Healthier Dining Out: Italian

by in Dining Out, March 5, 2009


Pasta and bread, melted cheese, and cream-filled pastries… Though delicious sounding, these typical components in an Italian meal can mean a calorie overload. Here are some sure-fire tips to keep on track when eating out Italian-style.

Lengthy Menus
Pages of options can lead to impulse choices that might not always be best for your waistline. Whenever possible, check out the menu online ahead of time so you can scour it for healthier options. Can’t find your restaurant’s menu? Try or call ahead and see if they can fax or email you one.

Start Smart
Choose one slice of bread or, better still, a small breadstick. Pass on the butter and oil — olive oil has heart-healthy fat but has 120 calories per tablespoon. Save those calories for later in the meal. Alcohol has calories too, so skip the pre-meal cocktail and enjoy one glass of wine with the main course. Instead of fried appetizers or platters with salty meats and cheese, opt for a salad (dressing on the side) or a small cup of soup such as the classic minestrone.

Pasta Dishes and Cheese Overload
Pasta can be “healthy eats” but portions are key. One cup of cooked pasta has about 200 calories and many American Italian restaurants will give you quadruple that amount on your plate — and then load it up with oil and sauces. Baked and fried dishes (think Chicken Parmesan) tally up to 1500 calories and two days worth of saturated fat! If you opt for pasta, section off a small portion to eat and take the rest home as leftovers — that’s both budget- and calorie-friendly.

Choosing the Main Course
All is not lost for you Italian food lovers. Enjoy main dishes that feature fish, beans or vegetables and that offer a small portion of pasta on the side (a traditional way to serve pasta — we Americans like to make it the star of the meal). Grilled poultry and fish are lower fat choices than red meat or sausage, and tomato or Marsala sauces are better than Alfredo and other creamy sauces.

What About Dessert?
Your best bet is a small cookie, biscotti or some fruit sorbet (sorbet is dairy-free and often contains only fruit and sugar). Go for small-portioned desserts to allow yourself something to satisfy your sweet tooth while keeping the calories in check.

Find out more about how the Italians keep slim.

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