Pizza, Pasta, and Blood Sugar: A Guide to Italian Menus

Your game plan for enjoying Italian food without sending your blood sugar on a joyride.

A single slice of pizza with vegetables is a fine choice, especially if it’s made with a whole wheat and/or thin crust. A cup of pasta with marinara sauce is all right, too. The problem is, few of us stop there. Ironically, southern Italian food, prepared the traditional way, is among the healthiest in the world. Unfortunately, Italian restaurants are often parlors for the presentation of huge mounds of overcooked pasta and pizza. And even before these arrive, you’ll have ample opportunity to eat bread. So unless you want to overload on carbs and send your blood sugar for a wild post-meal ride, tread carefully. If you do choose to indulge in delicious bread and cheese, make sure you’re doing so at the best pizzeria in your state.

Your Game Plan
1. Ask the waitperson not to bring the breadbasket.
Instead, order minestrone or another broth-based soup to fill up on while you await your entrée. Pasta e fagioli, another Italian classic, is a delicious bean/pasta soup that’s also a good starter.

2. If you want pasta, order a dish from the appetizer section of the menu, or share.
That’s the traditional way — a small first course of pasta followed by simple grilled meat, poultry, or fish and a side of sautéed greens. As for pasta sauces, opt for those based on tomatoes (marinara), vegetables, white wine, and garlic — not cream. Watch out: Pasta primavera is often made with lots of cream.

3. If it’s on the menu, order simple grilled beef, veal, pork, chicken, fish, or shellfish.
Add a side order of sautéed spinach or broccoli rabe (a slightly bitter Italian version of broccoli). Finish with a mixed green salad with vinaigrette dressing.

4. For dessert, ask for fresh berries or fruit ice, if it’s available, or a small plate of cookies to share.
Stay away from the custards and cheesecake, the cannoli, and the tiramisu.

Just Say No

  • Garlic bread
  • Fried mozzarella sticks
  • Fried breaded zucchini
  • Fried calamari
  • Pasta with Alfredo or other cream sauces
  • Pasta carbonara
  • Shrimp scampi
  • Eggplant, chicken, or veal parmigiana
  • Any dish smothered with melted cheese

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest