholesterol levels, to maintain stable blood sugar levels and to prevent constipation. Include fiber-rich foods, such as fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes and nuts, in your diet -- as Italians do -- to ensure the benefits of fiber-rich foods.

Heart Health

Foods like olive oil and seafood -- staples of Italian cuisine -- are excellent sources of healthy fats. Olive oil and fresh fish, such as salmon, tuna and sardines, contain omega-3 fatty acids and unsaturated fats, which promote heart health. Omega-3 fatty acids are linked to prevention of coronary heart disease, a decrease in blood triglycerides and reduction in high blood pressure. In addition, that glass of red wine, which commonly accompanies an Italian meal, may be good for your heart. In a study published in "Drugs Under Experimental and Clinical Research" in 1999 found that consumption of wine, especially red wine, reduces the incidence of mortality and morbidity from coronary heart disease.

Antioxidant Power

Powerful antioxidants, including vitamins A, C and E as well as lycopene, lutein, beta-carotene and selenium, are abundant in foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and nuts, which make up a large part of the Italian diet. Eating foods rich in antioxidants helps protect your body from free radicals, which are unstable molecules that cause cell damage, thus helping to reduce cancer risk. For example, a study published in "Experimental Biology and Medicine" in November 2002 found that increased consumption of tomatoes and tomato-based products may be beneficial in the prevention of prostate cancer.

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