• Posted by a hidden member.
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    Oct 05, 2007 6:26 PM GMT
    I hesitate to put this in the "losing weight" forum, but here goes.

    I love italian food, and there are increasingly better places to get it here in the heart of Texas.

    As I sit here at lunch falling into culinary lust with this chicken parmesan sub, I wonder...

    What are some truly healthy, perhaps even low-carb itlaian dishes you can typically order? What are some low-fat, low-carb specific cooking techniques? Any of you guys got some tricks for making authentic tasting italian dishes that aren't totally sinful? Bonus for actual recipes.

    Lemme know. Thanks in advance.

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    Oct 05, 2007 9:27 PM GMT
    "Low-carb" and Italian do not go hand in hand, period. The low-carb diet is absolute BS, since it promotes the idea that one needs to abstain from all things that have starch or sugars. Carbs should make up nearly a majority of our caloric intake... we just need to regulate the quantity of food we shove down our gullets and exercise (which includes a decent amount of cardio).

    Regardless of the fact that the typical Italian will eat pasta 5 days a week, if not more frequently, Italians are generally in very good shape. This does not even factor in pizza, which will be had maybe 2x a week. If anyone wants to throw down on this topic, bring it on... I have more than a year's worth of experience both living and traveling in Italy. Furthermore, my roommate is from Italy, and despite seeing her eat pasta ALL the time, she is one of the thinnest people I know.

    Moreover, most American "Italian" restaurants are a far cry from their true Italian counterparts. Case in point: a chicken parm sandwich is something you will never come by in Italy (perhaps in Sicily). On pasta and pizza, sauce (excess calories), tomato based or otherwise, is something that is kept to a coating as opposed to a virtual swamp. So many restaurants here bathe their overcooked, starchy pasta in sauce to cover up the fact that their pasta has been very poorly prepared.

    If you want Italian food that is healthy, prepare it yourself. Fresh veggies, some form of meat, and of course, your preferred shape of pasta. Italian food is SIMPLE (compared to, say, a lot of French dishes).
    In addition to a very modest portion of your pasta dish, have a salad.

    Some key ingredients: olive oil, olives, artichokes, asparagus, prosciutto, mushrooms, rosemary, zucchini, basil, garlic, lemon, tomato, mozzarella, ricotta, or parmigiano cheese (used sparingly). Fresh is key, frozen at worst. Preservatives are to be avoided.
  • Squarejaw

    Posts: 1035

    Oct 05, 2007 9:47 PM GMT
    I do low-carb for a couple weeks at a time when I need to kickstart my weight loss and break bad sugar habits. I can't do it for long though.

    Here's a low-carb dish that helps get me through:

    2-3 links of sweet italian sausage
    1/2 sweet yellow onion (not brown)
    1/2 red bell pepper
    mozzarella cheese
    low-sugar tomato sauce (just check the nutitional info)
    parmesan cheese

    Put the sausage links in a saute pan with enough water to come halfway up the sausage. Cook uncovered over medium heat for 10 minutes; turn, and cook the other side for 10 minutes. The water should boil away at the end of the 20 minutes; if not, adjust the heat accordingly.

    Remove the sausage, pour off most of the fat, and add a little olive oil. Dice the peppers and onions, cook over medium heat for a couple minutes, then cover the pan, turn it down to low, and let it cook for 10 minutes.

    Slice up the sausage, take the onions and peppers out of the pan, and cook the sausage a bit more so the pieces are lightly browned. Add the onions, peppers, mozarella cheese, and tomato sauce,and heat through. Pour into a bowl and add the parmesan cheese.

    Certainly, not healthy, but it fits with a low-carb weight loss diet. And it's sooooo good.

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    Oct 05, 2007 9:55 PM GMT
    JerseyGYMphd: Thanks. I meant low bad carbs. I appreciate the information, esp. the ingredient list, even if all wrapped in the unnecessary confrontational tone.

    Squarejaw: Thanks! I'm gonna try that. I'm not averse to a little bit animal fat for flavor. I'm more concerned with the pastas and breads.
  • art_smass

    Posts: 960

    Oct 05, 2007 10:00 PM GMT
    I work out incessantly just so I can cram as much fatty, high-carb Italian food into my mouth as possible. Italian food makes life worth living.

