Let’s Go Out for…Italian

Whether you’re at the local pizza parlor or a white-napkin establishment with a famous chef, here’s how to mangia bene.

What to Know     What to Eat

Bread & Antipasto​

Use oil, not butter
Not only is olive oil a source of healthful monounsaturated fat, but a Cornell University study found that diners who used olive oil as a bread condiment ate 23 percent less bread than those who used butter. Just don’t soak the bread entirely; one dip is enough.

Don’t O.D. on lunchmeat
A common meat antipasto is misto salumi, or Italian charcuterie that includes dried meats like the familiar prosciutto. While these meats are high in fat they usually come in very thin slices. A thin slice can be satisfying because it’s intense in flavor, but the key is to not make a sandwich with it...

Consider going tapas
It’s perfectly fine to make a tasting meal of antipasti. You can pick one indulgence, like risotto balls, and balance it with a number of healthier selections.

Don’t overlook soup
Soup is a main course in authentic Italian restaurants but you can also order it as an appetizer. Traditional Tuscan and Florentine soups, with combinations of escarole, beans, pasta and sausage, can be good alternatives to meat antipasti or salads filled with cheese.

Pasta or main course

Have your penne with protein
If it’s an option, pay to add chicken or shrimp to your pastaEven though you’re adding something ,you’ll eat less food overall with one course. And that single plate will be more filling and satisfying than pasta alone.

Go halves on pasta
Often, it’s not the pasta itself, but the portion that is most destructive to a healthy diet. You can order a half portion, or order two different half portions, and split the difference between a splurge and a healthier choice.

Fill your plate with air
A hollow pasta, like ziti, orecchiette, bucatini, etc., will appear to give you a larger portion size than solid pasta, like spaghetti or fettuccine. And that may help you eat less of it while still feeling satisfied. The opposite is true of risotto. “White pasta and white rice are nutritionally similar, but rice is much denser so you’re likely to eat a larger portion of risotto than of a lighter, hollow pasta.

Be stingy with the cheese
An ounce of Parmesan cheese adds 4 SmartPoints value. If you want some, ask the waiter to grind a bit onto your pasta — or sprinkle it on yourself and then get that cheese off your table. Otherwise, you’ll be tempted to keep spooning on more cheese throughout your meal.

Understand gluten-free pasta
You’ll see this on more menus now, but don’t think that gluten-free pasta is healthier or lower in calories than white or whole-wheat pasta. Gluten-free foods were developed for people who have gluten intolerance (or Celiac Disease) and exclude wheat, barley, oats and rye. Unless you can’t tolerate gluten, there’s no benefit to ordering this pasta.