I know what you’re thinking. A trip to Italy equals endless amounts of delicious pasta…which also happens to equate to needing a new wardrobe when you return home.
But despite the delicious foods Italy is known for—pizza, fettuccine Alfredo, bread—Italian cuisine is more diverse than most people realize. In fact, it even has a Mediterranean flare to it; you’ll find plenty of dishes prepared with fish, nuts, legumes, fresh produce, and olive oil—the same exact diet that’s praised for its incredible health benefits.
Additionally, Italians know what it means to have healthy eating habits, such as sticking with small portions and knowing when to stop eating. Dining in Italy is also a leisurely experience, so eating is more about relaxing and socializing than inhaling everything in sight. So if you dine like a true local, you can’t go wrong.
If you’re not convinced you can eat healthy in Italy, here’s how to make the right dining choices when it comes to the following:
- Pasta: Since it’s basically impossible to avoid pasta altogether, remember to stick to small portions of this carb-loaded dish. Additionally, try avoiding regular white pasta whenever possible. Instead, opt for whole-wheat pasta or fregola, which is made from semolina and water. Or, try faro, a grain that’s packed with protein and fiber. Risotto might make a good alternative as well, but only if it’s a stock-based dish that doesn’t have a ton of cheese.
- Sauce: Although true Italian dishes aren’t drowning in sauce, always go for red sauces, which are packed with tons of vegetables and nutrients. Cream-based sauces, such as Alfredo or vodka sauce, often have lots fat and cholesterol and are high in calories, so avoid these when (if) you can.
- Dessert: The biggest no-no’s include tiramisu and panna cotta, two popular desserts that are extremely high in calories and fat. Instead, go for a refreshing scoop of gelato or sorbetto. Unlike ice cream, gelato contains less fat since it’s made with milk instead of cream. Sorbetto is made from fruit, water, and sugar, so it’s low-cal and fat-free. Or, try the Zabaglione, a custard dessert made from eggs, sugar, and wine—it’s low-cal and low-fat. A couple of cookies or a piece of biscotti are healthy ways to satisfy your sweet tooth as well.
- Coffee: Italians love their coffee, but opt for either an espresso (with nonfat or low-fat milk) or a macchiato, which only has a small amount of foam on top.
- Drinks: If you’re an oenophile, it may be difficult to avoid the drink altogether when in Italy. But the good news is that a glass of red wine day can actually be good for your health. And if you prefer white wine, you’ll save an extra 30 calories a glass. Just be sure to drink in moderation.
Additionally, try cooking when you can so you’ll have control over what goes into each dish. There are tons of great farmers markets all throughout Italy, so why not take advantage of them? Pick up some fresh produce, cheese, and meats and make your own picnic lunch or dinner.
Photo from Huffington Post.