    Italian men aren't bad, either.
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    Oct 05, 2007 10:26 PM GMT
    RuggerATX: Just telling it like it is. No tone implied, except to express dismay at the shabby quality of 95% of Italian restaurants in the U.S. And I meant to include the following recipes:

    pita pizza: whole grain pita, lean meat of choice, barilla tomato sauce (just a preference) and some low-fat shredded mozzarella. Pop it in the oven on the highest setting until the pita gets crunchy.

    mix (drained) tuna in with your sauce (sweet pepper by barilla is pretty great, or standard tomato/ basil)... which you are heating w/ pasta once pasta is cooked / drained. Same pot, quick and simple. Add red pepper flakes for a little kick and/or capers if you are a salty kinda guy.

    pasta, olive oil, sausage and sauteed zucchini... great stuff! There isn't a huge amount of sausage so it's still pretty healthy and tasty.

    will get back with some recipes! Most big name supermarkets will carry enriched multigrain pasta.

    art_smass: Right on... food is meant to be a pleasure!

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    Oct 05, 2007 10:56 PM GMT
    How can people be so hooked on Italian food when French food exists? There are some things in this world that even my superior brain simply cannot get around.
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    Oct 05, 2007 11:29 PM GMT
    "The low-carb diet is absolute BS, since it promotes the idea that one needs to abstain from all things that have starch or sugars. Carbs should make up nearly a majority of our caloric intake."

    Been there, done that. My carb-heavy diet made me fat and lethargic. If I eat a plate of pasta at lunch, whole grain or not, my blood sugar will crash, and I'll sleep all afternoon. The less grain, sugar, and starch I eat, the more energy I have and the better I feel.
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    Oct 06, 2007 12:33 AM GMT
    I think a big thing that you need to separate is "italian" food from america and "italian" food you'd get in italy. they are very different. I spent 4 years in college living in florence, and there are some MAJOR differences between the two cultures.

    FIRST is the QUALITY of food that they eat in italy. Most italians shop daily for their food, and most of their food is grown locally and is very fresh. They reduce the amount of "processed" foods that are so pervasive in the US.

    Take an Italian (from Italy) shopping in a grocery store in the US and they about throw up looking at the pre-made pasta sauce that sits on our shelves for months on end until someone buys it. even our pasta is bad. Italians DO buy pre-made, packaged pasta, but it is not their mainstay. They buy frozen pasta, that they take out when they need it.

    I think the biggest difference between the quality here and there is that at least in Italy, you don't pack your body full of preservatives - which are so pervasive in US foods that we don't even know the damage they are doing. (and personally, I attribute our poor food quality to a number of ailments in the US - including obesity. Preservatives weren't in wide use until the 1960's, when obesity rates started to soar with their introduction to the main food supply. Who knows what those damn preservatives are doing to our bodies. But I digress).

    SECOND is the AMOUNT of food italians eat. they eat considerably smaller portions at most meals, they just supplement different courses - which actually benefits them with a more well-rounded diet. So while italians still eat a lot during select meals, it is more well-rounded than what you could ever do in the US without spending a fortune.

    THIRD is WHEN italians eat. It is a well-known fact that italians eat a small, quick breakfast, have a HUGE mid-day meal (usually several courses), and follow that up with a smaller dinner (usually two courses). This gives them the luxury of eating a large amount of food in the middle of the day - and having the rest of the day to burn off the calories. Unlike here in america where we eat our biggest meal 3 to 4 hours before we go to bed. Not really the wisest choice.

    And this applies to most of the countries in Western Europe (france, spain, portugal, luxembourg, switzerland).

    OK, my rant against American eating habits is done.
  • jarhead5536

    Posts: 1348

    Oct 06, 2007 3:11 AM GMT
    My God in Heaven I miss Italian food (read: pasta). At my age, I can't do carbs anymore, which is truly tragic.

    BTW, I have developed a serious crush on ATXRugger. Nobody tell my boyfriend, it'll pass soon enough...
  • Posted by a hidden member.
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    Oct 06, 2007 3:34 AM GMT
    Here is one of my favorite recipes:

    Italian Chicken and Peppers


    1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts (4 half breasts)

    3/4 teaspoon Italian Seasoning (If you have access to fresh herbs: Basil, Oregano, Parsley, Sage and Tyme use those)

    1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

    3 teaspoons olive oil, divided

    1 medium onion sliced into thin rings

    1 red bell pepper, cut into strips

    1 green bell pepper, cut into strips

    5 oz sliced fresh mushrooms

    1/2 teaspoon chopped garlic (like you can get in a jar)

    3 tablespoons balsamic or red wine vinegar

    2 teaspoons honey


    Place chicken breasts between 2 pieces of wax paper or plastic wrap and pound to 1/2-inch thickness. Sprinkle on both sides with Italian seasoning and pepper.

    Heat 2 teaspoons oil in large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add chicken breasts and cook 4 minutes on each side or until no longer pink in center. Remove to serving dish and keep warm.

