Advice From Italian Nutritionists: Eat Cookies for Breakfast

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Two women wearing bathing suits smile as they eat from dishes of flavored ice, while sitting on a stone stairwell in front of a building, Venice, Italy. Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Even Italian models insist that eating alla italiana, complete with lots of pasta, helps keep them in shape. But do the experts agree? We spoke to three Italian nutritionists to find out how goodies like gelato, wine, and biscotti fit into plans to lose weight (or maintain it). Click ahead for their nine best tips — some answers may surprise you.

1. Have cookies for breakfast. Well, sort of. Italian nutritionists agreed that limiting sugar and refined carbohydrates was necessary for a healthy diet. But when asked about the ideal breakfast, one mentioned biscotti (in Italy, a catchall term for cookies); another, fette biscottate (a kind of twice-baked, sweetened bread) with honey or marmalade. Yes, the Italian versions of these tend to have less sugar than most American cereals, and yes, it’s all about small quantities (just 20 grams of biscuits, for example). Still. Cookies for breakfast? We’re in.

2. And one or two eggs … daily. Eggs will raise your cholesterol? Please, said Parma nutritionist Massimo Spattini, author of the upcoming book The COM Diet and Spot Reduction. “Some people don’t eat more than one egg or two a week,” he said. “That is totally wrong! Eggs are the perfect food,” he said, balanced in amino acids, protein, and “good fats.”

3. A (tiny) gelato is a reasonable snack. Here are the foods recommended as mid-afternoon snacks by nutritionist Pietro Migliaccio, president of the Italian Society of Food Science: low-fat yogurt (125 grams), a cereal bar, or an orange juice. Or: a cappuccino with a teaspoon of sugar; 20 grams of chocolate; a popsicle; a mini-gelatino(a tiny gelato); or tea with a teaspoon of sugar and two or three miniature pastries. You know which one we’re going with.

4. Pasta for lunch? Or bresaola? “At lunch, certainly you can have carbs like whole-wheat pasta with vegetables, a bit of extra-virgin olive oil, a salad, and fruit,” said Costantino Motzo, a nutritionist in Cagliari. Or, said Migliaccio, a balanced lunch could be 70 grams of speck or bresaola, along with two slices of bread and “as many raw or cooked vegetables as you like, seasoned with a teaspoon of extra-virgin olive oil.”

5. And pasta for dinner. If, that is, you’re the “android” body type, said Spattini. That’s the body type characterized by broader shoulders, a narrow pelvis, and fat being carried in the abdomen — which also makes it the most dangerous. Because they already wake up with high levels of cortisol, androids should avoid insulin- and hormone-stimulating carbs in the morning, as they add fat to the belly, Spattini said. But in the evening, when cortisol naturally starts to dip, androids can become hypoglycemic, at which point they need carbs. Eating carbs at night also produces more serotonin, he said, which makes you calm, especially necessary for high-cortisol, high-stress androids. Gynaeoid body types, on the other hand (those with small waists and larger hips), should eat with an opposite schedule: carbs in the morning, protein at night, he said.

6. But fruit after dinner can be a bad idea. At dinner, Motzo said, go for some protein — “much better fish than meat, and much better white meat than red meat” — and a salad. But, he said, “end your meal without the fruit, because fruit at night can cause some indigestion.”

7. And cheese goes straight to your hips. “Cheeses are good for you, but very fattening,” Motzo warned. “Because of this, you are free to have them two or three times a week, but they shouldn’t be something that enters into a daily routine. What happens if you eat them more often than that? You’ll find fat in the stomach, fat in the bottom, fat in the thighs.”

8. Sad news: Even red wine is bad for you. “It is a product that is rich with antioxidants, this is true. But if you eat a pepper, it has antioxidants, too,” Motzo said. Alcohol is caloric, it’s a carcinogen, and it stresses out the liver. “It is one of those foods that we can use for relaxation, but we shouldn't pass on the message that it’s a product that is good for you,” he said.

9. Meno in quantità. Piu in qualità. Overall, Motzo and the others said, the best takeaway is to eat less, but eat better. Use real extra-virgin olive oil; eat seasonally, local, and organic. And, yes, enjoy the occasional gelato.