Dining Out With Diabetes:
Italian Restaurants

Written by
Published in July 2009

italian pasta( Italian food is a true favorite for so many people. Who can resist the pizza, the pasta, the bread - not to mention all the soups, salads, and fresh herbs. As a savvy diabetes diner you can enjoy eating out and find lots of healthy choices with these helpful tips.

The Crust Counts!

It's natural to think of pizza when you think Italian. It's one of the best imports in American history! Many of the calories and carbs in pizza are in the crust, and the thicker the crust the higher the calorie and carb content. So deep dish, "pan," or Chicago-style pizza is going to pack in more calories than thinner slices like New York-style. Look for healthier options: at Pizza Hut, a Fit 'n Delicious thin slice with veggie toppings is 150 calories with 24 grams of carbs, while their Veggie Lover's pan slice is 220 calories with 30 grams of carbs. This difference can really add up if you have more than two slices! Many pizza places now offer whole wheat crusts or thin, crispier crusts that are still flavorful. For overall healthy pizza slices keep the toppings light and fresh. Ask for a smaller amount of cheese and opt for veggies instead of meat toppings. Feel free to add oregano, garlic, basil, or spicy crushed pepper for extra zing without extra calories - delicious!

The Perfect Pasta

Whether you like bowtie, angel hair, linguine, or macaroni, think about the toppings on your pasta too - they could make or break your meal plan. When ordering pasta opt for the "red" sauce instead of "white" or cream sauce toppings. Alfredo sauce, for example, contains parmesan cheese, butter, and oil, which add more calories and fat to pasta dishes than marinara-style tomato sauces. A cup of marinara-style pasta is 185 calories with 28 grams of carbs, whereas a cup of Alfredo pasta has 450 calories with 46 grams of carbs. Pesto sauce is another alternate to "white" sauces, but ask the server if they have lighter versions with less oil and cheese added. Help keep your pasta portions moderate by having a small garden salad or a bowl of soup prior to your main course, then share your entree or ask for a doggy bag for the leftovers. Appetizer portions of pasta are another good alternative to full meals. Choose whole grain pasta or pasta dishes that are high in fiber (e.g. one serving of pasta e fagioli - pasta soup with beans - from Olive Garden is 130 calories with 19 grams of carbs), to stay fuller longer without overeating.

Bottom Line for People with Diabetes

Fresh and tasty ingredients are a big part of Italian cuisine. For people with diabetes the key is to choose vegetables for pizza toppings and side dishes, go for poultry or fish that is grilled or braised, and select sauces that don't tip the scales in calories, fat and carbs. You can enjoy the full flavor of Italian cuisine without having to compromise your healthy diabetes meal plan.

What to Watch Out For:

  • Alfredo or heavy "white" cheese sauce entrees
  • Fried calamari
  • Shrimp & artichoke dip
  • Deep dish pizza
  • Fried mozzarella
  • Meatball marinara sub
  • Sausage & pepperoni pizza toppings
  • Chicken parmigiana (or any fried entrees)
  • Steak gorgonzola
  • Tiramisu

Healthier Choices:

  • Bruschetta
  • Minestrone soup
  • Thin pizza with veggie toppings
  • Mozzarella, basil, and tomato panini
  • Roasted eggplant
  • Portobello mushroom sandwich
  • Veggie lasagna
  • Spinach ravioli
  • Spaghetti with meat sauce
  • Vegetable risotto
  • Spaghetti with meat sauce
  • Vegetable risotto
  • Garden salads
  • For dessert, italian ice or fat-free cappuccino

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