    Heat remaining 1 teaspoon oil in skillet. Add red and green bell peppers, onion, garlic and mushrooms. Cook 3-4 minutes, stirring constantly, or until bell peppers are tender. Spoon over chicken.

    Add vinegar and honey to skillet. Cook 1 minute, stirring constantly to deglaze the pan. Spoon over chicken and bell peppers.

    Recipe makes four servings. Nutrition Information: Per Serving

    Calories: 250, Protein: 28g, Fat: 6g, Carbohydrates: 9g, Cholesterol: 68mg

    Precede it with a vegetable antipasta: grilled zuchini and yellow summer squash, roasted head of garlic, grilled sliced portabella mushroom, etc.

    I like to serve it with fresh green beans stir fried with chopped garlic and fresh grated ginger; use a non stick fry pan sprayed with olive oil pam.

    For dessert serve some Kenyan AA coffee, cheese and fresh fruit - or a fruit salad.

  • art_smass

    Posts: 960

    Oct 06, 2007 3:39 AM GMT
    jarheadBTW, I have developed a serious crush on ATXRugger.

    Join the club.

    By the way, Italian restaurants are one of the easiest places to order a variety of hearty vegetarian fare. I hate going to restaurants that don't have a lot of options. That never seems to happen at Italian joints.

    I did eat at the Olive Garden one time, though. Their eggplant parmigiana tasted suspiciously like the Kentucky Fried Chicken I used to eat when I was a still a carnivore. Yechh!
  • Posted by a hidden member.
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    Oct 06, 2007 4:04 AM GMT
    The problem with pizza and pasta is that they're highly calorific and if you then add a creamy sauce and cheese (!) you're immediately gonna be consuming a huge number of calories.

    As ever, the answer is portion and sauce control. Pick tomato-based sauces and loads of veggies. If you are not doing exercise then you should be eating no more of 75-100g of pasta (uncooked weight).

    If you're doing lots of exercise then pasta is your best friend.

    Personally, I don't think pizza has a place in a weight-loss programme, it's too easy to consume too many calories.
  • Posted by a hidden member.
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    Oct 06, 2007 4:08 AM GMT
    Please say it isn't so about the pizza red -- sighs dejectedly.
  • Posted by a hidden member.
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    Oct 06, 2007 4:33 AM GMT
    Speaking as an Italian...

    ....I can see some very entrenched preconceived notions in some of the above posts.

    Listen, guys, the "pizza" my grandmother used to make and we still can get a local places in San Francisco DEfINITELY is not thick and loaded with cheese. I think "carbs" have a bad rap. Most people load fat on their carbs and the blame the carbs for the weight gain...

    Italian cuisine, as a number have posted, is wonderful, can be low saturated fat (high in olive oil, alright) and low in meat products.

    RuggerATX, offline if you'd like I'll give you a recipe for "sugo" (which is what most people call "pasta sauce" that is low calorie, delicious, featuring my mom's "special" ingredient, and vegetarian, that tastes like it is a meat sauce

    Further, I defy all of you's not the pasta, but what you put on it that makes you feel "heavy" and sluggish. I haven't touched Alfredo sauce since I got fit years ago...and even pesto sauce, prepared correctly, goes a long you're not eating a lot of fat

  • Alan95823

    Posts: 306

    Oct 06, 2007 5:45 AM GMT
    I've switched to whole grain pasta (yay Barilla!) and cut out most cheese, so now my pasta dishes are full of fresh veggies (zucchini, mushroom, onion, carrot, broccoli) that have been chopped and sauteed briefly in a little olive or canola oil with some lemon zest, garlic, and a tablespoon of white wine and either white meat chicken or fresh shrimp.

    I cut out pasta sauce in a jar just because of the sodium and the acid. A chopped fresh tomato or two tastes a lot better to me, especially if you throw in some fresh basil at the end.

    And I was surprised that I wasn't feeling lethargic after eating it the new way, but it's really pretty light the way I make it.
  • Posted by a hidden member.
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    Oct 06, 2007 6:23 AM GMT
    Maybe its just the hydroxycut hardcore or something but I've been eating pretty much whatever I want and kind of calorie counting not super strict. I work at a mall retailer so lunch is usually something from the food court and good luck finding something cheap, good and healthy. Usually end up at McD's dollar menu (blah I hate it! i really do!) but I dont eat alot and I havent worked out really as much as I was the last couple of months and my weight has been going down actually. Im sure mcd's isnt healthy carbs either. Maybe its just burning more calories then you taken in or something? either way if you like something eat it but don't over do it. moderation is key i think.
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    Oct 06, 2007 2:06 PM GMT
    Thanks for the voice of reason, Prof - the more authentic pizzas of my childhood in CT were utterly unlike the melted cheese platters that pass for pizza at most places. They were thin, crisp, and the dominant flavor was the thin layer of tart tomato paste (1 small ladle's worth, spread with the back of the ladle in a quick swirl).

