Thursday, February 25, 2010

Italians and breakfast

Most of you have heard the assertion that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Like so many pronouncements about diet and food, it's inaccurate, to say the least.

I was thinking about this while eating my oatmeal (avena) this morning (McCann's steel-cut Irish oatmeal, which I found for a good price at Trader Joe's.) Now an Italian is most unlikely to eat hot oatmeal for breakfast (colazione), requiring over half an hour of preparation. And of course (excepting the Germanic Alto-Adige), they aren't going to have meat or even eggs for breakfast. They don't even go in for convenient cold cereal that much (most Italian adults shun milk.)

What they do eat, if they have breakfast at all (some just have an espresso), is a flour product (which could be bread) and some form of coffee beverage. A typical breakfast outside might be a cappuccino and a pastry such as brioche or a croissant. Some (a minority) might have a yogurt or fruit. Hotels and b and b's might have a more complete breakfast, precisely because they think foreigners will be used to it.

Not only that, but to dispel another misguided diet diktat, these floury products are practically always white. Italians are not fond of whole wheat (integrale) or other whole grains. And to top it off, they will most often have white pasta or rice later in the day. And yet, over all, they have strikingly better health and appearance than Americans. Starting with their diabetes prevalence, which is a fraction of ours.