Sunday, May 5, 2013

Embrace the Healthy Cuisine of Sicily on a Mediterranean Cruise

Eve Pierce is our guest blogger for today. She has written this amazing piece, just for us, on the Mediterranean diet and its healthy properties, focusing on Sicilian Cuisine. So here she is in her own words:

"The Mediterranean diet has been recognised as one of the healthiest ways of eating,
both within Europe and beyond, as its consumption is linked with longevity and a reduced risk of heart disease. It is based on the traditional dietary practices of Southern Italy, Spain and Greece, which is rich in plant-based foods, fish and olive oil, with modest intakes of dairy produce and wine, and comparatively little meat. In many ways the diet of Sicily is true to what is considered to be a Mediterranean pattern of eating. One difference is that Sicilians eat more meat than other parts of Southern Italy. This reflects the preference for meat of the Normans and Germans who came here in the middle ages; however, the use of fish is abundant in dishes and still commonly eaten. Fish is just as rich in protein as meat, yet white fish such as sea bream and sea bass, as well as the likes of cuttlefish and sea urchin, are low in fat, whilst oily fish like tuna, swordfish, sardines and anchovies are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. 

These essential fatty acids have long been known to protect the heart and circulation, but they are now known to be important for brain function, so may help to keep our mood balanced and to ward off cognitive decline. Make the most of the opportunity to eat fish whilst cruising in the Mediterranean and visiting Sicily, sampling varieties that you wouldn’t usually at home.

Like other parts of the Mediterranean, pulses (peas, beans and lentils) feature heavily in dishes and Sicily is second only to Tuscany for using them so widely. Fava beans and chickpeas are particularly popular and the former are often spiced and served as a bar snack; it often takes a while for tourists to twig what they are actually eating when they sit down with their beer or glass of wine. Fava beans are also frequently used in soups and are the principal ingredient of a vegetable side dish known as frittedda. Pulses are a good source of plant protein and iron; they are also full of fibre, so not only are they filling, helping with weight control, but they can also help to lower cholesterol. Other vegetables also feature highly in Sicilian cooking and although native varieties such as broccoli, fennel and peppers are popular, those introduced by settlers such as artichokes, tomatoes and eggplants have also become prominent in dishes. When eating out in restaurants, tomatoes and broccoli are often found in pasta recipes, fennel will be served in salads or baked as a side dish, artichokes find their way into frittatas, eggplants will be stuffed with other ingredients and a range of vegetables are combined to make ratatouille.

All vegetables and fruits are rich in antioxidants; these help to control levels of damaging substances in the body called free radicals, which alter cells and lead to the development of heart disease and cancer. Onions and garlic which are used frequently as a flavouring in Sicilian cooking, contains allicin which is thought to confer many of their benefits towards heart, cancer prevention and supporting the immune system. 

As would be expected in the Mediterranean region, olive oil is the predominant oil used in Sicilian cooking and dressings. This oil is rich in monounsaturated fat, which is the type of fat most beneficial to cholesterol, as it lowers harmful LDL cholesterol whilst maintaining levels of protective HDL cholesterol. The nuts introduced from the Middle East – notably almonds, pistachios and pine nuts – contribute further beneficial fats to the diet. They are used to make pesto and in a range of sweet dishes, though are just as enjoyable as a snack with dried fruit such as apricots, figs and currants; pick up some nuts from a Sicilian market to enjoy when back on board.

A trip to Sicily wouldn’t be complete without sampling their wine; even if you just stop off for the day as part of a cruise itinerary, don’t pass up the opportunity to try it. The soil on the island is ideal for growing grapes and wine has been produced here since the Greeks came to Sicily. Try the Sicilian red wine on your holiday; good examples include Nero D’Avola, one of the oldest grape varieties offered by the island. A moderate intake of red wine a day appears to be protective towards the heart. Antioxidants found in red wine is thought to protect the blood vessels and reduce the risk of a blood clot developing.

However long you are in Mediterranean for, embrace its traditional cuisine and look out for those dishes particular to Sicily. Not only will your taste buds thank you, but so will your health, particularly if you can adopt some of their beneficial dietary practices when you return home. The island of Sicily features as a destination on numerous cruise itineraries, providing you the chance to step on to the island’s soil to see for yourself what culinary delights are on offer. Anyone looking to eat well on holiday, in terms of the taste, quality and healthfulness of their food, would find it difficult to fault what Sicily can provide. Here we look at the cuisine of Sicily and the highly nutritious traditional ingredients that are widely used in the island’s cooking, which you can enjoy on board and in Sicily’s restaurants."

Thanks a lot to Eve for this incredible and useful article.

Pic frittedda:
Pic mackerel: