However, Italian food is also known for its heavy pasta and cream based dishes which are definitely not helpful for staying healthy and fit. As with any restaurant, it is all about making the right choices and choosing the dishes that will fuel your body and not work against you.
Here is how to order healthy at an Italian restaurant:
- Minestrone soup - This soup is broth based with lots of vegetables, and tends to pack a ton of flavor with not a lot of calories. Soup is great to start with because the liquid will fill up space in your stomach, meaning less chance of overeating later.
- Charcuterie - This is a mix of different meats which makes this a high protein and high fat appetizer and will make you feel satisfied and help to fill you up a bit before the main course.
- Antipasto - This is a mix of meats, cheese, vegetables, and olive oil, and is a great high protein and high fat starter.
- Carpaccio - Another high protein, high fat appetizer, this consists of thin slices of raw fish with olive oil.
- Roasted vegetables - Super fresh vegetables are a staple of Italian food, starting with vegetables will give you some fiber to fill you up a bit before the main course.
- Caprese salad - This salad is traditionally composed of tomatoes, basil and mozzarella which is great high fat starter. Eating high fat to start will prevent you from overeating at the main dish. Note: If dairy tends to upset your stomach, you should probably skip the mozzarella because this type of cheese is typically harder to digest due to the higher lactose content.
- Grilled calamari - Aka squid, calamari is a another great protein choice, just make sure to get grilled and not fried or crusted.
Pasta Main Course
Choose pasta only if you are if you are looking for a high carb meal, such as after heavy exercise or a carb-refeed day. Otherwise, pasta in general is not a good choice for your waist-line.
- Pasta primavera - This dish is made with lots of vegetables and the sauce is usually olive oil based with tomato.
- Spaghetti with pesto - If you are really craving a fatty pasta with more of flavor profile than just plain olive oil, get it with pesto rather than cream. Pesto is made with basil, garlic, olive oil and pine nuts, and is much better for you than heavy cream based sauces such as with Alfredo.
Low Carb Main Course
- Pollo alla Diavola - This is typically roasted chicken with vegetables, olive oil, and herbs - can't get much healthier than that! Just ask to make sure it is not battered or crusted
- Soup and salad - When in doubt, go for a soup and salad from the appetizer menu. The soup will fill you up along with the fiber from the salad. Add protein to the salad and use olive oil as the salad dressing - most Italian restaurants should have great olive oil.
- Fish - There will likely be salmon or Branzino on the menu, any grilled or baked fish with a side of vegetables is a perfect order.
- Red wine - Go for dry red wine (dry means low in sugar) such as Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot.
- Dry white wine - This is great with light meals such as salad or fish. Order a dry white wine such as Sauvignon Blanc .
- Scotch or whiskey on the rocks - If you are not a wine drinker, go for one of these which tend to pair well with heavier meals and will be low in calories when served on the rocks or water.
About the author: Sarah-Kate Rems is an Ivy-league trained Board-Certified Family Nurse Practitioner licensed in California and New York State with an expertise in preventative healthcare. She considers nutrition and exercise to be the basis of well-being and is a strong advocate for daily physical activity and maintaining a healthy diet. Sarah-Kate is also a co-founder of The Mindful Tech Lab