Nutrition Articles

Dining Out: Italian Cuisine

Restaurant-Specific Strategies

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These simple menu items have lots of flavor. Portions in the U.S. are often double those served overseas. Many dishes are very high in fat and calories, so diligence is a must.
Common Ingredients:

Entrees are often dripping with cheese and heavy with meat. A variety of pastas, breads and tomato-based and creamy sauces dominate the menu. Olive oil is used in many lighter Southern Italian dishes, while Northern Italian cooking often features more butter.
Hidden Dangers:
  • Antipasto is generally a collection of cheeses, smoked meats like salami, olives and marinated veggies, so it can be very fattening.
  • Avoid ordering “extra” pizza ingredients from the following list: extra anchovies, sausage, pepperoni or cheese.
  • Pass up dishes with a lot of high-fat cheese, such as lasagna, veal parmigiana and cannelloni.
  • Pesto and antipasto can be very oily.
  • Sauces should be used sparingly, as they can be high in sodium and potassium, which could cause problems for kidney, liver and heart patients.
  • Olive oil, though a good source of healthy fats, is high in calories; watch your portions when dipping bread or choosing dishes that contain this oil.
  • Stuffed Mushrooms sound healthy, but usually contains cheese, sausage and cream
  • Bruschetta may seem healthier if loaded with tomatoes, but 1 piece can carry 240 calories and 20 grams of fat.
  • Watch for these words:
    • Alla Crema (with cream)
    • Alfredo (cream sauce)
    • Fritto (fried)
    • Parmigiana (breaded and fried)
    • Scampi (drenched in garlic olive oil or butter)
    • Panfried
    • Crispy
  • Tortellini (20 pieces): 530 calories and 20g fat.
  • Chicken Parmigiana: 1,000 calories.
  • Fried Calamari: 1,077 calories, 53g fat.
  • Meat Lasagna: 625 calories, 37g fat.
  • Pasta Carbonara: 1,200 calories, 60g fat.
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Member Comments

  • This is a very helpful article! - 3/1/2013 10:43:01 PM
    Before, I couldn't have done this: I ordered a lemon pepper grilled chicken marinara on fettucini, topped with hand grated parmesan, and the calorie count was ok if you were serving 4. When it came, the serving could serve 4. I divided it into 4, and had a portion that was right for me. Took the rest home and we had dinner and then another plate for my husband when I had a meeting. - 3/27/2011 2:56:19 PM
  • Just happened to read this again and I'm still wondering about the 20 cheese tortellini having 530 calories. I'm not sure which tortellini Spark people is using to get that calorie count. While cheese tortellini is not one of the better choices when watching one's weight, I don't believe 20 pieces have 530 calories. - 3/27/2010 7:33:37 AM
  • Interesting, but as with all food, there are differences in preparations of the same exact dish. For example, the tortellini calorie count for 20 pieces is prepared how? Again, in marinara it's fine but alfredo will add more fat. And by the way, Marsala should NOT contain cream. - 3/27/2009 12:48:45 PM
  • My husband I and I have dinner plans with friends and this article was a real help! We are saying "goodbye" to our old ways of ordering cream sauces and eating baskets of bread at our favorite restaurant. - 2/14/2009 1:15:32 PM
    This article was a life saver, have to go to lunch with business and I was worried since the place we are going has a small menu and i didn't want to draw attention to myself as a dieter by ordering a small salad. - 11/5/2008 9:52:53 AM
  • I got hungry reading the list of Italian foods that were BAD. Think SMALL PORTIONS. - 7/15/2008 3:43:10 AM

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