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by DietWrite,'s Diet and Fitness News Reporter

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by Shauna Schultz Contributor and Registered Dietitian

We're traveling around the globe in search of the best and worst dishes. This time we're stopping in Italy, and the focus is on Italian food.

Italian food is arguably one of the most popular ethnic cuisines - who doesn't love sitting down to a delectable meal at their favorite Italian restaurant? And, rightly so, Italian cooking is full of healthy ingredients such as fresh fruits, veggies, herbs and lean protein. However, it can also come in gigantic portions and with tons of cheese and oil.

If you feel overwhelmed by an Italian menu, read on! We'll cover tips on navigating Italian menus for healthier fare along with the top 5 best and worst Italian dishes.

Menu Tricks:

Consult your Dining Out Guide
This handy guide offers general dining out tips along with healthy choices for 20 different cuisines! You can even print a copy to keep with you. To view healthier Italian food picks, click here. The entire Dining Out Guide can always be found under the NUTRITION tab right up there ^^ in the top navigation.

Visit the Restaurant's Website Menu.
Some restaurants also offer nutrition information. Knowing what you want before you head in the door makes it easier to stick to your healthy eating plan.

Ordering Tricks:

Avoid multiple high-fat ingredients. Things such as olive oil, olives, cheese, pine nuts and marinated items can add up! Stick with one higher fat ingredient per entrée.

Avoid big portions! Italian restaurants are notorious for serving mountains of pasta. Eyeball servings to gauge how many servings are on your plate " 1/2 cup of cooked pasta (the size of a small cupped hand) equals one servings. A typical plate of spaghetti could easily hold 3-4 cups of pasta. Split an entrée, put away half in the beginning or order a dish that comes with a side of pasta.

Stick with lean meat. Avoid dishes with sausage and ground beef to help cut calories and fat. Instead, try dishes with fish, seafood, chicken breast, veal or lean beef.

Try dishes that put beans or veggies in the spotlight. Don't worry about skimping on the flavor either - many of these dishes are packed with flavorful herbs and spices. An added bonus, all of that fiber will keep you satisfied. There is one exception " approach eggplant Parmesan with caution, it comes breaded, fried and drowned in cheese.

If offered, try a swap and choose whole-wheat pasta. Whole grain pasta has more fiber, vitamins and minerals.

Bring on the tomatoes! Tomatoes are a nutrition powerhouse and essential staple of Italian cooking. They are an excellent source of vitamins A and C as well as potassium. They also contain lycopene, a phytonutrient that helps fight cancer. Tomato sauce and paste are better sources of lycopene than fresh tomatoes!

Watch the creamy sauces. They are full of artery clogging fat due to the use of cream and butter. And, don't be fooled by the use of "light cream sauce," it doesn't mean the dish is lower in calories or fat. Stick with tomato and wine based sauces instead.

Watch the bottomless bread basket! It's oh, so easy to keep grabbing for more bread and top it off with butter or oil - those calories can add up fast. If you are hungry before your meal, try a cup of minestrone soup or a green salad!

Italian Transformations:

Bring Italy to your home and try the following Italian favorites " they're healthy, but definitely aren't lacking flavor!

Slimmed Down Fettuccine Alfredo

Very Veggie Lasagna

Baked Eggplant Parmesan

Spaghetti Bolognese

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