One of the world’s healthiest cuisines is Italian food. The hallmarks of Italian cooking are fresh, seasonal ingredients including plenty of vegetables, leafy greens and whole grains, with simply prepared meats and fish. In recent years we’ve been hearing more about the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet, and Italian food is one of the purest expressions of this wonderful cuisine. Let’s have a look at some of the ways Italian food can specifically support good dental health.
With any cuisine, there may be aspects about it that work better for your teeth than others. For example, Italian cooking features a lot of fresh tomatoes. Tomatoes are undoubtedly healthy for you. They contain high concentrations of vitamins and the anti-oxidant lycopene, known to help lower the risk of various cancers and cardiovascular disease. However, tomatoes are also very acidic, and can therefore pose a danger to the enamel of teeth.
One way to mitigate the effects of tomatoes on tooth enamel is to neutralize their acidity with some kind of dairy, such as cheese. Fortunately, tomato sauce and cheese is certainly a common combination found in Southern Italian dishes like lasagna and manicotti. Ricotta, goat cheese, freshly grated parmesan cheese – these are all wonderful, healthy ingredients that serve the dual purpose of neutralizing the acidity of tomato sauce while providing much needed calcium for strong, healthy teeth.
And On the Subject of Calcium…
Although dairy products are an obvious source of calcium, here’s another – anchovies. Not only do they contain calcium and iron, but they are a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids which have been linked to reducing cancer and stroke risk as well as enhancing one’s mood. In an Italian meal, it’s easy to incorporate fresh seafood into a main course, providing more opportunity to meet your calcium quotient.
The Carb Question
Italian food is more than just pizza and pasta. In fact, traditional Italian cuisine has much more to do with market produce and fresh ingredients than it does with refined carbohydrates. Sure there are the noodles and the bread… but there’s also polenta and risotto. There are also dark, leafy greens and plenty of other veggies. This is one healthy cuisine.
Garlic and Basil and Olive Oil, Oh My!
Three more of the staple ingredients for traditional Italian cooking, garlic and basil and olive oil are chock full of healthy goodness. Olive oil is known for its cholesterol regulating properties, which make it great for guarding against inflammation. This in turn helps prevent a whole bunch of conditions, including heart disease, high blood pressure and cancer. It has been shown to be much healthier than processed vegetable oils such as sunflower oil.
Garlic has been shown to have cancer fighting properties, as well as the ability to help protect against high blood pressure and unhealthy cholesterol proportions. Garlic also has powerful anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-viral properties. Talk about a triple threat! It may give you pungent breath, but if you’re eating with a partner and you both share a garlic flavored meal, then where’s the problem? Especially when neither of you gets the flu!
As you can see, some of the fundamental ingredients in Italian cooking also carry with them some great healing properties. As with any cuisine, you’re going to want to pick and choose which dishes you prepare, exert some measure of control over your portion size, and make sure that you brush your teeth properly afterwards. The nice thing about Italian cuisine is that it contains so many basically healthy elements in its foundational ingredients. That’s enough to get any chef who’s interested in good health off to a great start. Happy menu planning!