With more than 2,700 acres of green spaces, magnificent architecture, rich culture and fascinating history, it’s no wonder why Rome is a truly enticing destination for expats. Famous for its gastronomical delights, it offers plenty of healthy and delicious food options for expats to test and help them to maintain a healthy and balanced diet while living there.
When you think of Italian cuisine, your mind may initially flicker to delicious images of pizza and pasta, but there are plenty of other, healthier options to be found in the glorious city of Rome. At winter, for example, “common dishes include soup with pasta and legumes, like chickpeas or beans, perfect for vegetarians and vegans, and a great nutritious meal filled with proteins” says Chiara Marocco, Nutritionist for Doctors in Italy.
In the warmer months, however, soups are substituted with cold dishes. Pasta, a well-loved Italian staple food, is often served cold, like the traditional Roman “pasta alla checca with fresh tomato, mozzarella and basil leaves, perfect as a main course and ideal for vegetarians. A great alternative, loved by kids and gluten free, is oven baked tomatoes filled with rice, served with baked potatoes” continues Marocco.
When exploring the stunning city in the sweltering summer months, it can be wise to stop every now and then for a refreshing light snack. You could grab a gratta checcaro (grinded ice with fruit) from a local kiosk or bar. This cold dessert originated from Rome is a popular and healthy light option. Another place to find summer-time favourites according to Marocco, "is the cocomeraro, selling fresh fruit cut into portions, usually watermelon, cantaloupe and other delicious summer fruits, rich in water and minerals”. This light snack is perfect for a summer pick-me-up while strolling around in awe of the many historical sights Rome has to offer.
If you’re a meat-lover, you may enjoy the authentic Roman dish, coda alla vaccinara, an oxtail and tripe stew made with the leanest parts of the meat, and cooked in a tomato and celery sauce. “Tripe is a very light meal in terms of calories, and in its Roman version, with tomato and mint with pecorino cheese, it’s a very good option for a substantial meal without many calories” says Marocco.
Those who prefer fish should also try the “endive and anchovies savoury pie, rich in omega 3 - the good fats - and low in calories” adds Marocco. Vegetarians and veggie lovers may be happy to notice that artichokes are the king of the table during their season, and can be prepared in many different ways, like alla romana with a bit of oil, mint and garlic, or cooked with fava beans, peas and lettuce.
While some of these may not be the healthiest option, it’s almost impossible to live in Rome without trying some of the local favourites. Introducing, her majesty the carbonara – a savoury and creamy pasta dish with egg, pecorino, black pepper and jowl bacon. “Pay attention to imitations, if there is cream in it, it’s not carbonara!” warns Marocco. Another landmark dish in Rome, and very hard to find elsewhere in Italy, is pasta cacio e pepe, a spaghetti dish made with melted cheese and mixed with black pepper – an absolute must try.
When it comes to starters, Rome knows how to impress with their pan-fried entrees. From supplì, a delicious croquette made of rice and filled with mozzarella cheese, to baccalà the salted codfish fillet. Street food is also a temptation not to be resisted. A common find in Rome is the pizza al taglio, a flat pizza cut in squares with all manner of toppings. You’ll find it everywhere and at all times and it will always be hard to resist, but as long as you avoid over-indulging in these delicious treats, you’ll easily maintain a healthy and balanced diet.
The great city of Rome offers more than 2,700 acres of green areas to take advantage of, and 20% of those spaces are historical heritage sites, rich with ancient beauty. Marocco adds that because “Rome is built on seven hills, many of these historic locations offer countless stairs and hills which are perfect for toning thighs and glutes”. Many city parks where you’ll find running routes, and outdoor exercise facilities, originate from the country estate of noble Roman families and are named after them.
One such place is Villa Borghese, which the most central and famous park in Rome, named after the Borghese family. Situated near the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, and Piazza del Popolo, the park attracts both runners seeking a scenic route, and tourists looking to take in the city’s rich history. In the spring and summer seasons, you’ll also find fitness classes and groups including Yoga, Tai Chi and Qi Gong courses.
Another park where you’ll find plenty of exercise opportunities is Villa Doria Pamphilj, the city’s largest public park, spanning approximately 454 acres. A haven for runners, this Villa offers a variety of running routes including hilly inclines, adding intensity to your run. Guided bicycle tours and trekking groups are available during spring and summer, a great way to explore the vast landscape of the park.
While these are only a chosen few, there are many other parks and Villas that are sprinkled throughout the city, so no matter where you live, it’s always easy to find an area close to you. After all, it is truly a wonderful way to workout surrounded by nature, fountains and statues that characterise so many of Rome’s beautiful areas of green.
Taking care of your health when moving to a new country is an essential part of ensuring you maintain a healthy and happy lifestyle, which is why keeping well-informed about the country’s healthcare system is important. Italy’s national health service, known as Servizio Sanitario Nationale (SSN) offers low-cost or free healthcare to citizens and residents. “Italian law recognizes health as a fundamental right and anyone present in Italy is entitled to a form of healthcare. Expats in Rome can register with the national health service which allows them to access primary care at very low fees, with many services free of charge” says Francesco-Maria Serino, medical director of Doctors in Italy.
Like many healthcare systems across the globe, Italy’s health service does come with its downsides.
Serino adds that expats may experience language barriers: “when choosing your family doctor, there is no way to know in advance if he or she speaks English. You may find that some Italian doctors do not speak English fluently and find it hard to understand spoken English”. There are however, private healthcare options you could look into, and associations available where you can find English-speaking doctors. “Waiting times can also be an issue” says Serino, which is why it may be worth looking into global health insurance options to avoid long waiting times and ensure you can access high-quality facilities and services.
Whether it’s through accessing high quality healthcare, taking advantage of the city’s beautiful green spaces, or sampling Rome’s delicious cuisine, there are many ways expats can maintain a healthy and happy lifestyle while living in Rome. Be sure to wander through the historic streets and sample all the delightful delicacies Rome has to offer to truly experience and immerse yourself in the city’s culture. Besides, enjoying Roman sweets and treats in moderation is all a part of keeping a balanced diet!