Italian entrees are beloved all over the world as an ultimate comfort food. However, Italian food is best known for carbs, carbs, and more carbs, which can be unhealthy and can quickly add on unwanted calories and pounds. Luckily, there are many ways to make your favorite, home-cooked Italian dishes healthier.
Check out our tips and tricks for fantastic health-conscious ideas to make healthy Italian entrees without any hassle. We have lots of great alternatives that will reduce the carbs, sodium, and calories in these comfort foods while still preserving the taste and quality that makes you look forward to dinner time.
Healthy Italian Food
There are many foods used in Italian cooking that are super healthy and should be staples in your pantry or on your grocery list including:
- Olive oil
- Various peppers
Italy falls within the Mediterranean region and many of the classic Italian dishes are part of the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet. People hold a common misconception that Italian food is bad for you because pasta, pizza, and cheese dishes are the main staples in Italian American chain restaurants. However, there are many entrees that are exceptionally healthy and many ways to make a not-so-great-for-you dish, into a meal you can brag about.
Healthy Substitutes for Italian Staples
One of the best ways to create healthy Italian dishes is to swap out the unhealthy ingredient for a comparable one that is also healthy. Some of the best tips and tricks include:
- Swap Noodles for Zoodles- Noodles contain flour and eggs, but a healthy, and vegan option replacement is zoodles—zucchini noodles. You can also swap out your carbohydrate filled noodles with noodles made from squash or red lentils. If you are just looking for a white flour substitute, try whole wheat pasta instead!
- Low-Sodium Sauces- When your doctor tells you it is time to lower your salt intake, swap your classic marinara sauce for a low-sodium version. Another option is to use a salt substitute when flavoring your dishes.
- Healthy Protein- Avoid pork and beef in your stuffed pepper, spaghetti sauce, or ravioli and by switching red meat out for seafood, chicken, turkey, beans, tofu, or a vegetarian/vegan meat substitute. You will get just as much protein but at least half the cholesterol.
- Tomato based vs Cream Sauces- Whenever possible it is a much healthier alternative to use a tomato-based sauce such as marinara rather than cream based. This may mean making a rigatoni with roasted garlic marinara instead of a creamy Alfredo, but the health benefits will outweigh the desire for the heavy cream that is the base of most cheesy or creamy sauces.
You should not avoid Italian foods just because you are trying to improve your diet. You can create or find dozens of healthy Mediterranean foods that will be easy on your heart and waistline, but full of robust flavor. Replacing the not-as-healthy components to your favorite dishes with veggie-based alternatives can also shave dozens of calories off your plate while leaving you completely satisfied with your meal.