Dining Out With Diabetes: Italian Restaurants

Written By: Sejal Dave, RD

Alumni: University of Florida

Last Updated on:

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.

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

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.



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5 thoughts on “Dining Out With Diabetes: Italian Restaurants”

  1. Newly diagnosed. 6’2. 211 ponds. (57) I’m not sure why I would put myself in the position of going to an Italian resturaunt going forward. Articles similar to these (which seems to be the only type I can find) seem to be geared for people who are looking for substitutions for what they truly want just to eat in an Italian resturaunt, I can totally appreciate that and respect that. No issue. What about the balance of people (like me) who’s find this type of eating more aggravating then it’s worth, and truly not an enjoyable experience as opposed to just not eating italian food at all?? This goes for all types of cuisines as well. Since being diagnosed I don’t eat any bread of any type.( Not intrested in substituting bread for two reasons 1st, I believe it’s only one slice of a whole grain type which something i can easily live without , and secondly I find it infuriating to do so. I just feel better mentaly not having to be involved with bread , pasta , pizza at all. I cant imagine having the side pasta, sharing it or bringing it home) Where are the articles for people with this afliction that arent intrested in substitutions they have no desire for. ?? Since diagnosed I only eat salad with grilled chicken, viniger and oil at every meal lunch ( which I rarely eat) because I am super busy at work (Electrical Engineer) and dinner. I have cut any and all snack items out of my life. I did read articles with suggestions of chips and cookies and stuff all of which were easy for me to say no to and not look back. Are thier articles with my type of mind set?? That you can suggest ??
    Is thier anything I can mix with water and gulp down. I would be good with that too. I do take vitamins to suplement this style of eating. I find eating more like taking medication at this point. Which is how I’m able to deal with it as well as taking any enjoyment derived from eating out. The less I can do and spend time dwelling on food substitutes and choises ithe happier I am.

  2. I just found out I’m type 2 a few weeks ago. What if I’m too addicted to Italian food. Like if Italian food was the only thing available forever then I’d the happiest person alive. But I love my meats and cheeses for toppings. And I love my legit pastas none of this whole grain or other substitute crap. And if I’m at olive garden the waiter better have good arm endurance for the shredded cheese because it will take a long time for me to tell them to stop… Bottom line for me is what am I supposed to do here. Just thinking about having to do thin crust instead of pan or smaller portions instead of the big plate or bowl or less cheese causes me great pains. Like there’s no way I can do this. Part of my brain is like I rather eat all this and die happy as a clam.eating whatever the hell I want than be miserable with these restrictions and this goes with most of the foods amd drinks I like being on the bad list…. I feat this is going to be way too hard of a struggle for me. I alue the food way too much.

    • I like you have been recently diagnosed w/T2d. I also love Italian cuisine, love to cook it and eat it. I don’t want to feel fiber in my pasta, and love Lou Malanti’s. I can’t imagine not having pasta at least 3 times a week! so that has changed and radically.
      As I start this new chapter, I’m restricting myself to 1/4 cup of pasta and only on Saturdays, my treat day. I make my own sauce, which is very friendly to diabetes, so no issues there. I am a chees-oholic, and that is now being measured. All this in an effort to learn the effects of the good stuff on me as I roll along. For the here and future now, at least, I’m in learning mode and will not go back to what I love. Probably never. But I will learn to eat w/restrictions, the things I do enjoy. There is so much to learn; I recommend a diabetic nutritionist (which BTW has been very difficult to find for me, and insurance does not cover..go figure!). Take your first 6-9 months to restrict, research, learn and test. Once you’ve got it down, choices will be easier and manageable, I’m convinced. Plus, if you’re strict right now, you run a good chance of moving that A1C to more acceptable and maybe can manage this beast w/diet! Maybe even remission! Good luck!


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