Italy is known for ultra-fresh ingredients that dance across your tastebuds. The folks in Sardinia, a picturesque island in the Mediterranean Sea, have a particular knack for living well into old age—and a diet consisting of healthy Italian foods contributes greatly to their longevity.
In a recent edition of the Blue Zones newsletter (which covers the lifestyle habits of healthy people across the world), an infographic named the top eight foods Sardinia’s residents love to add to their plates. Of course, every ingredient has a place in the Mediterranean diet. The healthy Italian foods centenarians reach for to satisfy their bodies and palates include everything from olives to red wine.
The healthy Italian foods that Sardinian centenarians eat daily
“Barley is soaring with molybdenum, manganese, selenium, fiber, and copper,” says Amie Valpone, HHC, AADP, a nutrition ambassador at Lycored. “It’s a great option for adding robust flavor to soups and stews and can certainly boost your intestinal health because its dietary fiber provides food for the beneficial bacteria in the large intestine.” You can also use the grain as a base for colorful grain bowls, or eat it as an oatmeal substitute at breakfast time.
2. Fava beans
Each breed of bean comes with its own unique nutritional profile, and fava beans are no exception. “Fava beans, or broad beans, are packed with vitamins and minerals as well as plant-based protein and fiber,” says Malina Malkani, RDN, a dietitian with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “The abundance of magnesium and potassium in fava beans may help improve high blood pressure by relaxing blood vessels. Fava beans also contain compounds that may boost antioxidant activity, which contributes to greater longevity and a stronger immune system.”
3. Cannonau wine
Cannonau wine, produced in Sardinia, contains more heart-healthy polyphenols than any other red wines. “It’s also soaring with anthocyanins—found in berries—which are naturally occurring compounds that give the red and purple color to red wine grapes, with antioxidant effects as well,” says Valpone.
4. Olive oil
Oh, olive oil—how would we cook without you? “Extra virgin olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fats that support heart health. It also contains powerful antioxidants such as oleocanthal that may provide anti-inflammatory health benefits,” says Malkani.
All the reasons olive oil is so good for you:
Kohlrabi is in a cruciferous vegetable, like cauliflower and Brussels sprouts, which makes it gut-healthy. “Kohlrabi is a great source of potassium and vitamin C and is loaded with fiber, which can help keep you full for longer,” says Valpone. “You can roast kohlrabi in the oven with your favorite combination of spices and olive oil for an easy side dish.”
“Potatoes are also a good source of many vitamins and minerals, including vitamin B6, which plays an important role in cell building, athletic endurance, blood pressure, cardiovascular health, and nervous system activity,” says Malkani.
Everything you’ve ever wondered about potatoes:
7. Sourdough bread
All that bruschetta really packs a punch of nutrients, says Valpone. “Sourdough bread is a vitamin- and mineral-rich bread that’s a great source of selenium and iron. It also contains higher levels of antioxidants and folate than other bread varieties. It takes longer to digest and is a prebiotic, which helps support our gut microbiome,” she says. Drizzle a piece with olive oil, top it off with fava beans, and voila!
This wouldn’t be an Italian shopping list without tomatoes, now would it? “Tomatoes are rich in phytonutrients as well as carotenoids such as lycopene that support cardiovascular health and have been shown to lower the risk of prostate cancer in men,” says Malkani.
A dietitian’s verdict on the Mediterranean diet: