6 Ways To Make Italian Food Flat Belly-Friendly

Pasta and carbs can be weight loss-friendly, too. Just follow these expert-approved rules.

July 6, 2017
Pasta
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The melted cheese, the sweet sauces, the chewy carbs. When all of these flavors and textures come together on a plate, the combination is one that few can resist. In fact, Italian food is the most regularly eaten ethnic cuisine in the United States. Unfortunately for our collective waistlines, it’s also among the most caloric, according to a JAMA Internal Medicine study. 

(Prevention's new program makes eating real food—or, as we like to say, eating clean—easy. With Eat Clean, Lose Weight & Love Every Bite, nothing is off limits!)

But that doesn't mean you have to give up your favorite dishes to lose weight. While you probably already know that whole grain is healthier than white spaghetti, there are other, lesser-known ways to make pasta dishes, meatballs, even pizza, flat belly-friendly. Here are some of the easiest to pull off:

flat belly italian food
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Swap your proteins.

Adding protein to your pie or pasta bowl will help you stay fuller longer, which in turn, can help you say no to seconds. But not just any source of the nutrient will do. Prosciutto, pepperoni, sausage, and many other Italian-style meats are far too rich in saturated fat and belly-bloating salt to be considered healthy.

To stay on track with your diet, add chicken, roasted ham, anchovies, or meatballs (made with 90% lean beef and chopped mushrooms) to your favorite dishes, instead, suggests Angel Planells, RDN, CD, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics.

Following a vegetarian or vegan plan? Top your pie with protein-packed vegetables like cooked spinach (3 g per ½-cup serving) or broccoli (2 g per ½-cup serving), and one of these 7 insanely creative meat-free meatballs. "These healthier alternatives are not only more diet-friendly, but they're also a good source of protein, iron, zinc, and B vitamins." (Check out how this couple lost weight while eating their way through Italy.) 

flat belly italian food
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Pair carbs with veggies.

Despite conventional wisdom, things like Italian bread, spaghetti Bolognese, and ravioli aren't inherently "bad" for you. But the way we prepare them in America—typically without vegetables—isn't the healthiest or most authentic way to enjoy them. (Check out Prevention Premium's compelling case for following a Mediterranean diet here.) 

"Eating bread with butter or olive oil, for example, is unheard of in Italy. There, people dip their bread into vegetable soup or use it to mop up the salad dressing that's lingering on their plates," says Chicago-area registered dietitian Christine M. Palumbo, RDN. "When carbs are paired with fiber-rich vegetables, as they often are in authentic Italian dishes, they're absorbed far more slowly, which helps ward off blood sugar and hunger spikes."

Adding more veggies to classic Italian dishes is also a smart way to lower the calorie count. "If you are watching your weight, aim to have more veggies and protein on your plate and less of the pasta," says Ilyse Schapiro, RD, a registered nutritionist practicing in Connecticut. "Stick to one cup of cooked pasta and jazz up your dish with lots of veggies and some protein like chicken, shrimp, or turkey meatballs."

gremolata
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Learn to make a gremolata.

"Gremolata is an Italian garnish of raw, finely chopped garlic, fresh parsley, and lemon zest," explains Chloe Coscarelli, celebrity chef and author of Chloe's Vegan Italian Kitchen. "It adds huge amounts of flavor with far fewer calories and fat than creamy or oily sauces." (When you're craving a rich, creamy pasta dish but don't feel like going all out on the cheese, cream, and calories, these 7 genius alternatives hit the spot.)

For a meal so delicious you’ll forget all about that soggy Alfredo sauce, sauté wild mushrooms and spinach in some olive oil, mix ¾-cup of the veggies with a ¾-cup serving of whole grain pasta together in a bowl, and top with Coscarelli’s go-to gremolata recipe:

¼ cup fresh Italian parsley
2 cloves garlic, finely minced or crushed
Zest of 1 lemon
1 Tbsp olive oil
¼ tsp sea salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

Mix all ingredients together in a small bowl, and spoon it over your dish. Serves 4.

Grass fed cheese
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Use grass-fed cheese.

Back in the 90's when many folks feared dietary fat, cheese earned itself a pretty bad rap. Even though we now know that fat is not the enemy, many still assume cheese can't be part of a healthy weight loss plan. But that’s simply not true (check out these 3 amazing things that happened when one woman stopped eating "low fat"). In fact, in one British study, study participants who ate a high-protein, moderate-calorie cheese snack consumed less during their next meal than those who skipped the creamy treat. Researchers say this is likely because cheese is a good source of filling protein.

Of course, it's easy to overdo it; the key is portion control and picking the right variety. "If you love Parmesan, you don't have to avoid it. One tablespoon of shredded Parmesan, for instance, is only 22 calories, while a one-ounce serving is 112 calories," Schapiro says. "Fresh mozzarella is also a good option. It has 85 calories per ounce, which isn’t too bad compared to other cheeses."

Another way to use cheese in your favor: Buy grass-fed varieties. "Cheeses from grass-fed animals are higher in omega-3 fats, which may aid weight-loss efforts," says Schapiro. "They also provide a higher concentrations of various vitamins than cheese from grain-fed cows."

marinara
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Choose a better marinara.

When it's made in a factory, marinara is often filled with sugar and salt to boost its shelf life. And that's bad news for your diet. One recent Australian study found that people who consume a high sodium diet actually crave, and subsequently consume, more fatty foods than those who eat less salt.

MORE: 5 Signs Your Body Wants You To Cut Back On Salt

"Look for a sauce that has less than 450 milligrams of sodium and less than four grams of sugar per serving," Schapiro says. "If you want a sauce that's even healthier, make it yourself. Use canned peeled Italian plum tomatoes, mix it with low-sodium tomato paste, and season the mixture with your favorite spices." (This delicious marinara sauce recipe is packed with tasty veggies and has just 46 calories per serving.)

flat belly italian food
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Mix noodles with zoodles.

If you don't love the idea of eating zucchini noodles (aka zoodles) in lieu of spaghetti, we don't blame you—the taste and texture aren't for everyone. But if you have a tough time sticking to a reasonable portion of pasta, it's worth trying to find a spiralized vegetable you like. Everything from carrots and yellow squash to butternut squash and parsnips can be turned into veggie noodles. (Don't have a spiralizer? No problem. Here are 3 easy ways to make veggie noodles without a spiralizer.)

"If you absolutely cannot bear to give up pasta entirely, doing half vegetable noodles and half whole grain is a great option that's rich in fiber," Schapiro says. A half-cup serving of each topped with a wholesome sauce and a small sprinkle of cheese is filling and hits all the right flavor notes. (For even more weight loss-friendly noodle ideas, don't miss these 10 pasta recipes that won't leave you bloated.)

The article 6 Ways To Make Italian Food Flat Belly-Friendly originally appeared on Prevention.

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Tags: dieting