Before we went to Italy for our recent trip, I had got into some very bad eating habits, and this had turned me into a … well, not so much a couch potato as a cross between Jabba the Hutt and a dormouse crippled with arthritis.Â No, that’s not a pretty picture, is it?Â But it’s what I felt like: sleepy, bloated, and in considerable pain.
I had got into the habit of eating a handful of biscuits for breakfast – and that means those things up there, because I’m English*.
Anyway, I craved sugar.Â I ate biscuits for breakfast and for elevenses (and in the afternoon ad evening, too).Â I ate cake.Â If something had sugar in it, I wanted it. In short, I gave in to my sugar addiction – I do firmly believe that refined sugar is addictive and that one day it will be banned (and hopefully save future generations from this unhealthy compulsion).
And along with sugar, my consumption of palm oil shot up.Â Now, the jury is out on palm oil.Â It’s used in almost all of our sweet snacks and many other foods, but many people believe that palm oil is as bad for our health as the hydrogenated oils or animal fats it now replaces.Â Â Whatever the truth of the various arguments put forth by various factions, I have come to believe that palm oil is bad for me.
So along with the bad diet came various other bad things: pain, lethargy, difficulty in sleeping, increased acid reflux, apathy, and a distinct desire to avoid physical activity.Â You can see the vicious circle emerging, can’t you?Â So could I, but I couldn’t stop eating those damned biscuits.Â See that label?Â Not only the ubiquitous palm oil, but no less than four different kinds of sugar!
And then we went to Italy for a week.
The Italians are well known for their love of food, and sweet things are very much included.Â They eat cake for breakfast, they eat gelato, they eat biscotti, and they eat the most wonderful desserts: for instance, Torta Umberto … and also Sorbetto Umberto, which is the most wonderful thing, made from freshly picked mandarins and yes, sugar.Â But their food is of higher quality and they care what goes into it.Â To be frank, their idea of ‘fast food’ shames us, because it might be fast, but it does not compromise on quality.
And here’s the surprising thing: while we were in Italy, my acid reflux settled down and I was able to drink wine without waking in the night with ‘heart attack’ pain.
So, the combination of being forced to stop eating too many nasty English biscuits and cakes and of walking a lot during the day has in fact got me out of the ‘too much sugar and not enough exercise’ trap.Â And yes, I do feel better for it.Â I have been using the treadmill, I have had the energy to sort out my wardrobe, and I no longer crave bourbons or chocolate digestives.Â I have also started making my own ‘Italian style’ lunches, like the toasted Alta Mura bread with red pesto and orecchiette di mozzarella you can see in the picture.Â There is no butter, just a light spray of extra virgin olive oil.
You know what?Â The Italians eat a lot of cheese.
And they throw oil and salt into their food with gay abandon, and drink plenty of wine and coffee.Â Strong coffee.Â Their vegetable consumption is (as far as I have observed) far less than ours.Â They are legendary for their desserts containing both sugar and cream – and yet they are healthier.Â What they do not seem to do is over-sweeten their foods, or stuff themselves with palm oil all day.Â And they do not subscribe to the opinion (popular in the UK and in the USA) that more is better.
The interesting thing about that is that if I eat Italian, as the Italians do, I don’t tend to want to pick at food all day as I do when I’m eating bourbons and custard creams.
I have decided, therefore, to eschew palm oil and too much sugar once and for all.Â I have bought some silicone muffin trays and intend to cook whatever cakes (carrot and date for breakfast, anyone?) and biscuits I intend to eat, and I’m going to try cooking with olive oil.Â This way I will eat less, for sure, and what I do eat will not have palm oil in it, and I can control the level of sugar, salt and refined … stuff.
Of course, I’ll need to pop back to Italy from time to time, just to keep myself on track.Â Doesn’t that sound like a good idea?Â It does to me!
And maybe next time we visit Florence, I’ll be able to climb to the top of that campanile instead of just to the first stage.
*There is some confusion between us and our American cousins about what the words ‘biscuit’ and ‘cookie’ mean, so I thought I’d make that clear.