If you’ve been to an Italian restaurant in the United States—which, unless you have been locked in a basement somewhere until just now, you have—you might get the idea that Italian food is all about cheese, cheese and more cheese, along with cheese sauce, pasta, various fatty-yet-delicious pork and beef products, and meatballs. This perception might make a guy who’s trying to eat healthy pause before he visits the decidedly food-oriented country Italy.
However, touring Italy can be a blessing for the health-conscious traveler. While it’s true that many Italian dishes are calorie bombs waiting to go off, many others are extremely healthy. Here are some tips on how to enjoy the best Italy has to offer, without busting your waistline on your trip.
Tour the Mediterranean region
The cuisine on Italy’s Mediterranean coast is prized the world over for its healthful benefits. Rather than being smothered in cheese, most dishes rely on herbs and quality olive oil for flavor. Red meat is rarely eaten, and fresh seafood, beans and fresh seasonal vegetables dominate the cuisine.
Bring a touring buddy
For those times when you want to sample Italy’s more decadent fare, it’s wise to have a partner in crime to share a dish—and its calories with.
Choose lighter options
One of the great things about Italy is that, no matter where you go or what you order, everything’s delicious. Unlike the United States, where “lighter fare” usually consists of a sad, flavorless piece of chicken or fish and a side of boring, unseasoned vegetables, in most regions of Italy healthy foods are just as much a part of the regular cuisine as the other kinds, and Italians are experts at preparing it. Roasted chicken, rabbit or lamb with herbs, grilled seafood, marinated vegetables, mushroom or vegetable pastas tossed in fresh marinara or olive oil and aged cheeses—there are tons of tasty options everywhere. Choose vegetable-heavy dishes with tomato sauces or olive oils over meat-heavy cream sauces, go easy on cheese toppings, and choose vegetable appetizers over antipasti.
Eat small, frequent “sample size” meals rather than two or three large meals. That way you’ll keep your calories down while still getting to try a whole range of new foods.
Walk everywhere you can. Most cities and villages are pedestrian and bicycle-friendly, and there’s plenty you can discover by walking that you can’t by driving.
Stick with traditional cuisine
Stay out of fast food restaurants and tourist traps. Go where the locals go, and always opt for fresh, classic regional favorites that are minimally prepared.