Traditional Italian food incorporates small amounts of lean meat and dairy foods, as well as larger portions of fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes and heart-healthy olive oil. The trick to eating healthy while traveling in Italy is to adopt the native cuisine instead of the American versions of the most common entrees. You'll probably want to gorge yourself on all the tasty Italian dishes, but resist that temptation. Instead, follow a few healthy eating guidelines so your trip is filled with good food that doesn't cause you to bring unwanted weight gain home as a souvenir.
Choose restaurants that serve traditional Italian food over the fast-food restaurants scattered throughout the country. Restaurants that serve traditional cuisine focus on whole grains, fresh vegetables, fruit, olive oil and legumes, all of which are associated with a reduced risk of heart disease, according to the Eating Well website. These nutritious foods are also lower in saturated fat and calories than entrees made with cream, fatty meat and large amounts of cheese.
Eat small portions. Order meals that you can share with friends or family, or order your pasta as a small appetizer instead of as a huge meal. If you do order a big meal, eat half of it and, if you have a place to store it, box up the rest to enjoy later.
Order the right dishes. Skip creamy entrees, such as fettuccine Alfredo, as well as greasy meals, such as those that include sausage or bacon. Opt for pasta made with marsala, piccata or marinara sauces because they're lower in fat and calories, according to the American Heart Association. They also supply essential nutrients. Have roasted or grilled foods in place of fried ones, too, because they're also lower in fat and calories.
Choose seafood dishes over pork and beef dishes if you want to have meat as part of your meal. Lean seafood is a nutritious part of traditional Italian cuisine and it contains omega-3 fatty acids, which can improve your heart health. Tuna and salmon are among the top sources of omega-3s. Crustaceans and mollusks, such as shrimp and mussels, are also low in fat and are healthy sources of protein and iron.
Add a large salad to your entree. Salads are low in fat and calories and supply a healthy dose of key nutrients such as fiber, potassium, vitamin K and vitamin A. Opt for low-fat salad dressing or a simple drizzle of olive oil to keep the salad as nutritionally valuable as possible.
Enjoy a glass of red wine. Red wine contains resveratrol, which is an antioxidant that can help reduce your cholesterol and decrease your risk of heart disease, according to MayoClinic.com. Women shouldn't have more than one drink per day and men shouldn't have more than two, however. More than that can decrease your heart health, as well as contribute to an increased risk of cancer and liver damage. A 5-ounce glass of red wine counts as one drink.
Sara Ipatenco has taught writing, health and nutrition. She started writing in 2007 and has been published in Teaching Tolerance magazine. Ipatenco holds a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in education, both from the University of Denver.