"A minestrone with lots of vegetables and beans is one great choice," she said. "It still has the tomato-base broth, garlic, oregano and basil associated with Italian flavor, but lots more nutrients than other choices."
Sadequee, who is a Food for Life instructor, may also choose a Caesar salad at an Italian spot. Because she's typically dairy-free, she asks the restaurant to leave out any Parmesan or other cheeses. She also requests the dressing on the side to control calories.
"When I first speak to the server, I mention that I need all the dairy left out of my meal, so the server understands where I am coming from at the outset," she said.
Sadequee also eats gluten-free as much as possible. "For an entree, I would always ask to see the gluten-free menu and order gluten-free pasta with a red sauce [without cream or dairy] if they offer it. Even Olive Garden now has a gluten-free menu."
When you do order pasta, Sadequee recommends following her example and adding a vegetable side to the mix. "Make it something green, like a sauteed kale or arugula, or cannellini beans. Vegetables on the side will add fiber to your meal, which is supportive to the digestive system."
If you plan to order salad and/or soup and an entree, make sure to save some for another meal, says Sadequee. "Get a to-go box," she said. "If you eat it all in one sitting, you may be overeating."
Sadequee says the most important aspect of eating healthy at an Italian restaurant is being willing to speak up with special requests. "I've found that a lot of people are not comfortable asking for food to be prepared a certain way and that becomes a block to eating healthy when you're eating out," she said. "I've never had any issues going to a really nice Italian restaurants and requesting dairy-free or gluten-free. They are usually happy to meet my needs."