    I advise my clients that, when confronted with a luncheon at, say, The Olive Garden (don't gnash your teeth, Prof, I know it's not real Italian food), they order the pasta primavera with chicken (sauce on the side) - eat all the chicken, all the veggies, and a fist-sized serving of the pasta, no more than that. If they have to have a little of the fatty sauce, they can dip the prongs of their fork in it occasionally before skewering their food.

    You'll get out of there with a fairly healthy meal. And leave a lot of pasta on the plate.
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    Oct 06, 2007 6:02 PM GMT
    Thanks guys. You really came through on this thread. Keep it up.

    As a side: growingmuscnyc: When I eat from the regular supermarket, and buy stuff with more additives and preservatives, I gain weight. I topped 200# this AM for the first time ever! But when I was shopping at Wild Oats exclusively, and avoiding as many preservatives as possible, I dropped down to 175#, all while eating the same basic diet. I won't attribute this to preservatives alone, but I'm pretty sure the thing they're best at preserving is body fat.

    E-crushes? YAY! ;-)
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    Oct 06, 2007 6:04 PM GMT
    JerseyGYMphdexpress dismay at the shabby quality of 95% of Italian restaurants in the U.S.

    That's mostly because 90% of them are named Olive Garden and Johnny Carino's. Did you know there is an Olive Garden in Tuscany now? Unbelievable.
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    Oct 06, 2007 8:42 PM GMT
    "Further, I defy all of you's not the pasta, but what you put on it that makes you feel "heavy" and sluggish."

    Tomato sauce with a little olive oil and parmesan cheese does not make my blood sugar crash. It's definitely the pasta, and I know that because I can have the same toppings over veggies, and there's no crash. I've had blood sugar issues all my life, and carb intake above a certain threshold causes a huge insulin spike followed by a crash.
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    Oct 06, 2007 8:47 PM GMT
    I found several damage controls for Italian resteraunt you may wanna try this:

    Always go for a tomato based sauce not a cream one

    If you want cheese on your pasta always ask if you can have grated parmesan bought to the table never succumb to a cheesey sauce :-)

    And salads they do love drenching it in dressing, way too much for my pallete, but ask if you can have the salad dressing on the side.

    Vut playing ruggers why you worried about your carb source you need all the carbs you can get!!!!!

  • Posted by a hidden member.
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    Oct 06, 2007 9:14 PM GMT
    I totally agree about excessive dressing on salads. Most of the time, I just toss romaine lettuce with fresh squeezed lemon or lime and skip the oil altogether. My salads are almost always a bed for sauteed meat/poultry/fish, and the tart, oil-free salad is a nice contrast to the fattier protein foods. I would think most restaurants could provide a few wedges of lemon in place of dressing.
  • Alan95823

    Posts: 306

    Oct 06, 2007 9:33 PM GMT
    Paradox, you can get just lemon and no dressing, just ask your server. I do it at lots of places.
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    Oct 06, 2007 9:34 PM GMT
    Unless I am at an authentic Italian restaurant, I just will not order the "house" salad dressings. The conception of "Italian" is this thick, gloppy sour tasting thing with flecks of dead spices and herbs in it. Simple olive oil and red wine vinegar is all that is needed.

    And now that I am in mid-rant icon_evil.gif I have to say that places like "Olive Garden", while OK...there's a place for them and as PSJoey indicated, you can get a good meal there, tend to pick up on trendy American conceptions of what Italian food is....and then take a sledge hammer and make it super-sized, overdone.

    For example, what American "Italian" restaurants have done to Balsamic vinegar is a travesty. It's supposed to be used very judiciously (it's strong and sweet). Now, you find it poured in huge quantities on salads, with tons of other junk, blue cheese, nuts and berries to make some weird concoction that is midway between dessert and salad....

    You listen to executive chefs of fine Italian restaurants...and you will hear them complain about that aspect of "Americanization" of Italian the overspicing and over-cream others have mentioned.

    I agree about sprinkling Parmesean cheese and declining the house restaurants that are really Italian, the waiter asks you if you want cheese sprinkled (and cracked black pepper).

    Paradox, I was only joking about "...I defy all you non-Italians..." icon_wink.gif