The birthplace of pizza, where pasta flows as freely as the wine, Italy may seem like a tough place to keep an eye on your waistline. However, with a little effort, travelers looking to stave off the pounds—or, for those who have special dietary needs—it's still possible to indulge in all of the deliciousness that Italy has to offer. From gluten-free pastas to naturally vegan pizzas to soy gelato, get your taste buds ready for the healthy side of Italy. - by Carolyn Scott-Hamilton
The first essential tip: European cities are made for walking, and Italy's windy, narrow streets, brimming with cute cafés and attractive locals, are best explored by foot. The amount of pavement that travelers pound daily, trekking from site to site, is the very best bet in sneaking in exercise and battling the bulge. Burn off those calories while taking in the sights—just be sure to pack a comfortable pair of walking shoes (ladies, leave those heels at home!).
Now, let's get down to brass tacks and discuss cuisine. Italian food is known the world over for its rich and heavy, carb- and cheese-filled dishes that can pose a problem for those wanting to watch their figures or keep up special diets. Of course, you'll want to indulge—in moderation. After all, who can resist a full-fat cappuccino, bottle of wine, pizza margherita, or slice of tiramisu as a special treat every now and then? But if it's done at every meal, it's a recipe for dietary disaster. Not to worry: with the explosion of the healthy living mindset and the popularity of gluten-free, vegan, and paleo diets around the world, Italy is no exception. Here are some ways you can healthily indulge, guilt-free:
* Gluten Free? Sì! With the explosion of celiac disease across the globe, Italians have become acutely aware of the wheat-induced illness that not only affects their visitors but also their countrymen (and women). As such, gluten-free pastas are increasingly easier to find and just the reprieve you need from all that bready goodness.
* So Soy Lactose intolerant? Vegan? Whatever the case, if you avoid dairy, it's not a problem. A growing number of gelato bars and coffee shops offer soy (or, soia) options. In fact, many gelato shops have sugar-free options, as well.
* Don't Say "No" to Vino You don't have to turn your cheek and wag your finger when the drink menu comes around just because you're afraid of the caloric intake. After all, one of the best parts of the dining experience in Italy is the wine! Of course, as mentioned, moderation is key, while keeping in mind that wine has a number of healthy attributes, too. From lowering blood pressure and reducing stress, to being filled with the magic antioxidant resveratrol, wine can actually be a healthy part of your meal. However, if you are intent on cutting back calories, pinot noir and pinot grigio weigh in on the lower end of the caloric scale.
* Veg Out There are plenty of vegetarian- and vegan-friendly dishes to choose from in Italy, and for items like pastas and salads touting meat or chicken, it's usually fairly simple to order them up senza carne or senza pollo (without meat or chicken). Pescetarians, meanwhile, will rejoice in seaside towns like Naples, where seafood is fresh and in abundance in all local eateries. For vegans, bruschetta al pomodoro and pizza marinara are always served senza formaggio (without cheese), without even having to ask. Additionally, Italians love vegetables in their pastas, pizzas, and as appetizers, so it's very easy to add and substitute them into your meal. Can you say grilled artichoke or pan-seared zucchini? Yum!
Ultimately, with these few simple tips, it's easy to enjoy a healthy Italian vacation, where the food is as incredible and rich as the nation's sites and history. A little effort at finding dietary balance will simply make reentry back home that much easier. Ciao and buon appetito!