Last night my family and I went to our favorite Italian restaurant Penne Pomodoro. People are often shocked when they find out that I am a regular at an Italian restaurant. I think the thing that immediately comes to people's minds are pizza and spaghetti. There is huge misconception that Italian food has to be unhealthy and full of carbs. Now I have blogged before on good pasta replacements to cook at home but in this blog I want to give you easy step by step directions to survive eating out.
Like when I blogged about surviving a Mexican restaurant, the absolute first thing you need to do is avoid the free stuff on the table. With Mexican it's the chips, with Italian it's the bread. There's a reason it's free, it's cheap and straight carbohydrates. When asked if you would like some bread, just simply pass. It is much easier to avoid if it isn't starring you in the face on your table, trust me.
Now comes the drink orders, and now I never promote the consumption of alcohol, but I also wasn't born yesterday and know it's being drank. So at an Italian restaurant, stick to red wine, in moderation. It's lower in sugar than white wine, and it is higher in antioxidants and polyphenols. Even though you can find studies saying there are health benefits from drinking wine due to the antioxidants. Or studies showing that consuming regular alcohol cuts your risk of stroke and heart disease. And most recently a study showing that drinkers have an overall lower risk of morbidity than non drinkers. Or my professional observation that people who enjoy an occasional drink are overall just more fun than non drinkers...JK. But Im not going to tell you that it's "healthy", you can find just as many studies showing the ill effects of drinking alcohol. But I do think drinking in moderation isn't going to kill you, and I base that predominately on the fact that it is "time tested", been around for thousands of years. Some of the same reasons I have formed my opinion on coffee.
When it is time to order an appetizer, try splitting a salad. Stay away from Caesar's, try to pick a salad that is loaded with dark leafy greens instead of Romaine and uses an Olive Oil as dressing. One of my favorite at Penne Pomodoro is an Arugula salad that has bacon, tomatoes, mozzarella, and uses Olive Oil as the only dressing. Arugula flies under the radar, and isn't as well known as other greens, but it is a very healthy green to throw in to a salad. Olive Oil has tremendous health benefits, and since it is in a salad it isn't heated.(Heating olive Oil past a certain temperature makes it go rancid) This salad is so good, that you will not miss the fried calamari.
When selecting a main course, the rules are pretty basic. We want to avoid starchy carbohydrates, stuff that is covered in bread crumbs, and stuff that is fried. Pick a protein, I recommend sticking to chicken or fish. One of the great things about Penne is they often have line caught or wild caught fish. Simply asked your waiter if any of the fish is wild caught and not farm raised. If they don't know, generally the chef will know, and they can ask for you. Most of the time, if salmon is wild caught it will say right on the menu, look for something like Wild Alaskan, or Fresh Alaskan, Line caught, Freshly caught, or Wild caught. Those are some key terms. If you are choosing chicken, stay away from battered and fried. My favorite is chicken Marsala, chicken covered in sauteed mushrooms and Marsala wine sauce. Italian restaurants often have an herb chicken or lemon type chicken that isn't fried. If the menu doesn't explain well enough, than again just ask the waiter or waitress. (And maybe look in to finding a better restaurant :) ) If you want avoid meat, then try to go for something like eggplant Parmesan or eggplant lasagna. We are trying to avoid the pasta!
Here is the number one rule! Most dishes at an Italian restaurant come with a side of pasta, for example if I ordered chicken Marsala it would come over pasta. SUB it! Sub the pasta for spinach, asparagus, mixed vegetables, something green and healthy.
Last but not least when it comes to dessert... Just kidding, there is NO DESSERT. Sorry. :)
Follow these simple rules, and you can incorporate Italian restaurants in to your healthy eating habits.
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