Let’s face it – Italian food, particularly Italian-American, isn’t known for being the most healthy. While mouth-wateringly delicious, many Italian dishes are heavy on carbs, drenched in rich dairy, and contain plenty of meat.
However, there are plenty of Italian dishes that are both delicious and healthy. And, there are Italian dishes that can easily be made healthier with a few ingredient switches or with a bit of creative thinking.
Are you slightly curious? Let’s explore 7 healthy Italian dishes that your tastebuds and stomach will love.
Minestrone soup served in restaurants often contains tubular or shell macaroni, which isn’t the healthiest type of pasta. If you’re cooking yourself, switching to a gluten-free option is simple and easy. Most minestrone soups are packed with ingredients, but it’s easy to take a ‘less is more’ approach to create a filling, vegetarian minestrone soup that your body will appreciate.
Caprese salad is the king of Italian salads. Not only is it tasty, but it’s simple and easy to make at home. In most restaurants, Caprese salad comes with thick slices of tomato and mozzarella with basil leaves, and balsamic vinegar drizzled all over. You can make Caprese salad the traditional way. Another option is to serve cherry tomatoes, balls of mozzarella, chopped herbs, and balsamic reduction mixed in a bowl for an even healthier option. Don’t worry – this way tastes just as good.
Eggplant absorbs oil like a sponge. Eggplant parmigiana is typically deep-fried, which usually means consuming plenty of extra fat that may leave you feeling full and queasy – and that’s before all the rich cheese is added. One way to make eggplant parmigiana healthier is by broiling eggplant slices without breading them and using thin cheese slices instead of thick layers. You can also opt for a lighter breadcrumb topping.
Lasagne soup isn’t a traditional Italian dish but one that comes with all the comforting flavors of classic lasagne. Think plenty of tomatoes, Italian turkey sausage, and lasagne pasta broken into bite-size pieces. Add a dollop of ricotta cheese combined with mozzarella and parmesan if you want that creamy, Italian finishing touch. Serve this hearty soup with a leafy salad and crusty bread to sop up anything left over in the bowl for a healthy dinner that can be whipped up in less than 30 minutes.
Italian Mussels with Pasta
Combine Italian mussels with plenty of parsley, garlic, saffron, and white wine, for a dish inspired by the Venetian soup Zuppa di Pesce which was typically served over sliced crusty bread. Dish these flavorsome mussels over pasta for a quick and healthy Italian lunch or dinner. For the best presentation, remove the mussels from their shells before serving – if you have the time, of course.
Transform this popular Italian pasta dish into one that’s healthier. The best part is that you can enjoy bolognese without significantly compromising your dietary choices. Dish bolognese over zucchini noodles if you need to make it paleo, or choose gluten-free pasta. Avoid meat by substituting beef or chicken with a can of lentils, or pack it with plenty of veggies.
Fagioli soup consists of pasta and beans and is usually considered a healthy starter at most Italian restaurants. But, if you decide to make the soup at home, you can guarantee quality control on every ingredient. Use fresh vegetables and canned beans with gluten-free pasta for the healthiest type of Fagioli soup. You may also consider swapping the bacon with ground beef for a heartier taste or you can omit meat altogether.
Theresa Gambacorta is a writer and cookbook co-author. Her writing has appeared in such titles as La Cucina Italiana, Spin Magazine, Men's Fitness, Muscle and Fitness, and Centennial's special interest publications. She is the co-author of chef Joey Campanaro's Big Love Cooking (Chronicle, 2020), chef Nasim Alikhani's Sofreh (Knopf, 2023), and the forthcoming vegan cookbook, Eat What Elephants Eat by activist Dominick Thompson (Simon Element, 2024).