Tips For Ordering Italian Food

Americans love Italian food. That’s the findings of a January 2015 survey conducted by the restaurant review website ZAGAT. Of the 10,000 diners that participated in the poll, 24 percent selected Italian cuisine as their favorite. American food came in at a distant second with 14 percent.

America’s love affair with pizza, pasta, pepperoni and mozzarella began in the late 19th century with the influx of Italian immigrants, and it continues today. The Olive Garden chain of Italian-themed restaurants, with 2014 sales of 3.8 billion, ranked 16th last year in the NRN countdown of the Top 100 chain restaurants based on sales and growth.

Is Italian food clogging our arteries and making us fat?

Dieters often consider Italian a taboo item and place it on their list of banned foods along with ice cream and potato chips. Italian cream-based sauces such as Alfredo are heavy in unhealthy saturated fat, not to mention the eggs and bacon grease poured into carbonara. A plate of spaghetti carbonara could easily max out your daily fat and calorie limits. However, many Italian sauces are good for you, or can be made to be so.

Linguini, fettuccine, rigatoni – do we have to give it up for health?

Pasta is central to an Italian meal, but it is traditionally made with white flour ground from grain stripped of its fiber-rich bran. Your body breaks down carbohydrates into glucose (sugar), which gives you energy. However, without fiber to slow down the process, the glucose rapidly enters your blood stream, causing insulin to spike, and then fall. A steady diet of simple carbohydrates can lead to insulin resistance, the precursor to type-2 diabetes. However, pasta can be part of a healthy diet.

Look at an Italian menu with an eye towards health

  • Whether you are gathering with friends at the local pizza parlor or having a candlelit dinner in an Italian café, keep these tips in mind for a healthy meal:
  • Ask your server to remove the bread basket. Filling up on simple carbs will only spoil your appetite;
  • Order a soup such as minestrone for an appetizer rather than antipasto, which is usually loaded with cheeses and processed meats;
  • If it is available, select whole-wheat pasta;
  • Ask if you can have the chicken, veal or eggplant in your parmigiana grilled or broiled rather than breaded and fried;
  • Avoid sauces made with heavy cream; instead choose a marinara or marsala dish;
  • Meatless entrees, such as pasta primavera and fagioli are fiber-rich and satisfying without the saturated fats found in meatballs and Italian sausage;
  • Take a pass on the tiramisu and finish your meal with an Italian ice;
  • When ordering pizza, select a thin crust pie and ask for reduced cheese. Select vegetables such as tomatoes, mushrooms and bell pepper for toppings.

Mangia!

Basic Italian ingredients — tomatoes, garlic, basil, olive oil — have many health benefits. Parmesan, ricotta and mozzarella are naturally lower in fat than other cheeses. They add protein and calcium to a meal, making them a good choice provided you are sensible about portions.  Select your meal carefully, and you can come away from dinner at an Italian restaurant feeling good about your food choices.