Dining Out: Italian Cuisine


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.

Healthy Finds:
  • Combine a hearty Italian soup with crusty bread and a green salad for a well-rounded meal.
  • It’s very easy to add the extra vegetables of your choice to just about any Italian dish.
  • Beans are a complex carbohydrate that can be found in many dishes.
  • Primavera dishes are prepared with fresh veggies, herbs and a touch of olive oil.
  • Insalata is a fresh garden salad, tossed with a variety of fresh veggies.
  • Minestrone Soup is a tomato-based, hearty option that’s filled with beans, veggies and pasta and only 206 calories and 5 grams of fat.
  • Look for these words:
    • Affogato (steamed or poached)
    • Marinara, pizzaida, pomodoro (tomato-based sauce)
    • Primavera (spring style, fresh veggies and herbs)
    • Fresco (fresh)
  • Scampi al vino blanco (shrimp sautéed in white wine)
  • Dishes with tomato-based sauces
  • Chicken Marsala, if made with wine and broth rather than butter or cream
  • Veal or chicken piccata
  • Chicken Cacciatore: 370 calories.
  • Chicken Risotto: 275 calories and 7g fat.
  • Pasta e fagioli (pasta, beans and tomatoes in broth): 300 calories, 8g fat.
  • Veal cutlet with peppers and tomato sauce: 488 calories.
  • Spinach Gnocchi: 300 calories, 18g fat.

The Big Tip:

Remember to eat as the Italians do—slowly. They like to take their time with their food over several courses. Not only does this make the dining experience more soothing and enjoyable, it helps you eat less and feel fuller before you finish your entire meal.
Substitution Ideas:

 Try This Skip That
 Plain espresso Cappuccino
Marinara (or tomato sauces) Alfredo (or white cream sauces)
 Break sticks Garlic bread
Italian ice Cannoli
Traditional Italian dressing Creamy Italian dressing
Hamburger Sausage
Green peppers Olives
Onions Anchovies

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Member Comments

Ah, breaking my heart here! I love Italian food. :) Report
Great article. Report
Good article. Report
Thanks for sharing! Report
thanks Report
Absolutely Report
Thanks for sharing!!! Report
Thanks for sharing Report
Thanks for sharing Report
I live in Italy and my Italian meals are much healthier! Some tips: "Alfredo" sauce is NOT Italian, no one here knows what it is! Forget it! ;) We prefer our pasta with tomato sauce (tomatoes+herbs), bolognese (with minced meat and tomatoes, cooked for a long time), with vegetables... A typical Carbonara (made with cream, pork underbelly, half an egg and parmesan cheese) is less than 600 calories, if you stick to the recipe and eat 80 grams (nearly 3 oz) of pasta, which is a normal portion for us.
Sometimes we use cream for sauces ('Panna') but usually in old-fashioned recipes and in rich preparations like lasagne or cannelloni, which are often reserved to special occasions or festive days. We never put chicken in pasta or risotto and surely we only use 'Italian dressing' (oil, vinegar, a pinch of salt or lemon) on salads.
Traditional Italian dishes are easy to prepare yourself - forget 'Italian-sounding
' restaurants, really: you can actually eat closer to the real Italian thing at home! And if you do it Italian-style, it is healthier than you might think. Report
This is a very helpful article! Report
Before Sparkpeople.com, 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. Report
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. Report
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. Report