#386 (12/08/09) ITALIAN DINING AND CHEF GUIDE
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The trouble with eating Italian food is that 5 or 6 days later you're hungry again.

George Miller

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Beachbody® Restaurant Rescue: Italian Edition

By Stephanie Saunders

Italian food is considered the most popular cuisine in the world. Every country has its own spin on pasta, pizza, and the various Italian-style meat dishes. Here in the States, even the smallest of towns tend to have an Olive Garden® lurking in a strip mall somewhere. Italian food is usually hearty, rich, and plentiful in portion, which makes it a real crowd-pleaser. It is also loaded with diet land mines such as cream sauce, cheese, and sundry fried goodness. How do we enjoy the taste of such an amazing cuisine without ruining our hard-earned bodies? Here, the second installment on Restaurant Rescue will walk you through a typical Italian menu, and help you avoid the pitfalls.

Caprese

Appetizer

BruschettaAppetizers do exist in Italy, but not in the fried-bread-heavy way we've made them in the States. Most appetizers in Italy consist of grilled vegetables, a touch of salami, and a bit of mozzarella cheese. Somehow, we've turned this into bruschetta, fried calamari and cheese, stuffed mushrooms, and cheese-infested garlic bread. Your first step in Italian eating should be to skip the appetizer, and go for a salad. In case you choose to splurge, use the following nutritional breakdowns—based on average serving sizes in an Italian restaurant—as a guide.


  Calories Fat Carbs Sodium Protein
Bruschetta, 1 slice 105 7 grams 9 grams 146 milligrams 1.7 grams
Fried calamari, 6 oz. 350 10 grams 16 grams 520 milligrams 30 grams
Fried mozzarella sticks, 2 sticks 150 8 grams 13 grams 410 milligrams 8 grams
Cheese-stuffed mushrooms, 6 pieces 410 28 grams 20 grams 990 milligrams 15.6 grams
Garlic bread, 2.5-in. slice 170 7 grams 25 grams 250 milligrams 4 grams
Bread sticks, 1 serving at Olive Garden 150 2 grams 28 grams 350 milligrams 5 grams

Soup

Minestrone tends to be the most popular choice of soups when going Italian. And what a great choice it is! Full of vegetables and broth-based, it is a great way to begin a meal. Many restaurants also include Italian wedding soup, a chicken broth with pork and beef meatballs, which really isn't that kind to your waistline. You'll also find pasta-infused soups like pasta fagioli (also known as pasta e fagioli), which are not unhealthy, but will add to your meal's carb count. Unless your soup is your main course for the evening, stick to the vegetables and save some calories for the main course. The following are nutritional breakdowns based on a 5-oz. serving, but can obviously vary if other ingredients are added.


  Calories Fat Carbs Sodium Protein
Minestrone soup 164 1 gram 18 grams 610 milligrams 5 grams
Italian wedding soup 130 7 grams 12 grams 350 milligrams 5 grams
Pasta e fagioli soup 320 11 grams 49 grams 1,240 milligrams 15 grams

Salad

CapreseBeginning any meal with leafy greens is usually a good idea—until it comes to the dressing, which can often offset our meal by 300 calories. Then, there are Italian "salads" like caprese (thick-sliced mozzarella and tomatoes covered in basil and olive oil) and antipasto (a plethora of Italian meats and cheeses) which don't skimp on fat content, either. If you do begin with a green salad, ask for the dressing on the side, resist the cheese, and avoid the endless salad bowl. If you choose caprese or antipasto, split an order with everyone at the table.


  Calories Fat Carbs Sodium Protein
Green salad, 2 Tbsp. dressing 210 8 grams 31 grams 784 milligrams none
Caprese, 3 slices 260 21 grams 5 grams none 10 grams
Antipasto, 2 oz. 240 15.6 grams 4 grams 697 milligrams 20 grams

Main Course

Like any country, Italy's main courses vary pretty dramatically from region to region, but they all use fresh, nutrient-rich ingredients, including heart-healthy olive oil.

Unless you go to a restaurant that specializes in northern Italian cuisine, which favors lean meats and vegetables, most of what we find in the U.S. are assortments of meat, pasta, cheese, sauce, and vegetables. When eaten in appropriate portions, they're not so bad for you, but America is the land of the giant plate, so we tend to blow it even with the healthiest of food choices. Remember the palm-of-your-hand trick: any serving of meat or carbs should each be able to fit in the palm of your hand.

