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What to Eat at an Italian Restaurant (Healthy Choices)

I live in an area of my city where there are a lot of Italian restaurants.

I love Italian food, but it’s not always the healthiest.

But, chances are that you’ll end up in an Italian restaurant once in a while, whether it’s with your family, your spouse, on a date or for business.

So, what should you eat there to enjoy yourself, while minimizing the impact of your little indulgence?

First, it depends on whether you go to an authentic Italian restaurant or a fully Americanized one.

Let’s start with a few common dishes in authentic Italian restaurants.

Italian salads are generally fine to eat, and contain a lot of healthy greens like arugula. But, make sure to ask for dressing on the side, because they tend to use a lot of olive oil. You can ask for no dressing but it’s not a common request. So I just ask for dressing on the side, and don’t use it.

Risotto is generally loaded with butter, oil and cheese.

Gnocchi in tomato sauce is usually a good choice, though. It’s made with potatoes and the tomato sauce is not very heavy.

Pasta is a good choice, and usually in a real Italian restaurant the serving is reasonable.

If you’re going to have pizza, have a thin crust with lots of vegetables, no meat, and crumbled cheese like feta or goat’s cheese. Those pizzas tend to be the lowest in fat and the healthiest.

One of my favorite side dishes in Italian cuisine is a plate of cooked greens! It usually contains a lot of olive oil, so you can ask with no added olive oil. It might still come with some, but at least they won’t drizzle extra on top.

In authentic Italian restaurants, you’ll also find a side order of beans, or a minestrone soup loaded with beans and vegetables.

I’m personally not going to go to an Italian restaurant without having some wine (or prosseco) and some gelato as dessert. Though it’s an indulgence, it’s not a big one, because Italian gelato is fairly small. You can also ask for non-dairy versions.

Plates of fruits can be ordered in all good Italian restaurants.

Now, what about a fully Americanized Italian restaurant, such as Olive Garden?

Let’s face it. What they serve in those joints is not real Italian food. The pasta plates are about three times the size of what they serve in Italy, and the food is drenched in very rich sauces that are made in a factory.

What to Eat in an Americanized Italian Restaurant?

It’s a challenge. Skip all the appetizers.

The minestrone soup is a safe choice.

The salad is a good choice with dressing on the side.

You can also create a cheese-free vegetarian pizza if that’s something you like.

There will be usually one kind of pizza without meat or cheese.

And if you’re lucky, you might be able to order fruit and vegetables on the side.

In the end, your best option will be to go to a more authentic Italian restaurant. Enjoy!

Frederic Patenaude
Frederic Patenaude

Frederic Patenaude has been an important influence in the raw food and natural health movement since he started writing and publishing in 1998, first by being the editor of Just Eat an Apple magazine. He is the author of over 20 books, including The Raw Secrets, the Sunfood Cuisine and Raw Food Controversies. Since 2013 he’s been the Editor-in-Chief of Renegade Health.


Frederic loves to relentlessly debunk nutritional myths. He advocates a low-fat, plant-based diet and has had over 10 years of experience with raw vegan diets. He lives in Montreal, Canada.