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Life, Italian-Style: Good for the Body and the Soul

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The Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has declared 2013 to be "The Year of Italian Culture in the United States." Exhibitions and events celebrating Italian contributions to life will be taking place all year long in various U.S. cities. There's an allure to Italian art, music, design, fashion and food that makes us all want to be Italian for a day. Italian culture revolves around beauty, love, passion and sensuality -- all things that feed the body and the soul.

My mother came to the U.S. from Sicily, Italy when she was 13, and my father was first-generation Italian-American. I didn't realize until much later in life how healthy we ate or how soothing those long meals followed by afternoon naps were. As an adult, Italian food (cooking and eating it) continues to be one of my greatest passions, and although I've had to forgo the afternoon naps (at least during the work week), there are still ways to bring a little Italian into everyday American life. Here are a few:

Buy Fresh, Whole Foods
The best Italian dishes are prepared with simple, fresh ingredients such as tomatoes, herbs and garlic. One of my favorite classic Italian dishes is "Spaghetti Aglio e Olio," which is pasta mixed with sautéed garlic in olive oil. It takes less than twenty minutes to make and requires no recipe. Top it with fresh chopped parsley, red chili flakes and grated Romano cheese, and you have a delicious and healthy meal.

Eat Slowly
There's an international "slow food" movement that was started in Italy in 1986 to preserve traditional cuisine and local farming and to offer an alternative to fast food. To me, the movement also means savoring every bite of your meal and noticing all the senses that are excited by it. Eating slower also allows you to time to stop and have gratitude for all the people involved in bringing that food to your table.

Live Life Simply
When you simplify your life, you have a lot more time for leisure and quality time with friends and family. Italians can sip cappuccinos for hours at an outdoor café. They value quality of life, not the quantity of things like big homes and multiple cars. Think of all the material things you have that require maintenance, upgrades, time and attention. Perhaps there are a few you can do without in exchange for more free time.

Drink Wine
When I was a child, there was wine on our dinner table for everyone. Even the kids drank wine mixed with soda water. It was never abused; it was a complement to the flavors in the meal. Now we know that red wine has all sorts of health benefits when consumed in moderation. Try an Italian Chianti, brunello or my new favorite -- Amarone.

Sing
Italians love to sing. It's not about having a great voice or perfect pitch, although many do. It's about adding words and music to enhance the natural rhythm of every day life. My father sang classic Italian songs, and when he wasn't singing them, he was whistling them. My husband (who's half Italian) starts a tune almost every morning. I'm pretty tone deaf so I tend to hum a lot, but I'm always singing in my mind.

Find Your Inner Artist
Exploring your creative side is not only fun, but also helps give your life balance and reduce stress. Think of a creative activity you loved to do as a child or something you've always wanted to do, and take a break from your everyday routine and give it a try. Paint, dance, sculpt, write, bake. Do whatever makes your heart sing.

Take a Trip to Italy
Nothing helps infuse the spirit of the Italian lifestyle into your own soul as a trip to Italy. Walk through the ancient sites, enjoy a slow and relaxing meal in an outdoor restaurant, visit a walled city, take a cooking class, go on a gondola ride, sit under the Tuscan sun, eat gelato every day. You'll be sure to take a little bit of Italy back home with you. After my last trip to Italy, I got my motorcycle license and bought an eggplant-colored Vespa scooter!

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