Delicious, light and healthy

The Nutritionist


Appetizing and well-balanced, mortadella can be included in a balanced diet. We have discussed it with Giorgio Donegani, expert in Nutrition and Scientific Director of the Italian Association for Food Education. We asked him 5 questions.

  • How do we have to interpret the widespread alarm and concern on meat consumption?
    The update of the list publication of IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer) has raised several concerns on the consumption of red meat and consequently, of cured meat. The latter have always occupied an important place in the Italian gastronomic tradition, as well as offering highly nutritional qualities. More precisely however, the risk referred to by IARC – and reported in the media in an approximate manner – is referred to an excessive and continuative consumption. This information was already known. Food-based dietary guidelines have always recommended to limit the consumption of red meat and cured meat. People should adopt a healthy diet rich in fruit, vegetables, whole grains and legumes, but with little salt and alcohol. Moreover, the production of cured meat in recent years has undergone an important transformation, that focusses more attention on consumer health and wellness.
  • Can we consider mortadella suitable for a balanced diet?
    From the nutritional point of view, we have to consider also the desirability of food. Differently from other traditional Italian cured meat, mortadella delights our palates, can be easily chewed and has a subtle flavour. Even if it should be consumed with moderation, it can be easily included in a healthy diet. Mortadella is an excellent source of proteins and the fat content is compatible with a balanced diet.
    We must also highlight, that even if fats have been demonized for years, they are fundamental in a healthy diet. Recent LARN publications– reference values for the Italian population – elaborated by SINU (Italian Society for Human Nutrition) suggest to consume fats according to a “range” that, depending on the age, varies from 25 to 35% of the total calories consumed during the day. Even saturated fats are useful, up to 10% of the food calories assimilated.
  • The revision of the cured meat nutritional tables elaborated by INRAN-CRA NUT (The National Research Institute for Food and Nutrition) highlights an important improvement of the nutritional profile of these gastronomic specialities. What has changed?
    The fat composition of mortadella reflects perfectly the change in the life-stock breeding sector. Pigs used to eat everything in the past and consequently the animal diet was excessive. This method has been abandoned thanks to the use of animal feeds, rich in polyunsaturated fats. Hence today pork fat appears to be more favourable, compared with bovine fat.
  • Have we witnessed improvements also in the salt content? Salt has always represented a problematic ingredient in diets and if consumed excessively, increases the risk of developing hypertension and other cardiovascular disorders.
    Thanks to the “mild technology”, the cured meat industry has been able to reduce the quantity of salt added. This reduction has been possible thanks to the improvement of the processing hygiene and of the cold chain. The solutions adopted reduce to the minimum the microbial level in the food, permitting a drastic reduction of the salt added. This represents a significant step head, that in the case of mortadella meets particularly favourable conditions. Mortadella is a cured-cooked meat and thus needs less salt compared with cured-raw products.
  • Can mortadella be considered lighter compared with cured-raw meat?
    Differently from cured-raw meat, mortadella results to be lighter, as it is very easy to digest thanks to its cooking that supports digestive processes. Cooking of the meat denatures the protein structure and so eases the digestive enzymes’ function. Exactly the same procedure, generally occurring with the cooking of meat or egg white– at the right point, without exceeding, –that makes them easier to digest, compared with the raw products.
    Another advantage of cooking is the sanification of the toxoplasmosis germ. Pregnant women do not consequently have to deprive themselves of this delicious cured meat.

“Simple good sense should always be the starting point of food diets. Similar to other food, mortadella has a nutritional value that can be enhanced with different combinations. An excessive intake should be avoided, especially in high-protein diets, typical of some population groups. Having said this, mortadella is perfect as a second course. Combined with bread, possibly whole wheat, and vegetables, able to stimulate bile salts and thus easing digestion, makes it’s a healthy and balanced lunch”.

Giorgio Donegani
Scientific Director of the Italian Association for Food Education