Spaghetti with MeatballsAnd then there are the things that aren't so good for you. If it says cream sauce, alfredo, pesto, or clam sauce, just say no. If it's stuffed with anything, keep moving down the menu. And if the name ends with parmesan—which means breaded, fried, and smothered in cheese—save yourself an extra 1,000 calories, and order a grilled chicken breast. Here is a list of popular pasta choices, in 10-oz. servings, in ascending order of fat-gram destructiveness:


  Calories Fat Carbs Sodium Protein
Spaghetti marinara 350 4 grams 51 grams 700 milligrams 9 grams
Cheese-stuffed ravioli 290 7 grams 44 grams 280 milligrams 13 grams
Fettuccini alfredo 780 18 grams 125 grams 1,600 milligrams 24 grams
Linguini with clam sauce 760 32 grams 106 grams 1,600 milligrams 32 grams
Spaghetti with meatballs 820 40 grams 65 grams 1,600 milligrams 50 grams
Baked ziti 701 41 grams 43 grams 1,221 milligrams 39 grams

Dessert

TiramisuItalian restaurants have a variety of evil desserts, most of which have nothing to do with Italy. Please note that if you can avoid dessert, or at least share it with someone else, you'll save yourself a huge amount of time on the treadmill. Most desserts are fairly heavy on cream, butter, and fat. Also, remember that most Italians indulge in sweets only on very special occasions, and that fresh fruit tends to be the only sweet to close out a meal. Here's a list of desserts that actually originate from Italy:


  Calories Fat Carbs Sodium Protein
Biscotti, 1 serving 200 9 grams 26 grams 90 milligrams 4 grams
Cannoli, 1 serving 374 17 grams 44 grams 88 milligrams 10 grams
Tiramisu, 3-in. slice 602 45 grams 34 grams 91 milligrams 7.8 grams
Tortoni 472 29.6 grams 42 grams 77 milligrams 6.7 grams

It is surprising for many to learn that obesity in Italy is not a "huge" problem. The United States is number one in the world, with a 30-percent obesity rate, while Italy ranks 25th, with less than 7 percent of its population classified as obese. Italy also has the lowest obesity rate in Europe, and is only 2 percent higher than Japan, the nation with the lowest obesity rate. How can this be the case for a country with such calorically rich cuisine? Many believe that the answer lies in the quality of food, portion size, and the time of day in which the food is consumed. Italians don't eat processed food, or things that have been frozen or altered. Most Italians begin each day with coffee and a small bread roll that's light as air. This tides them over until lunch—the big meal of the day. Between-meal snacking is reserved for kids. Dinner is usually pretty light. Sweets are saved for special occasions. If we could adopt just a couple of these principles, the U.S. might drop down on the list a little bit. And that would make eating out so much tastier.

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Got something to say? Chat with the writers and other readers this coming Monday, December 14th, at 7:00 PM ET, 4:00 PM PT, in the Beachbody Chatroom!

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, click here to add a comment in the newsletter review section or you can email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

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Beachbody's Gift Guide for the Healthy Chef

By Denis Faye

Gift giving can be tough when the person you're buying for is in the middle of a life-altering round of P90X® or INSANITY. Clothing sizes keep changing, as do tastes. Sure, she might cast off that muumuu for a two-piece, but no gift says "presumptuous" like a bikini. Sure, he may need some new dumbbells, but odds are he'll be on to the 45-pounders before he even takes the ribbon off the 30-pounders you bought him.

Broccoli in a Steamer

However, one thing that's not going to change is your giftee's newfound appreciation of healthy eating. Face it, if he or she wants to stay fit, there's just no place in his or her life for that deep-fat turkey fryer anymore. It's time for some new culinary toys.

Here are a few ideas.

Steamer. Short of eating them raw, steaming veggies is the best way to prepare them without processing away all the nutrients. It's also the best way to preserve the taste of fresh produce. If you spend all season growing asparagus in your garden, don't you want to know what it actually tastes like instead of stir-frying away all the flavor?

If you don't want to spring for a fancy All-Clad® multi-piece setup, inexpensive. little pop-up steamers can work inside just about any pot or saucepan.

How much? $10 and up.

Microwave steamer. Like a normal steamer, only cheaper and faster. Oh, and you need a microwave to use with it. For anyone eating healthy on the go, this is a must-have.

How much? $10 to $20.

Indoor electric grill. As healthful as steaming can be, admittedly, it gets a little, well, BORRRINGG! An indoor grill is a great way to have all the fun of a BBQ without the . . . what am I saying? Indoor grills aren't even as remotely fun as BBQs, but they're a healthy way to prepare food that allows grease and fat to drip away. And if you get the kind with the top that presses down, it makes excellent panini, which you can't make on a BBQ.

How much? $30 to $150.

Nonstick PanNonstick cookware. Although the safety of nonstick cookware occasionally comes into doubt, as long as you take care of it, you should be fine. Just don't scrape off bits of the coating to season your omelet. And if it starts to flake, it's done. Get rid of it.

