A dietitian dishes out the healthiest options for eating Italian food with diabetes.
The menu for your favorite Italian restaurant may seem like a trap if you have diabetes. After all, some of the most beloved dishes are giant bowls of fettuccini alfredo, pizza blanketed with cheese, and massive meatballs. You could argue that it’s an American version of Italian food, but the problem remains the same: How do you make healthy food choices with diabetes at an Italian restaurant?
The key to success first comes down to portions, according to nutritionist Sharon Richter, RD. You can enjoy classic dishes (even notoriously unhealthy ones) but have them in small (okay, very small) amounts and fill up on healthier side dishes instead.
Here are more of Richter’s rules for how to make Italian meals healthier when you have diabetes.
Ask how food is prepared. It’s useful to know whether your veggies are being sauteed in oil, steamed, or roasted. This could help you make a better decision, or you might even be able to request an alternative preparation, depending on the restaurant. For example, some restaurants will make a dish oil-free if you ask nicely. (If it makes you feel better, you could always give a little extra tip.)
Choose light appetizers. If you really want an appetizer, go for veggie options or light seafood dishes: Caesar salad, minestrone, lentil soup, clams, mussels, shrimp, or prosciutto. However, preparation matters. Beware of breadcrumbs and deep fryers, and ask for no croutons in the salad.
Be smart about pasta. We all know that Italian restaurants love to serve giant bowls of spaghetti, but that doesn’t mean you should eat it all. Order an appetizer portion, if they’re available, or split the entree size with a friend.
Choose sauces carefully. Heavy creams are loaded with extra fat and calories, so avoid words like “alfredo,” “pink,” or “vodka sauce.” Instead, try marinara or pesto.
Go lean. Check to see if the menu offers lighter protein options, such as turkey meatballs, grilled chicken, or grilled fish. FYI, these are the best proteins for diabetics, according to dietitians.
Load up on veggies. Try to replicate the perfect meal plate that you try to follow at home, with half the plate consisting of fruits and vegetables. If your chicken breast comes with a side of pasta, ask if you can get it with a salad or roasted veggies instead.
Use cheese as a garnish, not a main ingredient.
Stick to a slice. Craving pizza? (Aren’t we all.) Have one slice, and then enjoy veggies or soup on the side. To keep carbs low (and blood sugar levels steady), choose a thin crust (the thinner, the better) and add lots of vegetables. All those mushrooms and peppers have fiber that will help fill you up more than the crust and cheese.
Just a cup of pasta. Although many Italian restaurants serve you a platter-sized bowl of spaghetti, the recommended serving is actually a single cup of cooked noodles.
Slow down and savor. You’ll be more likely to notice your hunger and fullness cues (and prevent overeating).
Finally, this trick works in every restaurant: Enter with the intention of bringing home leftovers. Not only will this spread out the indulgence over a couple days, but it will make you feel like you’re paying half the price for your meal.
Sharon Richter is a registered dietitian with a private nutrition practice in New York City.
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So you're probably craving
some Italian food and
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you probably think you can't have it
if you're diagnose with diabetes.
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There are choices you can have and
still maintain your healthy way.
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Just think about the portion
size that you're having.
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So if you're ordering a piece of chicken
and it comes with a side of pasta, but
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you also see that there's vegetables
there, ask them to sub that out.
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Do not be shy, ask how food is prepared.
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You can have a soup, like a minestrone
soup with a lot of vegetables in it.
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A lentil soup that's gonna
have a lot of fiber.
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Cocktail shrimp is terrific.
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Doing clams or mussels, any seafood is
great but just be careful that these
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clams or oysters don't have
a lot of breadcrumbs on them.
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Another thing you could do is prosciutto,
maybe have it with some melon, or
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maybe around some asparagus.
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Have that caesar salad you love but
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just get the dressing on the side
squeeze some lemon into it.
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What you wanna be sparing on are those
little fried pieces of bread,
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Get an appetizer sized portion,
it's gonna be a lot smaller.
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Another thing you can do is share
that pasta with your friends or
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family at the table.
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You wanna also stay away from the heavy
creamy sauces, tomato sauces are terrific.
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Pesto's made from pine nuts and
olive oil and
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has some cheese in there,
use a little bit and it goes a long way.
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Try to get leaner meat.
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So maybe they'll have a turkey meatball,
or some chicken, or some fish.
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You wanna also load up on the vegetables,
sauteed are terrific.
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Cheese is okay if it's grated and
we're sprinkling a little on.
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We all love pizza.
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Maybe have one slice of pizza and a salad
or soup instead of your typical two or
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If you're having a very paper thin crust,
that's gonna be a better option
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because it's gonna be less carbohydrates
than if you had a deep dish pizza.
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Also your toppings,
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if you could add more vegetables to it
that'll be a lot more filling for you.
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When I talk about carbohydrates I say
about a cup cooked is what you ideally
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It's often much easier if you
get things that are a unit.
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For example the ravioli, and that's gonna
be your serving as opposed to if you have
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a big bowl of spaghetti it's very
hard to control that portion size.
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While you're eating try to slow down,
savor each bite and enjoy your meal.
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