“Diet” from the Latin “diaeta”, in turn from the Greek “δίαιτα”(dìaita), means “way of life”. This etymological meaning places diet, our way of eating, in the much broader and more valuable chapter of lifestyle. However, we are witnessing a distortion of this authentic meaning, since the word “diet” is often combined with other words, such as “restriction”, “hunger”, which move away from dietary balance and lead to the deprivation of acceptable foods and freedom in food choices.
Nothing could be more wrong if we are clear that, in the light of the diet-health combination, just as health does not go on holiday, so does diet. It is true that aperitifs, trips out of town, days at the beach and convivial occasions are an integral part of summer days, but these events will not invalidate correct eating habits maintained during the rest of the days or moments of the eating day characterising the hottest season of the year.
We eat, in fact, even in summer and we eat mainly because we need to eat in order to live: every day it is necessary to satisfy our energy and nutrient needs through the intake of a certain amount of food, which varies from person to person, depending on various factors, including gender, age, body composition and energy expenditure.
Eating the right way is essential for our survival, but it is also necessary to consider that we introduce not only calories but also molecules into our bodies. Fats, proteins and carbohydrates are the three main sources of energy (macronutrients) in our diet. Vitamins and minerals (micronutrients), on the other hand, do not have an energy function, but are nevertheless indispensable for the activation of our organism and for the maintenance of certain substances in our body.
Eating is therefore a necessity linked to the maintenance of our bodies and state of health, as well as the pathway to prevention, i.e. the set of measures aimed at preventing the onset of diseases by acting on the reduction of risk factors, which have to do with the lifestyle of each individual. In fact, it is important to eat properly to prevent certain chronic degenerative diseases, in respect of which proper diet (and nutrition) represents a significant modifiable (environmental) risk factor. Food is able to provide our bodies with bioactive substances with healthy properties, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties for example, guaranteed by conscious food choices, also based on the quality of the products we bring to the table.
Quality and quantity are closely linked: eating too little or in an unbalanced way affects our health and the functioning of our body. When we eat too much, excess energy and therefore calories are converted into fatty tissue (fat). This is why too many calories lead to weight gain. On the contrary, when we eat properly, the body will use all its fat reserves, thus reducing weight and fat mass.
We also eat for the pleasure of it: in fact, when we ingest something particularly pleasurable, our brain releases dopamine, the molecule of reward and pleasure. The dining experience is perceived as pleasurable and remembered as pleasant, leading to a tendency to repeat it.
Feeding is also “love” and sharing from the earliest stages of life: breastfeeding, in fact, encompasses a relational exchange and conveys emotional messages as well as nutrients. Through this act, the unborn child is nourished and perceives its mother’s love, so that this first exchange between mother and child becomes a true form of communication.
The act of eating takes on social values, through which one can recognise, accept or reject the other, share with the other. And here is where the convivial meaning of food comes to the fore, together with the celebration of traditions, which are conveyed precisely through sharing at the table: during festivals, events such as weddings and birthdays, the act of eating becomes the mainstay of the meeting with others, the exchange of words, smiles and emotions among the participants.
However, let us not forget that the summer season lends itself well to giving us moments of relaxation and a break from the fast pace of everyday life like no other season: an early morning walk by the sea or in the water, which is difficult to repeat for the rest of the year, is a unique opportunity to contribute to the well-being of mind and body, while also helping to increase energy expenditure, in order to minimise or eliminate the effect of the calorie surplus that can result from eating out.
Let’s bring all the positive values of food to the table throughout the year, with the awareness that every act of eating can be a step towards a state of well-being and health even in summer!