So you probably don’t need me to twist your arm to travel to Italy and eat some food. And while this world-famous cuisine has gut busters like veal parmesan and lasagna, it also contains a fantastic variety of nutritious options. We’ve listed some healthy Italian food to eat on your next trip or make at home.
This polarizing fish is definitely not for everybody. Sardines are oily and have a bold taste. Sneak one into a salad and the diner will definitely know. But this staple of Italian cuisine offers fantastic rewards to all who enjoy the taste. A 3oz serving of sardines is good for over 20 grams of protein, 60% omega-3, 50% vitamin D, 3x your DV of B12, and plenty other nutrients.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
You know what goes great with handmade pasta? Olive oil. And a good dressing for those garden-fresh vegetables? Olive oil. A way to intensify the flavor of the day’s catch. You guessed it. Olive oil is like the DNA of Italian cuisine. Everything is built around it. Not only does a small amount provide immense rewards in terms of taste and texture, but it is incredibly healthy for you.
It’s a healthy fat and source of omega-3, which is good for your heart and brain. But olive oil might also have cancer fighting properties. A study published in Molecular & Cellular Oncology suggested that olive oil’s oleocantha compound can be toxic to cancer cells, rupturing their lysosomes without harming uncancerous cells. Maybe olive oil has something to do with Italy being one of the world’s healthiest countries.
This geometric curiosity of a vegetable has been a staple of Italian cuisine since the Caesars ruled the world. Italians eat them in salads, with pasta, or fried. The USDA ranks artichokes as having the 7th highest antioxidants of any food. One serving of artichokes offers half of your daily fiber, which keeps a healthy digestive system.
They are also low-calorie and contain the flavonoid silymarin and phytonutrient cynarin, both of which are good for liver function. So if you are going to indulge in some pinot grigio, pair it with an artichoke dish! Your liver and tongue will thank you.
One of the most recognizable ambassadors of Italian cuisine, tomatoes are in everything from classic marinara sauce to caprese salad. They also come loaded to the brim with vitamin C and lycopene, a heart protective antioxidant that fights prostate cancers.
Here’s another popular incarnation of tomatoes. Minestrone is a hearty vegetable soup that can be served as either an appetizer or eaten as a main course. A traditional Italian cook might make theirs with onion, garlic, carrot, green beans, fresh herbs, kidney beans and tomatoes. That’s a lot of nutrients in one bowl. Make yours at home to avoid high sodium.
Basil (and friends)
Fresh Italian herbs like basil, parsley, lavender, and oregano grow all over the Italian peninsula. They’re often chopped up and thrown into ravioli and lasagna, or eaten with olive oil and bread. They’re simple, delicious, and very healthy.
The health benefits of fresh herbs are as diverse as their flavors. Basil relieves pain, oregano has a powerful antioxidant called rosmarinic acid that helps immune system, and the carnosic acid in rosemary might be useful when dealing with dementia.
This high-protein snack is one of the healthiest cheeses in the world. One ounce of the squishy fresh stuff contains 7 grams of protein and 70 calories. It also has calcium for bone strength, niacin, riboflavin, biotin, and vitamin b6. Therefore, mozzarella is great for healthy skin, vision, and red blood cells.
The pre-shredded stuff is loaded with preservatives, but fresh mozzarella (like the kind they make in Sicily, its place of origin), is a delectable and refreshing snack. Combine with tomatoes and basil for a caprese salad!
Bane of vampires and boon of Italians. Garlic is spicy when consumed raw but, in a culinary miracle, sweetens when roasted. It’s delicious either way, and is eaten with just about everything you can imagine.
Garlic is also one of the healthiest foods on earth. Daily consumption of garlic is linked to lower incidences of cancer, thanks to the allyl sulphide which inhibits transformation of cancer-causing PhIP. Some of its many other benefits include high level of vitamin B6, thins blood (to diminish blood clots), and contains iodine, a treatment for hyperthyroid conditions.
These weird-looking creatures swim all along Italy’s extensive coastlines and end up in many delicious Italian dishes. Don’t let the over-fried rubbery calamari you got at a sport’s bar turn you off squid. When grilled and served fresh in a white wine sauce it can be tender and delicious. It also lowers homocysteine levels in your body, lowering risk of heart attack and stroke. And like other forms of seafood, the squid is a source of vitamin B12, which helps you absorb food to convert into energy.
Lemon Shaved Ice
You don’t need a lot of sugar in your deserts when you live in a country as blessed with fresh fruit as Italy. That’s why one of the country’s most popular deserts is also one of its oldest. Back in Roman times, Caesars would send their slaves up into the mountains and bring back chests of snow to eat as fresh ice when a stifling heat descended on the city in the summer.
Shaved ice flavored with the fresh juice of citrus fruits like blood oranges and lemons has delighted Italians ever since. Low in sugar (if any is added at all), these treats contain immune-boosting vitamin C. It will also provide a much-needed palette cleanse after a meal rich in garlic and capers.