The 5 healthiest dishes to order at an Italian restaurant

The Italian restaurant is a pillar of the twenty-first century American dining scene, but it’s easy to forget that Italian cooking goes way beyond pizza and Parmigiana. Traditional Italian cuisine is largely Mediterranean in character, making ample use of such ingredients as citrus, olives, herbs, grains and greens, and seafood, as well as all those best-in-moderation cheeses, salumi, and such.

Nonetheless, for a health-concerned diner, the prospect of entering an Italian restaurant in America today can be intimidating, since so many dishes seem to be deep-fried or covered in a layer of cheese and/or cream sauce. It’s also common for Italian restaurants catering to American appetites to serve food in excessive, over-sized portions — in addition to those bottomless bread baskets that start off the meal at some Italian places.

But there are ways to go out for Italian and eat a nutritious meal that doesn’t make you feel guilty. By sticking with fresh appetizers, grilled seafood, and tomato-based sauces, and avoiding cream-based sauces, deep-fried meats and seafood, and the bread basket, it’s possible to leave an Italian restaurant feeling full but with your diet principles intact.


The commonly mispronounced bruschetta incorporates the best flavors of Italian cuisine. Lightly toasted slices of bread are topped with fresh tomato, garlic, and oregano, making this low-calorie appetizer a great start to a meal.

Caprese Salad

The classic Italian appetizer represents the colors and flavors of Italy with thick slices of white mozzarella, blush-red tomatoes, and a spattering of roughly torn green basil. A drizzle of olive oil finishes off this light appetizer.

Chicken Cacciatore

Cacciatore means “hunter” in Italian. The rustic dish is most often made with braised chicken and usually includes ingredients like onion, tomato, bell peppers, red wine, and aromatic herbs. The chicken is seared and braised but not deep-fried.

Grilled Calamari

Squid can be healthy as long as it’s kept out of the fryer. Grilled calamari with olive oil, lemon, and seasoning is a great alternative.

Mussels in White Wine

Mussels are rich in minerals and long-chain fatty acids, and are low in calories. Do your best to slurp up the delicious broth out of the mussel shells rather than sopping it up with a hefty chunk of bread.