Ironically, southern Italian food, prepared the traditional way, is among the healthiest in the world. Unfortunately, Italian restaurants often serve huge portions of overcooked pasta and pizza. And even before these arrive, you’ll have ample opportunity to eat bread. So unless you want to overload on carbs and ingredients that can send your diet totally off track, tread carefully.
Your Game Plan
1. Ask your server not to bring the breadbasket. Instead, order minestrone or another broth-based soup to fill up on while you await your entrée. Pasta e fagioli, another Italian classic, is a delicious bean/pasta soup that also makes a good starter.
2. If you want pasta, order a dish from the appetizer section of the menu, or share. That’s the traditional way—a small first course of pasta followed by simple grilled meat, poultry, or fish and a side of sautéed greens. As for pasta sauces, opt for those based on tomatoes (marinara), vegetables, white wine, and garlic—not cream. Watch out: Pasta primavera is often made with lots of cream.
3. If it’s on the menu, order simple grilled beef, veal, pork, chicken, fish, or shellfish. Add a side order of sautéed spinach or broccoli rabe (a slightly bitter Italian version of broccoli). Finish with a mixed green salad with vinaigrette dressing.
4. For dessert, ask for fresh berries or fruit ice, if it’s available, or a small plate of cookies to share. Stay away from the custards and cheesecake, the cannoli, and the tiramisu.