Your Guide to Healthy Italian Food

To many Americans, an Italian meal means a heaping plate of lasagna, manicotti, or some other pasta, or a large pepperoni pizza and not much else To many Italians, it means starting the meal with a soup or salad, then having an appetizer-sized portion of pasta, followed by grilled, baked, or roasted chicken, meat, or seafood accompanied by lots of vegetables. You may be wondering whether you can still dine on Italian food while following the South Beach Diet. With a few modifications, you can continue to enjoy many of your Italian favorites. Whether you’re dining out or cooking at home, here are some healthy tips to help you stay on track: Buon appetito!

  1. Stick to healthy appetizers.
    When dining out… Avoid the bread basket. Garlic bread, white rolls, and breadsticks are off-limits on all Phases. Other foods to avoid are salami, pepperoni, and other fatty meats and the high-fat cheeses that are often served as part of an antipasto. Fried calamari and other fried appetizers are also no-nos. Instead, choose minestrone or straciatella soup or some steamed mussels or grilled calamari.
    When at home… If you must have bread, serve whole-grain bread with a little extra-virgin olive oil for dipping on Phase 2. Better yet, start with a vegetable or bean-based soup. Another healthy appetizer? Try a caprese salad made with reduced-fat mozzarella, sliced vine-ripened tomatoes, and fresh basil drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette.

     

  2. Enjoy a mixed green salad.
    When dining out… Ask for a house salad with extra veggies and request salad dressing on the side for dipping (be sure to stick to 2 tablespoons). Salad is a great filler before your main dish arrives. If you prefer a classic Caesar salad, skip the croutons and, again, request the dressing on the side.
    When at home… Start off your meal with mixed greens, such as arugula, endive, escarole, mesclun, and/or spinach. Prepare a lemon or balsamic vinaigrette, using extra-virgin olive oil, fresh lemon juice or balsamic vinegar, minced garlic, and fresh or dried herbs of your choice. Grate Parmesan cheese over the salad for added flavor, and sprinkle with some chopped walnuts, slivered almonds, toasted pine nuts, or sunflower seeds.

     

  3. Go for whole-wheat pasta.
    When dining out… Stick with 1/2 cup of whole-wheat pasta starting on Phase 2. Be sure to avoid cream-based sauces like Alfredo or Carbonara. Choose pasta dishes that have tomato- or seafood-based sauces (no cream!) instead.
    When at home… Prepare whole-wheat pasta and top it with sautéed veggies, fresh tomatoes, and lean sautéed ground beef or turkey. Or simply toss the pasta with a little extra-virgin olive oil, freshly grated Parmesan or Asiago cheese, fresh basil, and freshly ground black pepper.

     

  4. Choose a lean meat, poultry, or seafood dish as a main course.
    When dining out… Avoid Parmigiana and Milanese dishes, which are typically breaded and fried. Instead, choose grilled or roasted meat or poultry dishes with simple sauces made with lemon (piccata), tomato, or white wine. Fish and shellfish are nearly always healthy choices as long as the fish isn't fried.
    When at home… Grill, bake, or roast meat, fish, or poultry for a healthy Italian dinner. Lobster, clams, and mussels are also excellent options.

     

  5. Pair your main course with grilled, roasted, or sautéed vegetables.
    When dining out… Avoid all fried or breaded side dishes, including fried zucchini. Skip the starchy sides like white potatoes and white rice and ask for a double serving of fresh vegetables instead.
    When at home… Roast or grill eggplant and bell peppers or serve sautéed broccoli rabe or spinach with garlic and extra-virgin olive oil.

     

  6. Go for a healthy dessert.
    When dining out… Skip the rich and decadent traditional Italian sweets like tiramisu, cannolis, and full-fat cheesecake. Instead, choose fresh fruit on Phase 2 as a healthy dessert.
    When at home… You can enjoy a homemade crustless ricotta cheesecake, using part-skim ricotta cheese, lemon zest, lemon juice, sugar substitute, eggs, and vanilla or almond extract on all Phases.

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