Monday, September 04, 2006

Living la dolce vita
Italy v Britain - how the two countries shape up

While the British famously love their fish and chips, pasties and chicken tikka masala, the Italians eat the now-famous Mediterranean diet. This involves a lot of fresh fish, fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts, seeds and olive oil, and there is mounting evidence that such a diet can significantly prolong life and reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer. You may have read stories about McDonald's culture reaching Italy, but the fact remains that they eat better than we do.

Regardless of the seemingly endless health warnings, and then the endless stories about the benefits, there's no prising Italians away from their coffee. Millions of Italians rely on a morning espresso. Because of the way it is made and its concentration, an espresso is thought to contain two to three times the number of healthy antioxidants of coffee made by other brewing methods. Here, we're pretty keen on coffee too, but 85% of the stuff we drink is instant, which is not only, arguably, disgusting, but contains few of the alleged health benefits associated with an Italian espresso.

The Italians have a reputation as great smokers, but in fact there are just as many Brits who smoke, with one in four British adults regularly lighting up. And the Italians have gone further down the legislation road than we have. Last year, the Italian government banned smoking in all enclosed public places, and cigarette sales fell by 10%.

We binge drink; the Italians rarely drink to get drunk. They consume around six times more wine than Brits, but usually with food. A moderate amount of red wine is believed to lower the risk of heart attack and reduce the cholesterol.

Italians appear to be almost as exercise-shy as the Brits. In both countries, more than a third of people do not participate in any sporting activities. But there are differences, which may be crucial ones: in Italy, 28% of journeys are made on foot compared with a woeful 12% here. And then there's the fact that Italians famously take a walk, a passeggiata, after dinner, at about the time most British people are settling down to watch some telly.

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