5 Tips for Eating Healthy in an Italian Restaurant

Love Italian food but hate the calories? Restaurant Italian food is particularly high in calories and fat. The good news? You can still enjoy an evening at an Italian restaurant without adding inches to your waistline. Here's how.Eating a healthy meal outside your home can be a challenge, but it’s especially difficult when you’re heading out to an Italian restaurant for a dinner date. A quick glance at the nutritional data for some of the more popular Italian chain restaurants will show you that most Italian food isn’t low in calories. When you get to the restaurant, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the smells and sight of huge plates of piping hot pasta on the tables of hungry patrons. It’s all too easy to let down your guard and eat less healthy than you planned. Here’s how to keep your cravings in check, and eat healthy at an Italian restaurant.

Avoid Cream Sauces and Heavy Cheese

A plate of fettuccine Alfredo may sound tempting, but the heavy cream and cheese in the sauce can add more than 40 grams of fat to your entrée, most of it unhealthy, saturated fat. Don’t be tempted by the cheese ravioli, manicotti or cheese ziti either. Most of these dishes are high in fat and have calorie counts of 1,000 or more when prepared restaurant-style. Look for entrees based prepared with marinara sauce instead. Some of these may still contain sugar, but calorie counts, as a generalization, will be lower. If you crave the taste of cheese, sprinkle your entrée with Parmesan cheese instead.

Skip the Pasta Entirely

Many Italian restaurant chains offer entrees that don’t have pasta. Look for offerings like grilled salmon or grilled chicken breast, and ask for the sauce on the side so you control the amount. Replace the pasta or potato that comes with your entrée with a double serving of vegetables. Steamed or lightly sautéed broccoli is a good choice, and many Italian restaurants offer it.

If You Must Have Pasta, Choose Whole Wheat

Whole wheat pasta has more fiber, which will fill you up faster and not raise your blood sugar and insulin levels as much. If you don’t see it on the menu, ask for it. You can also reduce the blood sugar response from eating pasta by asking the chef to cook it “al dente,” which simply means the pasta is firmer.

Soup or Salad but No Bread

Start the meal with a cup of minestrone soup. It’s usually reasonably low in calories and will ease your hunger before you dig into the main course. Munching on a salad with vinaigrette dressing or flavored with a little lemon juice is another way to suppress your appetite before the main course comes. Hold the croutons and cheese. One pre-meal temptation to avoid is the bread basket. Italian bread isn’t particularly high in calories, but it’s low on nutrition – and who eats it plain? The calories in the butter add up fast. Ask the waiter to hold the bread basket.

Don’t Be Afraid to Leave with a Take-Home Container

Italian restaurants want you to leave full and satisfied, and portion sizes are usually grossly distorted as a result. Play it safe by asking the waiter to box up half of your entrée to go before delivering your meal. That way you can “clean your plate” and not feel guilty or have “overeater’s remorse.”

Other Tips

Watch the salt content of restaurant Italian food. It’s not unusual for an entree to pack a day’s worth of sodium. Don’t add to the damage by using the salt shaker, and ask the chef to lighten up on the salt when they prepare your food. Don’t ask for the dessert menu, and close your eyes if a dessert tray passes you. If you have a sweet tooth, order a cappuccino instead. You’ll save several hundred calories.

The Bottom Line?

It’s fun to dine in an Italian restaurant, but it’s not always healthy. Use these tips to limit the damage and enjoy a night out without doing the dishes – or undoing your clean eating plan.


Related Articles By Cathe:

Dieting Around the World: Making Italian Cuisine Healthful & Delicious

Pastas Make You Fat – or Do They?

5 Things to Do When Your Eating Habits Get Off Track


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