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11 Guilt-Free Italian Menu Items


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This air-dried, salted beef first originated in Italy and has been served as an antipasti for centuries. It's 98-percent lean, sweet, and tender. (That's code for practically no fat, no carbohydrates, and lots of protein.) Some restaurants serve it on its own, others with arugula or Parmesan cheese.

Chicken Paillard

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This classic Tuscan dish is just pounded, grilled chicken, usually topped with a salad of arugula, lemon, and olive oil.

Brodetto di Pesce

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One of my favorites, this vibrant fish soup is brimming with seafood (white fish, mussels, shrimp, scallops, and whatever else is fresh that day), tomatoes, thyme, garlic, onions, and a splash of white wine.

Roasted Rabbit

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Rabbit is the chicken of Italy. It also happens to be a lean protein with very little cholestorol. Italians serve it every which way, but the healthiest is the roasted route, seasoned with parsley, onion, oregano, and white wine.

Chicken a la Diavola

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It may sound naughty, but chicken a la diavola (deviled) means nothing more than brushed with red pepper and olive oil, and broiled in an oven.

Italian Minestrone Soup

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Who says comfort food can't be healthy? This tomato-based soup is filled with fresh vegetables, beans, and a little pasta.


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A great gluten-free substitute, ground cornmeal only gets indulgent when you add cheese or milk. The traditional way to cook it in Italy is boiled with a little shaved Parmesan on top.

Grilled Calamari

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Not everything is fried, breaded, or made with pasta. Italians love grilled calamari seasoned with lemon, olive oil, and parsley.

Broccoli Rabe

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Did you know a cup of broccoli rabe is just nine calories? It's filled with flavor and nutritious value to boot, and is usually sauteed with a little olive oil, garlic, and a splash of lemon to mellow the bitterness.


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Skip Tiramisu or panna cotta and order Macedonia for dessert instead. It's an Italian fruit salad made with fresh seasonal fruits, mint, and a little lemon juice. That's it!


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End dinner with an Italian ice, made with ice, sugar, and whatever flavor you're craving. Our favorites are lemon and coffee. (The less sugar, the better.)

Danyelle Freeman is the author of Try This: Traveling the Globe Without Leaving the Table. She served as the Chief Restaurant Critic for the New York Daily News for more than two years, and appeared as a guest judge on Iron Chef America.