I know, sugar and fat? Are you trying to kill us here Emilia? Rest assured, I have no malicious intent. I just want to discuss the surprisingly cultural attitude to these two taboo nutrients.
Sometime, in the 1980’s I think, researchers decided that fat made you fat, simply because they didn’t have enough information to trace rising obesity rates to sugar. It makes sense, right? Fat the nutrient sounds like fat the adipose tissue in our bodies. Yet, there is more and more reason to believe that fat is not, in fact, the nutrient that causes your mid section (and other parts) to swell. It seems, and I’m just quoting science here, that sugar is the culprit behind many of the first-world illnesses plaguing our society.
Except for in Italy, where people say — and I’m quoting here — un po’ di zucchero fa bene/ a bit of sugar is good for you. Yep, you’re never going to hear those daring words uttered in America. We might be obsessed with the stuff, but I’m pretty sure that most Americans agree that the less sugar you eat, the better. Nobody is going to give their kid a sugar cube and people don’t walk down the street eating their morning pastry. Yet, I’ve seen both of those in Italy.
Then there’s the other end of the spectrum. Americans, often to their detriment, are obsessed with the fat in food. We may have moved away from days where fat-free products lined grocery store shelves and were lauded as the holy grail of a healthful diet, but a perplexing dual attitude still exists. Fat is good for us, eat a lot of it! But it’s also scary and dangerous, don’t go overboard. Some high fat foods are revered (hi avocado!), some are derided (get away from me butter and corn oil) and some are fetishised (bacon: over it).
Italy seems to still believe that low-fat is the way to
optimal health being thin. While it may not appear that way if you choose to order certain restaurant dishes, you’ll begin to notice a refusal of fats in Italian culture. Just a couple weeks ago, the reality of the Italian relationship between fats and sugars hit me in the face. My parents had just arrived in Italy and brought a box of mini-crumbs cupcakes to share with my host family that were barely recognizable. As we walked back to their hotel from lunch, we passed by Medagliani and my mother stopped in to buy a pesca dolce. Cutting it up in the hotel room, we discovered it was like a sweet doughnut, coated in sugar and filled with apricot marmalade. One bite was all I could take, it was so tooth-achingly sweet. Later that evening, however, I had a couple bites of the cupcakes because, well, I couldn’t let them go to waste. I enjoyed them more than I would like to admit.
Why was it that I couldn’t take eating a pesca dolce but most decidedly could enjoy a cupcake that must be nearly as sweet? Why didn’t this cupcake taste crazy sweet to me? My mother, pushing through a jet-lagged stupor, hit the nail on the head. The cupcake has fat to mitigate the sweetness and the pesca dolce didn’t.
Italian’s have chosen sweet over fat. Perhaps it’s because they want to eat less of it. Perhaps it’s because there’s only so much olive oil you can use. Perhaps it’s because hazelnuts used to be really gosh-darn expensive. I don’t know the reason, though I have some guesses. This doesn’t hold true in every situation, admittedly. Yet, the attitudes between the American and the Italian relationship between fat and sugars are so shocking and so all-encompassing that it’s difficult not to notice what’s going on.
Have you noticed this Italian preference? Agree/disagree? Do you prefer sugar or fat in your diet?