Coming from a big Italian family, I know how big a role food plays during the holidays and traditional family gatherings. There's something comforting about the essence and togetherness of Italian food. However, this comfort tends to be served with a side of cheese, sauce, and pasta—foods that don't allow for a healthy boost of energy.
Luckily, there are many healthy options at Italian restaurants that pair well with sauce and cheese. (See also An Authentic Italian Diet for Athletes.) Here are my tips for healthy Italian eating.
What to Start With
Some of my favorite Italian appetizers are muscles and scallops, which are full of protein and low in fat. Be mindful of fried calamari and mozzarella sticks, as they contain protein but are also breaded and fried. With any restaurant, try to have a snack prior to going out to eat so you are not tempted to fill up on appetizers and bread.
Aim for Healthy Greens
To lower saturated fat, choose the house salad with vegetables and vinaigrette dressing rather than the Caesar salad with creamy dressing. Another option is an antipasti salad, but be mindful of the sodium in certain meats.
Protein Over Pasta
Order a protein-based dish such as veal, chicken or seafood served with vegetables. A side of pasta is fine, but don't make it the main part of your dish. (Read about Plating Proper Portions.)
When considering sauces, beware of words like cream, butter, alfredo or white. They tend to be high in saturated fats. Choose red or tomato sauce instead.
Focus on Family
After all, this is one of the best parts about Italian eating. Take the focus off the food and savor the experience. Eat slowly and enjoy all your favorites, in modest portions without overdoing it.