Along the Mediterranean shores of Italy, you can find some of the healthiest food and eating habits in the world. Unfortunately, many Italian restaurants forgo their cultural heritage and instead serve up large plates of overcooked noodles drowned in butter, cheese, and cream sauces. Huge slices of pizza groan under the weight of a one-inch-thick coating of mozzarella cheese.
The first hurdle is the overflowing basket of bread the server brings to the table. As you’re being seated, ask that the bread not be brought to your table. Don’t be fooled by the “salad” designation on the antipasto, which is primarily cured meats and fatty cheeses.
And although many Italian restaurants treat pasta as a preliminary course to the main dish, you’ll be better off thinking of it as a main course.
Here are some healthy food choices you can make:
1. Consider Italian soups such as pasta fagioli or minestrone. Full of beans and vegetables, a small bowl of these soups will take the edge off your hunger in a hurry.
2. A Caesar salad is a nice way to start your meal. The anchovies used in the dressing (authentic restaurants will also lay whole fillets on the salad) are one of the best sources of healthy omega-3 fats. That said, you’ll still want to ask for the dressing on the side if only to limit the amount of calories: Some restaurants will drown the romaine.
3. Choose red pasta sauces like the red clam, marinara, and vegetable sauces over white cream sauces. White wine–and garlic-based sauces are also fine if they’re not made with too much butter. Ask how the pasta primavera is made before you order; many restaurants load it up with cream.
4. Look for piccata, cacciatore, and marsala fish, chicken, or beef dishes.
5. Choose seafood that’s been cooked in olive oil or wine broths, not the breaded and fried types.