Italian Not Just Pizza and Pasta

Italian cuisine is the most popular restaurant food in the United States. Two-thirds of all restaurants feature Italian dishes—and not just pizza and pasta. With foods from every region, Italian foods are simple, flavorful, and nourishing.

Italian food is one of several Mediterranean cuisines receiving attention from both food and nutrition experts. Featuring pasta, risotto (rice dish), and polenta (cornmeal dish), Italian food is high in starches. The cuisine relies on smaller meat portions, and cheese is used to flavor many dishes.

Particularly with the foods of southern Italy, olive oil is the primary cooking fat, in contrast to butter, used in many northern Italian dishes. High in heart-healthier monounsaturated fatty acids, olive oil has some nutritional benefits. Regardless, go easy; any oil is still fat, with the same number of calories per ounce as margarine and butter. For more about this cuisine, see "Take Your Taste Buds to the Mediterranean" in chapter 9. Consider these tips for Italian foods:

• Enjoy crusty Italian bread—a slice or two, but not the whole basket! For less fat, go easy on butter or on olive oil for dipping, or enjoy the flavor of fresh bread as it is, without a spread. Hint: Garlic bread usually is lathered in high-fat spreads, Parmesan cheese, and garlic before it arrives at your table. Plain bread is a lower-calorie, lower-fat choice.

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