Why Aren’t All Italians Obese?

A while ago one of you noted in passing that

when I have been to Italy I did not see too many over weight people. And you eat pasta all the time […]

To Italian ears, the remark is of course a non sequitur, but in US culture it’s a genuine curiosity, worthy of some explanation.

The explanation is this: we are not too overweight (neither  we are too weight-concerned) because we do not really eat so much.

Point one: size

Many years ago, when I was young and wild, I was in San Antonio, Texas and, meat-eater that I am, I mistakenly ordered a large of baby ribs. The fact that the menu mentioned the word “bucket” as the serving container should have warned me, because I was actually served a bucketful of baby ribs. And although my personal meat-eating record is a 1,3kg fiorentina (bone included), I could not eat more than one third of those ribs. Since then, my serving size is “small”, even if it makes me look weird

US people visiting Italy must have the reverse cultural shock: while in the US a 12oz (that’s 340g) coffee beverage is a small drink, an Italian cappuccino is less than one third the size (100-110g, typically).

Believe it or not, an espresso is 20-25ml, that is 1.5oz at the most.

We enjoy three-course meals because in Italy a serving of pasta is 80-100g (3-3.5oz, dry weight) and a serving of meat is 150-200g (5.5-7oz).

Point two: sugar

While sugar seems a mandatory component of any cooking ingredient in the US (pelati, tomato sauce, bread, …), we do not like to taste sugar unless we are having dessert. Also, we tend to drink water at the table, rather than soft drinks; this too cuts down on calorie intake.


Italians are not all obese because we think: oh, if we must go to fat hell for our sins, we may just as well sin big. As it happens, we don’t even go to hell. There was an important moral to draw here, but it has temporarily escaped the writer’s mind.


  1. If only Americans understood that their freedom to eat what they like could be a way of life if they would reduce the size of their portions of each food. Great post.

  2. Walter, thank you for elaborating on my comment. You are so spot on that in the USA people tend to over do the food. I personally love buffet because I can have a little bit of different things rather than a lot of just one thing. And when I was in Italy I just loved eating Italian food. The variety of the pastas and flavors was just amazing. I had my first lemon pasta in Venice and my first Limoncello in Capri.


  3. Reblogged this on Sassi Italy Tours and commented:
    It is indeed something you notice in Italy–the people are pretty fit and noticeably much less fat that we Americans are, and many a person on our tours has noticed that despite eating a ton of amazing food, by the end of the trip their jeans are loose.

    Sure, it’s a walking culture (and all the tour walking is why you’re losing weight on a Sassi Italy Tour), but there’s more to it than that I think. Rather than obsessing about carb vs. fat vs. protein or whether cavemen ate it, Italians simple eat locally sourced non-processed foods in moderate amounts, lots of veggies and lean meats occasionally, and they stay active.

    A good thing to emulate.

  4. After a lifetime of active sports I ‘retired’ a couple of years ago and piled on the weight.
    The solution was simple….. eat the same foods but eat smaller amounts…….. works like a charm…… along with walking the dogs twice a day.

  5. Good points. Also Italian food is ‘real’ instead of made up of a substantial amount of chemicals; real food can be metabolised, chemical food can’t. Another important point is that Italians, like the French, generally sit down to eat three meals a day instead of snacking constantly.

  6. Unfortunately I am starting to see more young Italians who are overweight. I think there are new influences in Italy.

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