Search     |     Share     |     Blog     |     My Food Diary     |     Login
Healthy eating and exercise for life

What to Eat When You’re Eating Italian

The aroma fills the air and suddenly you’re so overcome by the delightful smells around you that your mouth is watering. Not only does Italian food taste great – but it’s also good for you, right? You don’t feel badly about ordering pasta because pasta is low in fat and calories – or so you think…

Italian food can be healthful. Olive oil is full of healthy fats, pasta is naturally low in fat and calories and many dishes are tossed with vegetables – especially tomatoes, which are high in the antioxidant lycopene. However, you can get too much of a good thing. But, don’t fear, is here to help you navigate your way through the menu.

Who doesn’t love the taste of fresh Italian bread dipped in olive oil? It’s delicious and olive oil is healthy. Hang on a minute – before you go dipping away, you should know that 1 tbsp of olive oil has 100 calories. So if you indulge in the bread, watch your servings of olive oil carefully.

1 breadstick: 140 calories
2 tbsp olive oil : 200 calories
3 oz. fried calamari: 149 calories

What to order:

Skip the fried entrees and opt for a breadstick without the olive oil.

When in Rome…. Many people have visions of Italians downing wine at cafes. However, their glasses of wine are much smaller than the typical American serving. Just one glass of wine can really add on the calories.

4 oz. white wine 80 calories
4 oz. red wine 85 calories

What to order:

Opt for one small glass of red or white wine. Or, order a sparkling or carbonated water or diet soda, which contain no calories.

Main Entrees
When you are ready to order, think two things – small servings and red (as in marinara). First, although pasta is healthy and typically low in fat and calories, the serving sizes given at most restaurants are three to four times the standard serving size (and sometimes more). So, opt for an appetizer portion or split an entrée with your companion. Or take half home for the next day. Stay away from the cream sauces, which have more fat and calories and opt for the marinara sauces, which are tomato based.

Lasagna: 430-740 calories
Fettuccine Alfredo: 400-800 calories
Chicken Parmesan: 460-590 calories
Spaghetti (tomato sauce): 420 calories

What to order:

Order the plain spaghetti (forego the meatballs). Or, order a small portion of lasagna (forget the extra cheese and meat – go vegetarian).

You may be offered another plate of pasta to go along with your side. However, to increase your vegetable consumption, opt for a salad instead. But beware – not all salads are created equal.

Caesar Salad: 235-370 calories
Garden Salad
(with light dressing)
150 calories

What to order:

Order a garden salad (think all veggie) and opt for a light dressing on the side.

Here’s just one example of how you can make lighter choices (and how those choices can really make a difference) at your favorite Italian restaurant:

“Lighter” Version Full Calorie Version
1 breadstick: 140 calories 1 breadstick
(and olive oil):
340 calories
4 oz. red wine: 85 calories 8 oz of red wine.: 170 calories
(small size)
420 calories Fettuccine Alfredo:
(large size)
700 calories
Garden Salad: 150 calories Caesar Salad: 300 calories
Total: 805 calories   1510 calories

You can dine out when trying to lose weight and you can order healthier selections. Some restaurants offer nutrition information, so ask your server or look it up online to see if it is available. Remember, stay away from fried foods and extra sides of pastas – it just isn’t necessary. Stick to the salad and your entrée. And, keep in mind that most portions are very large – so order an appetizer portion, split an entrée or take at least half home for another time.

Mange Bene (Good Eating)!