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Healthy Italian Food Options: Quick Guide

Below is a continuation of the healthy eating article series from Christy Maskeroni, who is a Registered Dietitian and Personal Trainer in NYC.

When I say “Italian Food” what pops into your mind? Pasta, bread, rich and creamy dishes, you say?  True.  But, there is also seafood, chicken, and olive oil.  Actually, if you can dodge those heavy, loaded dishes on the menu, you may find Italian one of the easier fare to make healthy when eating out.

Below are a few ways to keep the delicious Italian Cuisine a part of your healthier and lower-calorie lifestyle.

Healthy Italian Food Option Strategies:

Healthy Italian Food Comparison

Here is a way to make the night out a well-deserved healthy one.

Instead of… Choose…
Fried Calamari (Fritti Calamari)
Average large serving = 860 calories
Grilled Calamari
Average large serving = 295 calories
Caprese Salad
Average large serving = 480 calories
Mixed Greens Salad
Average large serving = 80 calories
Chicken Parmesan
Average large serving = 940 calories
Grilled Chicken Spiedini (grilled chicken, roasted veggies, lemon olive oil)
Average large serving = 490 calories
Fettuccini Alfredo with Shrimp
Average large serving = 1110 calories
Spaghetti with Pomodoro Sauce
Average large serving = 530 calories
Lasagna Bolognese
Average large serving = 720 calories
Spaghetti with Meatballs SIDE Dish
Average serving 437calories
Tiramisu
Average large serving = 1120 calories
Nonfat Cappuccino 12 ounces = 80 calories

** calorie content will vary from place to place
Resources:  www.macaronigrill.com; www.calorieking.com; www.myfitnesspal.com

Healthy Italian Food Meal Example

For a little perspective, here is of what a MODERATELY portioned meal might look like from each of the menus:

High Calorie Meal Low Calorie Meal
½ Bottle of wine 1 glass of wine
½ Fried Calamari Appetizer ½ Grilled Calamari Appetizer
2 Slices of Bread with Olive Oil No Bread
Fettuccini Alfredo with Shrimp Spaghetti and Meatball Side Dish
Tiramisu Nonfat Cappuccino
3080 calories 794 calories

The calories on the left hand side are absolutely ridiculous – this is more than most individuals calorie needs for an entire day! Crazy, right?!  The healthier version on the right side may still be a little more than necessary but a HUGE difference to its comparison.  To decrease calories even more, decide between wine and cappuccino OR opt out of the appetizer or have small salad instead.

Christy Maskeroni MS, RD is the Director of Nutrition and Master Coach Trainer at CLAY Health Club & Spa in New York City.  She has spent the last several years developing customized nutrition and fitness programs for clients interested in reaching a new height of health and wellness.  www.insideclay.com

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6 Comments

  • Tom says:

    This was an excellent article. Italian food is one of the best. The good thing is there are choices in Italian cooking. Christy is right. Look for those alternatives and you will find them. It may save your life. To your health!!

  • Hank says:

    This article makes a lot of sense. I have to have pasta. I see that a side dish will do the trick and grilling saves calories. Very helpful article.

  • gren says:

    Hey Marc

    I love pasta and usually have it every Friday night with the wife. Nothing too fancy- spaghetti, 3-4 meatballs, homemade tomato sauce, garlic, capers and black olives (didn't mean to get too into the details, but thought that would help you).

    Anyways, the stores usually stock up different kinds of pasta - those made out of semolina and whole-wheat.

    I usually buy the ones made out of semolina coz they taste good and presentation-wise, it looks like spaghetti.

    The whole-wheat variety is kinda off-putting - dark brown (don't know the taste though).

    What's your take - semolina or whole-wheat? Which would be more healthy?

    FYI, I don't have a huge helping of spaghetti.

    Thanks

    • Marc Perry says:

      @gren - I will certainly let Christy chime in if she like, but here's a pretty good explanation to your question:

      "The nutritional quality of a pasta, and often its taste and texture, depend upon the flour. Those made with whole grain flours, such as whole wheat pasta, are naturally the most nutrient-rich because the bran and germ of the grain have been left in. Most pasta is made with durum wheat, a hard wheat high in protein and gluten, which makes a dough that sticks together well and holds its shape, a feature so important to pasta makers. Most of the familiar dried pastas are made with semolina or farina, or a combination of the two. In these flours, the germ and bran have been removed, and the fiber and nutritional values are lower. Semolina is made from durum wheat and may have more protein than farina, which is made from a softer wheat. So, as with all foods, look at the label." Source: http://www.askdrsears.com/topics/family-nutrition/pasta

  • Jasper Whiteside says:

    All things have their place in the food triangle. I agree with the article that it is important to keep track of the quantity of those foods that you eat. If you have had enough dairy for the day, it might be a good idea to choose a dish that doesn't have it. Thankfully, Italian food is versatile in its options.

    • Kristin says:

      It's true - Italian food offer more than just pizza and pasta. I had some amazing food while traveling in Italy a couple years ago. Amazing fish dishes and delicious vegetables were just a couple of the great options. Thanks for sharing!
      -Kristin, BuiltLean Coach & Managing Editor