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Italian Takeout: 10 Tips For Making It Healthier

The Huffington Post  |  By Posted: 04/28/2012 9:42 am Updated: 04/28/2012 2:23 pm

No matter how often you opt for whole-grain breads, cook whole-wheat pasta at home or make your own loaded-with-veggies pizzas, there are times when only a delivery pie or your favorite restaurant's spaghetti and meatballs will squash a carb craving.

Restaurant foods have taken a lot of flack for the expansion of Americans' waistlines. Takeout dishes can be high in fat and sodium and portion sizes have grown by up to 50 percent in the past 20 years, according to the AP.

But it's not simply whether you eat out, it's what you choose to eat. Having a few savvy tricks up your sleeves can mean you can enjoy your takeout without sabotaging your best healthy eating intentions. Here are a few ways to make your favorite Italian picks a little bit better for you.

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  • Start With Soup

    Beginning a meal with a hot soup -- minestrone is a good option -- can help you consume fewer total calories, Samantha Heller R.D., C.D.N. tells The Huffington Post. Just don't overdo it. "Soup can be a good way to fill up, but the biggest issue is salt," cautions Heather Bauer, R.D., C.D.N., founder of <a href="http://www.bestowed.com/" target="_hplink">Bestowed</a> and author of "Bread is the Devil". All that salt could leave you feeling full and bloated -- but still craving a sweet dessert, she says. <br> <br> <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/reuvenim/5767194200/" target="_hplink">reuvenim</a></em>

  • You Don't Have To Skip The Cheese

    "Your food has to taste good," Bauer tells HuffPost. Skip a salad loaded with croutons and drenched in dressing in favor of something simpler, but equally tasty, she says. "Try and stick to a mixed greens salad with balsamic vinaigrette with a little bit of shaved Parmesan for flavoring." <br> <br> <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/ulteriorepicure/231555553/" target="_hplink">ulterior epicure</a></em>

  • But Know When To Skip The Cheese

    "Skipping the cheese can save you hundreds of calories," says Heller, so use it wisely. In a salad for flavoring is one thing, but a Parmesan dish smothered in the stuff is simply not necessary. "Order them without the cheese, and they still taste really good!" she says. <br> <br><em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/rooey/5558650160/" target="_hplink">Rooey202</a></em>

  • Kiddie-Size Your Entrée

    Say you're just dying for Fettuccine Alfredo, but after a glance at the menu you see it's sky-high in fat and calories. Get a kid's portion, says Heller, Clinical Nutrition Coordinator at the Cancer Care Center at Griffin Hospital in Derby, Conn. "You get the taste without the calories," she says. Then fill out the meal with a couple of veggie sides, like white bean and escarole with garlic, or sautéed spinach and garlic, she says. <br> <br><em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/camknows/4596272350/" target="_hplink">camknows</a></em>

  • Tomato Sauce Isn't Always The Lightest Choice

    "When you cook tomatoes, the sugar concentration increases, and a lot of restaurants add sugar," Bauer says, essentially making the sauce "count" as another carbohydrate, in addition to the pasta it's adorning, she says. The best bets are olive-oil-based sauces or light tomato broths, she adds. <br> <br><em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/fynes/3409894274/" target="_hplink">gordasm</a></em>

  • Go For Grilled

    An eggplant Parmesan is likely to be battered, dipped and fried, and restaurants might not be able to change that, says Heller, but you may be able to order chicken Parm that's grilled instead. Bauer also suggests looking for grilled calamari instead of fried for an appetizer, and looking for fish entrees that are simply grilled and served with sautéed vegetables, like broccoli rabe. <br> <br><em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/mroach/164499914/" target="_hplink">mroach</a></em>

  • Swap Pasta For More Veggies

    Bauer, also a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/heather-bauer-rd-cdn" target="_hplink">HuffPost blogger</a>, says that an appropriate serving of pasta is about the size of two fists. Most takeout dishes will pile on lots more than that. If the dish you're craving doesn't come in a kid's or appetizer size, ask to cut back. "Ask to skip the pasta, and have it with double vegetables," she suggests. <br> <br><em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/muyyum/4360992465/" target="_hplink">Muy Yum</a></em>

  • Dabbing At Your Pizza Does Really Make A Difference

    "It depends where you're getting your pizza from, but I've seen [what looks like] a couple tablespoons extra oil on top of a slice," says Bauer. <a href="http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/fats-and-oils/509/2" target="_hplink">One tablespoon of olive oil has nearly 120 calories</a>, so dabbing a slice with a napkin really can save some serious calories. <br> <br><em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/29099566@N07/3264288139/" target="_hplink">aivrendotcom</a></em>

  • Have That Second Slice

    Here's some welcome advice: Skip the salad altogether and make two slices your meal. "I find clients who have a slice and salad still want a second slice," says Bauer. "Make a choice -- do you want the salad or do you want the pizza? Have two slices and be done!" <br> <br><em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/thepizzareview/3557539934/" target="_hplink">The Pizza Review</a></em>

  • Thin Crust Wins

    But not because it tastes any better. There are simply more calories in a doughier pie, says Bauer. And white pizza isn't necessarily better for you just because it ditches sugary tomato sauce. "Sometimes they put more cheese in it or use a richer cheese that makes that pizza heavier," she warns. <br> <br><em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/jasoneppink/3848977306/" target="_hplink">jasoneppink</a></em>

  • Share Dessert

    Sure, fresh fruit would be the most obvious healthy choice, but if you're stuck on the chocolate cake or tiramisu, split it "five ways," says Heller. That might mean sharing it with roommates or splitting it with family, but you could even bring in leftovers to work the next day. "You get three fork fulls," she says, "satisfying that post-dinner desire for chocolate, and then you're done." <br> <br><em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/dotpolka/2319569606/" target="_hplink">dotpolka</a></em>

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