How to Enjoy Healthier Italian Dishes

Shanthi Appelo
Shanthi Appelo

| 3 min read

Famous for heavy sauces, cheese and cured meats – Italian food in the United States gets a bad rap for being unhealthy. However, it is possible to order healthier and lighter dishes at your favorite Italian joint, and to make your own at home. This year’s National Nutrition Month honors celebrating a world of flavors, let’s do so by highlighting the healthier side of Italian food.
While pasta isn’t inherently bad, it’s the portion sizes at many restaurants that quickly make it so. Moreover, many of the sauces are full of saturated fat from butter and cheese. That’s why splitting a dish with a friend or boxing up half of the meal for later makes it easier to practice moderation.
If you’re looking to choose something healthier, consider skipping that extra sprinkle of cheese and salt and ordering one of these dishes:
  • Bruschetta is traditionally full of fresh tomatoes and herbs that offer plenty of nutrients. The dish features a drizzle of olive oil, which is a healthy fat that’s full of flavor.
  • Mussels in white wine sauce. The mussels are often steamed or cooked directly in the white wine-based sauce, making it a lighter option.
  • Tomato-based sauces and pesto. Though often high in salt, these sauces are lower in saturated fat and overall calories than creamy sauces such as alfredo.
  • Shrimp Pomodoro. This dish features a lean protein combined with a lighter, tomato-based sauce.
  • This Tuscan seafood stew is full of flavor and lean protein, often skipping heavy ingredients bursting with saturated fat.
  • Grilled calamari. Grilled calamari is a lean protein option that can be accompanied by vegetables.
Italian cooking takes advantage of many simple flavors from the plant world to help healthy food taste delicious. Keep these tips in mind to get the most of your Italian home cooking and keep things healthy:
  • Roast vegetables before adding to sauces for more intense flavors.
  • Rub spices like oregano and thyme between your hands when adding to recipes to bring out the flavors.
  • Let garlic and onions cook at low temperatures in oil as a base for sauces to allow sweet and nutty flavors to develop.
  • Use a combination of fresh and dried herbs for cooking, adding some of the fresh herbs as final touches
  • Choose unsalted canned tomato products.
  • Limit pasta servings to no more than 1 cup.
  • Watch the added cheeses and try to limit cheese to an ounce per serving.
  • Combine pasta noodles with spiralized vegetables.
  • Use high-quality olive oils for finishing touches.
While it’s tempting to choose the convenience of premade pasta sauces, making your own doesn’t require much effort. Making a sauce from scratch eliminates many of the unnecessary additional ingredients introduced during processing, such as excess added sugar, sodium and preservatives. Follow along for a healthier take on chicken parmesan that features a combination of spiralized zucchini and spaghetti, a simple tomato sauce and baked parmesan-breaded chicken sans the egg and flour.

A Healthier Michigan is sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, a nonprofit, independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association.
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