Italian food dish with shrimp and pesto with spaghetti in a wooden bowl, resting on a tablecloth and wooden table

Satisfy that Italian food craving without ditching your diet

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Have a taste for Italian food, but don’t want to splurge on the excess calories? With just a few tweaks to your favorite Italian entrées, you can enjoy a healthier replica that’s just as yummy as the original.

Get your food processor ready because you’ll be taking it on quite a spin. 

Glass jar with pesto inside, sitting on a wooden surface with basil leaves and pine nuts, two other Italian foods


Pesto, an oil-based sauce consisting of basil and pine nuts, is frequently used in Italian cuisines. It can be mixed into a variety of recipes to add a distinct and very tasty flavor to your entrée. 

“Even though it’s green, pesto is really high in fat, calories and salt,” says Abby Read, MS, RDN, LD, a wellness coach and program coordinator at Methodist Dallas and Methodist Charlton medical centers. “Pre-made pesto sauces tend to be expensive and are really high in salt to keep them shelf-stable. So I always like to say to make your own pesto.”

You might be surprised to know that it takes only five ingredients to make a great pesto sauce: basil, olive oil, garlic cloves, lemon juice, and pine nuts. Always start off with fresh basil, but Read suggests adding other leafy greens to the mix. 

 “You can create a healthier twist by adding kale or spinach,” she says.  “The basil is so overpowering that you’ll barely notice the kale.”

Pesto sauce can be used as a dip for breadsticks or veggies, on your pizza, any linguine, your tomato soup, salmon, omelets, and even steak.  

For an easy step-by-step guide to make a delicious pesto sauce, take a look at Good in the Simple’s “Simple Vegan Pesto” recipe. 

Pasta dish with spaghetti, zucchini noodles, sauce, cheese, and green garnish


“Just one serving of this dinner classic can pack upwards of 700 calories and way over 50 grams of carbohydrates,” Read says. But switching out a few key ingredients can quickly slice those numbers down to size. For example, you can replace spaghetti with something greener.

“If you’re looking to go lower in carbs, zucchini noodles are a great option. They’re vegetables so they’re naturally high in fiber, super low in calories, and are tasty. They’re a perfect alternative for spaghetti.”  

To get a thorough walk-through on how to make the perfect zucchini noodles, look no further than Wholesome Yum’s recipe. 

Another way to reduce the fat in this entrée is to get rid of the ground beef. 

“Skip the beef and go for leaner meat,” Read says. “Ground turkey, shrimp, chicken, or black bean meatballs are perfect substitutes that go well with spaghetti.”

Cauliflower pizza with tomatoes and spinach, sitting on wooden tabletop with knife and glass table setting


One of the best ways to enjoy pizza guilt-free is by getting rid of the crust and replacing it with a healthier alternative such as cauliflower or a whole-grain crust. Cauliflower is a gut-friendly vegetable and it’s gluten-free, but you also can’t go wrong for choosing a whole-wheat crust either. 

“For people who are trying to go low-carb, cauliflower pizza is the way to do it,” Read says. “Unfortunately, cauliflower crusts tend to be expensive when bought in the stores, but there are plenty of recipes out there for you to be able to make it in your own kitchen.”

It can be quite thrifty to make your own crust. All you need is one cauliflower head, grated parmesan, garlic powder, eggs, and either your blender or food processor to break down the cauliflower crowns. 

Bare Foot in the Pines, shares tips on how you can successfully make your own cauliflower pizza crust.

And if you can’t imagine pizza without the bread, try whole wheat instead of traditional dough. A benefit that comes from switching to whole wheat pizza crust is you won’t be as sluggish after gulping down a few slices. Whole-wheat naturally comes with B vitamins which help convert your food into energy.  

Chicken parmesan and spaghetti


Chicken parmesan is a simple yet flavorful Italian entrée that can satisfy some of the pickiest eaters. However, it comes with a high price of calories, carbs, and fat. This is when creativity in the kitchen comes in handy.

To make this dish healthier, you can swap out the traditional white flour in the batter for almond flour and grated parmesan cheese. Almond flour is a great alternative for the common all-purpose flour. It’s packed with nutrients, with around 160 calories and only 5 grams of carbs per serving.

If you’d like to make this dish, Cassidy’s Craveable Creations shares helpful points that make cooking look like a walk in the park. This recipe recommends butter but says oil can be used as an alternative.

 “When frying food, use olive oil instead of vegetable oil,” Read says. “Olive oil is high in omega 3 and it’s the healthy fat that you need.”

If you’d rather completely avoid butter and oil, you could try baking the chicken and use a zero-calorie cooking spray to prepare the baking sheet or even try an air fryer. 

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