Steaming Italian food on a fork

Eating Out on a Diet: Italian Food

By Dietitian, Juliette Kellow BSc RD

You won’t find better pizzas or pasta dishes anywhere else in the world, but most Italian menus also include grilled fish and chicken, which can be great diet choices.

Unfortunately, delicious extras such as garlic bread, Parmesan cheese and the liberal use of olive oil can make a big difference to the calorie and fat content of meals, so watch out.


Many starters or antipasta dishes include vegetables such as mushrooms, peppers and artichoke hearts, but while these might sound like healthy options, they’re often marinated in olive oil and so are packed with calories and fat. If you can’t resist, dab off the excess oil with a serviette or piece of bread.

Watch out for bruschetta, too – consisting of garlic toast with tomatoes, it might seem harmless enough, but sometimes olive oil is liberally poured over the top.

Finally, beware of fatty, cured meats such as Parma ham or prosciutto – not only are they packed with fat, but they’re also very salty with the result that you’ll be tempted to down an extra few glasses of vino.


Traditional Italian pizzas have a thin crust and so are often lower in fat and calorie content than those found in chains such as Pizza Hut or Dominos. You need to order toppings sensibly, though, to take advantage of this.

Good choices include onions, chillies, mushrooms, peppers, spinach, olives, asparagus, pineapple, tuna, prawns, chicken, sweetcorn and extra tomato, while salami, pepperoni, bacon and extra cheese should be given a wide berth. And if you can’t resist the Quattro formaggio (four cheeses), order just one slice or share it around!


Despite the many different pasta shapes, sizes, colours and flavours, most have a similar calorie and fat value and are packed with starchy carbohydrates, which help fill you up. Pasta also has a low glycaemic index making it a good choice for slimmers as it helps to keep blood sugar levels steady so that between-meal sugar cravings are less likely.

Regardless of the type of pasta you go for, you need to choose your sauce wisely. The best bet is to opt for tomato-based sauces such as Napoletana and Arrabiata, which are far lower in fat than cheesy or creamy sauces such as Carbonara.

Don’t be afraid to ask your waiter for a starter sized portion of pasta for your main course, either – you’ll get all the taste for half the calories.

Ice Cream

Wander down any Italian street and you’ll find a gelateria. These traditional ice-cream parlours offer a vast array of tempting flavours, but each scoop alone provides 100 calories. While it might be tempting to try them all, stick to just the one. You’ll save even more calories, too, if you have it in a tub rather than a cone.

Italian Food Calorie Content Chart

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