Also, keep in mind that price doesn't always indicate quality. A few years ago, Cook's Illustrated rated a number of nonstick pans, only to discover their favorite was the Farberware® Millennium Skillet, which you can pick up for around $40.

How much? Varies greatly.

Oil sprayer. Oil in a spray can is pretty common nowadays. It's a great way to keep cooking fats to a minimum. But before you go out and buy another preloaded aerosol can, remember that real chefs prefer pump-spray bottles. Not only do they allow you to use your own gourmet oils, they're also reusable, which is good for the earth.

How much? $7 to $15.

Hot-Air Popcorn PopperHot-air popcorn popper. Sure, recent reports indicate that movie-theater popcorn is basically death in a tub with butter flavoring squirted over it, but that's the coconut oil and sundry hideous chemicals doing the damage, not the actual corn itself. Enjoy it in its purest, white, and fluffy form, popped via hot air only, and 3 cups will equal 40 calories, 1 gram of fat, and 3 grams of fiber.

Not man enough to eat your popcorn straight? Add a quick spritz of olive or canola oil using your new oil sprayer (see above) and a dash of salt, and you're good to go with minimum guilt.

How much? $20 to $35.

Bread machine. In the wrong hands, a bread machine is a majorly destructive force in any nutrition plan, but used for good, it can be a great way to get fresh, whole grain, preservative-free starches into your diet. And, like many things on this list, it's fun.

How much? $60 to $200.

Salad SpinnerSalad spinner. I don't know if owning a salad spinner will prompt you to eat more salad, but it'll make cleaning salad more fun. It's also a great way to get kids interested in leafy greens.

How much? $20 to $40.

Slow cooker/Crock-Pot®. Often, the time it takes to cook good food is what takes us out of the kitchen and into the T.G.I.Friday's®. A slow cooker allows you to dump everything in a pot and go about your day without having to monitor your stove. Suddenly, stews, soups, and sauces seem easy, which is a good thing as we settle into winter. Mmmmm, healthy comfort food.

How much? $20 and up. $50 to $60 on average.

Related Articles
"7 Nutrition Books for the Holidays"
"9 Healthy Gift Ideas for Mom"
"The Slim Pantry: 5 Weight Loss Products You Already Own"

Got something to say? Chat with the writers and other readers this coming Monday, December 14th, at 7:00 PM ET, 4:00 PM PT, in the Beachbody Chatroom!

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, click here to add a comment in the newsletter review section or you can email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

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Test Your Food Myths IQ!

By Joe Wilkes

True or False?

  1. HoneyTrue: Raw lima beans are poisonous. Lima beans contain cyanide compounds that can cause illness or even death if eaten uncooked. Cooking turns the cyanide into a harmless gas. Fortunately, most strains of lima beans available in the U.S. have been bred to contain super-low levels of cyanide. But if you're in another country and you begin craving raw lima beans, watch out!
  2. False: Swimming too soon after eating causes cramps. Although it has been repeated so often by paranoid poolside parents that it is presumed to be a medical fact, there is no substantiated evidence that swimming after eating causes the kinds of cramps that fearful moms and dads purport will cause drowning of the young 'uns. Of course, cramping is possible with any activity, but having food in your system is unlikely to make a difference.
  3. True: Honey does not spoil. Honey is "cured" by bees to the point that it has a very stable pH level and has an extraordinarily long shelf life. Honey has even been found in ancient Egyptian tombs, and it's still edible! In part, this is because honey's low moisture content prevents bacterial or fungal growth.
  4. True: Cashew shells are dangerous. You may have noticed that cashews, unlike peanuts, are never sold in their shells. This is because cashew shells are coated with a naturally occurring oil, which is extremely caustic to human skin. Contact with cashew shells can quickly cause burning and blistering. In fact, the oil is toxic enough to be included as a common ingredient in insecticides.
  5. False: Swallowed chewing gum takes years to pass through the body. This is another one probably concocted by worried parents who wanted to discourage their children from swallowing their gum—out of fear that their children would choke. While swallowed gum is a choking hazard, the notion that habitual gum swallowers are just a gumball or two away from a gruesome pink intestinal blockage is false. Depending on what the chewing gum is made of, it will either be dissolved by stomach acid or pass out whole through the digestive system. Yum!

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, click here to add a comment in the newsletter review section or you can email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

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Reviews
Total number of Reviews: 1
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"Forget the bread machine and buy them the book Dough and bread pans. Since learning to make my own breads by hand three months ago it has wrought amazing changes to our kitchen. When you invest anywhere from 3 to 48 hours in creating bread the last thing you want is anything on or with it that is not as incredible as the bread itself. For Thanksgiving it was Ancient Grains bread and 12 Grain Orange bread, FABULOUS."

– Virginia, Anchorage, AK

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