Mangia! Eat Italian Food and Lose Weight
Q: How can I avoid pigging out on too much fat and too many carbs at an Italian restaurant? I love pizza. I’m reluctant to order salads because the dressing is fattening. Meat sauces have saturated fats, so I’ve been choosing chicken with pesto sauce. Is that my best bet?
A: Italian food got a bad rap in the wake of the low-carb frenzy of the past few years. But the truth is, Italian food is part of the healthy Mediterranean diet. If you make smart choices, you can fill up on yummy dishes without overdosing on fat and empty calories.
Whether you eat at a pizza joint or a bona fide Italian restaurant makes a big difference. While having a full menu of dishes to order at a sit-down cafe will give you more lean options, you can still have your pizza and eat it, too.
A little bit of pizza is a very good thing. Where people go wrong is super-sizing every possible ingredient and in doing so creating their very own uber-fat-feast. Then again, most pizzas you come across are likely to lead you to a mountain of calories and artery-clogging saturated fat. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) analyzed 15 kinds of pizza from 36 pizzerias and used company information from Domino’s, Pizza Hut, Papa John’s and Little Caesars for dozens of others. Only three pizzas qualified for the organization’s "Best Bite" ratings: Domino’s Hand Tossed Cheese (ordered with half the cheese), Papa John’s Original Crust Garden Special and Pizza Hut's Hand Tossed Veggie Lover's pizza.
So you’ll have to design your own healthier slices. Follow these pizza-ordering tips for your leanest (yet still tasty) pie ever.
1. Go with thin crust
If you tend to eat too much and feel painfully stuffed after a pizza binge, you could be filling your gut with too much bread. While you may have grown fond of your usual thick-crust version, do you really need it? Order thin instead.
Depending on where you buy it, you might get a medium-thick thin crust (usually at take-out places) or a crust so thin (usually at Italian restaurants) that you have to eat it with a knife and fork. The thinner the better when it comes to cutting out unnecessary calories.
If you must have thick crust, keep it occasional and stick to one slice. Or if you like soft crusts rather than crispy, request that your thin crust not be overcooked. Whatever you do, stay away from pocket pizzas or stuffed pizza that slap on even more unnecessary bread.
2. Go vegetarian
Almost every vegetable topping has fewer calories and much less fat than meat toppings. So you can slash calories simply by forgoing meat. At Pizza Hut, for example, you can knock off 130 calories per slice simply by going for the Veggie Lover’s Cheesy Bites Pizza instead of the Meat Lover’s version.
And at Domino’s, eating one large slice of thin crust pizza topped with pepperoni, sausage and beef at 340 calories will give you a whopping extra 150 calories and 15 grams of fat per slice compared to the same pizza topped with green peppers, onions, mushrooms, olives and tomatoes (190 calories).
No matter what you eat, substituting extra veggies for extra meat is almost always the leaner option.
3. No extra cheese, ask for less!
One ounce of mozzarella has 85 calories and more than 6 grams of fat. And that’s less than the size of a 9-volt battery. For cheesy pieces, it’s easy to vault into hundreds of calories and enormous amounts of fat. You can easily lean down any slice by asking for less cheese. If you need more flavor, sprinkle a little extra Parmesan and hot chili peppers.
4. Ditch the pitchers of beer
Although beer and pizza are inextricably linked, the only benefactor from this sinister combination of calories and grease will be your burgeoning belly. If you must have beer, order a lite—and just have one.
1. Easy on the cheesy
And that goes for creamy, too. The No. 1 culprit in Italian food is fettuccini Alfredo. Sure, it’s tasty, but too much and all the cream, butter and cheese will saturate your cells with up to hundreds of calories and multiple dollops of fat per serving.
2. Choose tomato sauce
Whether it’s a pasta dish or main entree, choose a tomato-based sauce when given the option. Pesto sauce made with basil, olive oil and pine nuts is a healthy option, but be careful—some versions are made with cream, which can jack up the calories and saturated fat.
3. Banish the bread basket
Who can’t resist reaching into the basket again and again, until all the bread is gone, when it’s sitting right there in front of you? Take a piece, then ask your waiter to take the rest away. And don’t order garlic bread!
4. Vote for veggies
Always order a salad to start and a veggie side dish. Always. Italian restaurants often have ultra-delish sautéed spinach, broccoli rabe, asparagus and other veggies. They’re made with olive oil, which is high in calories, but the fat is unsaturated and good for you.
Salads should always be a part of your meal. Your best bet is an oily vinaigrette, such as olive oil and balsamic. Stay away from cheesy/creamy options like blue cheese or ranch—by topping your leaves with these, you’ll load up a lean, fresh dish with calories. Always order dressing on the side, and add as much as you need—but not more.
5. Order kiddie plates or appetizer-sizes
If you really, really want that more fattening option, ask for a half-order and share it. You’ll get the taste but control the damage.
If you eat out at any national restaurant chain, plan ahead. You should be able to look up the nutritional content of the menu items on the chain’s Web site.
Find More from Martica:
- Manipulating Calories You Eat
- Stretching Misconceptions
- Does Liposuction Last Long-Term?
- Myths of Big Busts and Skinny Waists
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