Health Myths About Italian Food
Americans are in love with Italian food. From trendy trattorias to neighborhood spots featuring Mamma’s cooking, the number of Italian restaurants is exploding. Home cooks are getting into the act, too. But in these health-conscious times, we don’t want the high-fat price tag that often accompanies the American misinterpretations of Italian cuisine.

Myth: Pasta is fattening.
Fact: Pasta, a mainstay in the Italian diet, is not fattening. A 2-ounce serving (1 cup cooked) of dry pasta, such as spaghetti, contains just under 200 calories and less than 1 gram of fat. When it comes to calories and fat, it’s what’s on top that counts. Rich, creamy sauces or sauces full of fatty ingredients such as sausage or cheese can send the calorie and fat total in your pasta dish sky-high. Choose vegetable-based sauces to keep the calories and fat low.
Myth: Eating plenty of olive oil will protect me from heart disease.
Fact: Olive oil is a mono-unsaturated fat that can help lower blood cholesterol if it is substituted for saturated fats, which are plentiful in fatty meats, whole milk products, and coconut, palm and palm kernel oils. But to reduce blood cholesterol and risk of heart disease, the American Heart Association recommends keeping the total amount of fat you eat within bounds. All types of fat, including olive oil, should make up no more than 30 percent of the calories you eat in a day. If you’re watching the scale, keep in mind that all oils, including olive oil, contain about 120 calories per tablespoon. Eating large amounts of calorie-rich olive oil can result in weight gain, and being overweight puts you at risk for heart disease.
Myth: If I drink wine every day as the Italians do, I can eat whatever I want and stay healthy.
Fact: Drinking wine is not a cure-all for bad eating habits. However, current research suggests that drinking a moderate amount of red wine each day while following a low-fat, high-fibre eating plan may reduce the risk of heart disease. (A moderate amount of wine is no more than one 5-ounce glass for women and two 5-ounce glasses for men.)
Eating Italian – Pyramid Style
For good health, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Guide Pyramid recommends a diet high in complex carbohydrates and low in fat – a perfect match for Italian-style eating. The examples below show how typical Italian foods fit perfectly into the pyramid.
Grains: Focaccia, pizza crust, polenta, bread sticks, risotto, gnocchi, Italian bread, pasta.
Vegetables: Tomatoes, asparagus, spinach, squash, zucchini, broccoli, mixed greens, artichokes, onions, eggplant, squash, mushrooms, marinara or spaghetti sauce, sweet peppers.
Fruits: Raisins, dried fruits, melons, raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, pomegranates.
Meats (choose lean meat): Chicken, pork, sausage, veal, beef, fish, seafood; cooked garbanzo and cannellini beans; lentils.
Dairy products (choose reduced-fat products): Gelato, yogurt, milk, cheeses (such as Parmesan, ricotta, mozzarella, Asiago).
Fats, oils and sweets (eat in moderation): Olives, butter, margarine, oils (such as olive oil), chocolate, pine nuts, Italian ice, whipped cream.
Determining Your Fat Budget
If you feel guilty about indulging in Italian food, take heart you can enjoy classic and new Italian dishes without consuming too much fat. Remember to focus on an entire day’s worth of what you eat rather than on single foods and recipes.
To translate 30 percent calories from fat to fat grams, take the number of calories you need in a day, multiply by 30 percent (or 0.3) and divide by 9 (the number of calories in 1 gram of fat):
Daily calories/your daily fat budget
  • 1,200/40 grams
  • 1,600/53 grams
  • 1,800/60 grams
  • 2,000/67 grams
Guidelines on food labels are based on 2,000 calories a day. The fat grams, based on the recommendation of no more than 30 percent of calories from fat, are rounded off to 65 on all food labels.
Note from 30% of calories from fat is considered normal but 20% is healthy and 10% is what is required to reverse heart disease and type II diabetes as well as 20 other killer diseases. If you’re serious about returning to health or reversing the ravages of these diseases we recommend cutting the amount of fat to 1/3 of that referred to in this article. The easiest way to accomplish this is to substitute Soy-based meats for animal-based meats, use only low-fat cheeses and reduce the amount of olive oil you use.