Gluten and the Italian Diet - My Tuscan Aria

Gluten and the Italian Diet.

“Everything you see I owe to spaghetti.”
- Sophia Loren

Happy New Year! We’ve all had our fill of heavy foods throughout the holiday season and are trying to come back to our senses, but I wanted to share with you some thoughts around how to choose pasta – because you know you are going to want some soon!

The texture of pasta, pizza, focaccia….all that we love about Italian food and the ingredient that makes it all taste so good is gluten, which in recent years has been given a sinister label, like trans fats and artificial sweeteners.

Is gluten sinister? Should people who have not been diagnosed with celiac disease avoid it? Is it really healthy to cut gluten out of our diets if one has no intolerance?

When one travels to Italy, is it possible to find gluten-free food that tastes good? What brands of pasta should I buy at the grocery store?

The answers might surprise you.

I recently listened to an NPR Freakanomics episode called, “The Demonization of Gluten”. A fascinating 40 minute trip through facts about this substance that is responsible for providing that lovely elasticity.

One of the guests on the show was Dr. Alessio Fasano – he is a, and perhaps the, world’s leading expert on celiac disease which is an auto immune illness.

Interestingly, Europe and in particular, Italy – has diagnosed celiac disease since about 1979 when the Associazione Italiana Celiachia,was founded – far longer than in the US. Dr. Fasano is Chief of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition at MassGeneral Hospital. He is responsible for increasing the diagnosis rate of celiac disease in the United States.

Celiac disease is not always easy to pin down and people who are tested are at times diagnosed as gluten intolerant. In either case, a person suffering from this illness should absolutely avoid gluten.

The good news about traveling to Italy is that they take it very seriously and go to great lengths to create delicious foods without gluten. Why? Because they go to lengths to create delicious foods with gluten! It is in the Italian culture to use the best of ingredients. It is very common now in restaurants to order gluten-free anything.

Having said that, the program stressed that the current health craze over gluten, that gluten is something everybody should generally avoid is not only not true, but those who do not have celiac disease or gluten intolerance (about 98% of the population), can experience health deficits by not eating foods with gluten.

Want to know more? Listen to the program here.

The last thing I will say about pasta is that just because the label says, Made in Italy, is not a guarantee that it’s of high quality. Mass produced pastas like DeCecco and Barilla? Not bad, but I generally avoid these. The best idea is to make your own, using high quality ingredients – but most of us lack the time – so choose carefully. Pay more for high quality. Read the label. My recommendations are: Cipriani, Rustichella, Dallari.

Viva Gluten and Buon Appetito!

PS – While I sold out of the Tuscan Olive Oil pretty quickly, I have just received another small shipment of the $30 beautifully packaged Michelangelo’s Oil! This beautiful product is 100% organic olive oil, harvested in November 201 and it’s good until mid-2019!. I have a few left and then that’s it. Finito!

New York Times Best Selling Author, Ross King will be joining the Aria Tour in March 2018!

Alessandra and I have added a new tour to the Spring 2018 season: The Private and Secret Florence, Siena and Tuscany Tour. It’s a long title because it is going to be an 8-day excursion filled with literary, musical, culinary and artistic experiences that visitors normally do not experience.

Ross King has graciously accepted our invitation to join us for a day in Florence to tell us the captivating story of the most iconic image in Florence: The DOME of the Cathedral. His book, Brunelleschi’s Dome, is the quintessential book on the subject and Ross will be telling us the story at the site of where it happened 500 years ago – an event that jumpstarted the Renaissance

The Private and Secret Florence, Siena and Tuscany excursion. March 10-17th. All inclusive save airfare. Credit cards accepted.

PS: Ross has a new book out: Mad Enchantment and Monet’s Water Lilies. I am in the middle of reading it. You cannot imagine how much turmoil was going on behind the scenes of this most serene of paintings.

PSS: If March is not a good month for you to travel to Italy, consider going with me in April.

Book Clubs and Olive Oil Tastings

Thank you, Carmel Book Club ladies for inviting me to your book club. We enjoyed an Italian brunch, book questions and lots of talk about travels to Italy. Why not put a group of your book club friends and plan a trip with me? Group rates available.

What a fun afternoon at Indy’s Nestle Inn. These lucky people not only tasted Italian treats and prosecco, but walked away with a can of pure Tuscan Olive Oil and armed with knowledge on how to taste, choose and use olive oil for maximum health benefits. Since most of what’s on grocery shelves is bogus or inferior, this is worth knowing. Stay tuned for another event or two in 2018.

Wishing you a Beautiful 2018


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  1. Nancy Riley says:

    I like getting your news letters. Thank you for making them so interesting.

    • Carol Faenzi says:

      Hello, Nancy

      How very thoughtful of you to tell me. I always appreciate hearing from readers and am so pleased you like reading them. Hope your New Year is off to a good start!