To many Americans, Italian food means a heaping plate of lasagna, manicotti, or some other pasta, or a large pepperoni pizza. To Italians, Italian food means starting the meal with a big soup or salad, then having a small appetizer portion of pasta, followed by grilled, baked, or roasted chicken, meat, or seafood with lots of vegetables as accompaniments. You may be wondering whether you can still dine on Italian food while following the South Beach Diet. With a few healthy alterations, you can continue to enjoy many of your Italian favorites. Whether you’re dining out at an Italian restaurant or prefer to prepare a classic Italian meal at home, here are some healthy tips to help you stay on track:
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 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… Serve whole-grain bread with a little extra-virgin olive oil for dipping on Phase 2. Or start with a vegetable soup, or a fresh green salad. Another healthy appetizer? Try a caprese salad with reduced-fat mozzarella, sliced vine-ripened tomatoes, and fresh basil drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette.
a mixed green salad.
When dining out…Ask for a basic house salad with extra veggies and request salad dressing on the side (be sure to stick to 2 tablespoons). If you prefer a classic Caesar salad, skip the croutons and, again, request the dressing on the side for dipping.
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 a few walnuts, slivered almonds, toasted pine nuts, or sunflower seeds.
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. Choose pasta dishes that have tomato- or seafood-based sauces instead.
When at home… Prepare homemade pasta using whole-wheat flour instead of white flour, or purchase 100 percent whole-wheat pasta at the grocery store. Instead of high-fat cheese or butter sauces, make top your pasta with sautéed veggies, fresh tomatoes, and lean ground beef or turkey. Or enjoy a simpler dish, tossing the pasta with a little olive oil, freshly grated Parmesam or Asiago, fresh basil, and freshly ground black pepper.
lean meat, poultry, or seafood dish as a main course.
When dining out… Be sure to avoid Parmigiana and Milanese dishes, as they are typically breaded and fried. Veal, which is commonly served in Italian restaurants, can be enjoyed on all Phases, but be sure to choose veal chop, cutlet, leg, or top round, rather than veal breast, which is a fattier cut.
When at home… Choose a lean meat such as sirloin, white meat poultry, or seafood like snapper or shrimp for the main course, and top it with a piccata, tomato, or white-wine sauce. Grill, bake, or roast for a healthy Italian dinner.
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 and ask for a double serving of fresh vegetables instead.
When at home… Roast or grill eggplant and peppers or serve sautéed broccoli rabe or spinach with garlic and extra-virgin olive oil.
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… Enjoy a homemade ricotta cheesecake, using part-skim ricotta cheese, lemon zest, lemon juice, sugar substitute, eggs, and vanilla or almond extract.