You’re heading to your favourite Italian restaurant for the first time since quitting sugar but you’re not sure how to navigate the menu – from lasagne and carbonara to gelato and tiramisu, it’s some tricky territory. Don't worry – we’ve been there, and that's why we'll be sharing our top tips for eating out at an Italian restaurant without sacrificing the progress you’ve made.
So, you’ve probably whipped up a few killer pasta dishes while on the 8-Week Program, but sometimes you just want to kick back and celebrate at a restaurant – or maybe you’re a homebody who got roped into a friend's party. Either way, this is your guide to confidently navigating the confusing world of eating out – Italian style.
Choosing a drink
Coffees, cappuccinos and cocktails, oh my! The Italians are the aficionados of beverages and, well, pretty much everything food-related. What’s the first thing you order at a restaurant? The drinks of course – and while this may seem like the safest part of the menu, it’s actually a sugary minefield with options that can have more sugar than the tiramisu. It’s easy to accidentally drink down your daily 6-9 teaspoon limit for sugar – especially at an Italian restaurant with temptations and creative concoctions abound. Here’s our advice to keeping the sugars out of your cup:
Avoid this: Skip the affogatos and flavoured lattes, these are loaded with added sugars and preservatives which are guaranteed to throw your gut microbiome out of whack.
Order this: Your best bet is plain black coffee without all those added nasties. But if you don’t like your joe too strong, a flat white can be a safe option – sans the sugar, of course! Or perhaps we should say senzathe sugar.
Avoid this: Italy is known for its innovative and exciting cocktail concoctions, so it’s no wonder you’ll find a slice of the homeland in your local Italian joint. From negroni to limoncello, there’s no shortage of tempting options – but there’s one problem. Its name is sugar. These drinks are loaded with the sweet stuff, with some packing upwards of 5 teaspoons of it in just one small glass. Keep in mind the daily limit for women is 6 teaspoons and for men it’s 9 teaspoons. So, we recommend skipping the cocktails on your night out!
Avoid this: Steer clear of any sweet or fruity wines, they may seem healthy with their fruit content, but that stuff if a fructose haven and could known your craving progress back a few steps.
Order this: We recommend going for a red wine if you’re looking for an alcoholic drink that won’t spike your blood sugars, plus they're packed with antioxidants. Dry white wine is also a safe option, it'll have a little more sugar than the burgundy, but it's still I Quit Sugar approved, in moderation of course.
Avoid this: Combo spirits like your classic vodka soda or rum and coke are loaded with sugars – be sure to give this stuff a miss.
Order this: Spirits tend to be sugar free, so long as there’s no sneaky lemonade or orange juice added. But go easy on this stuff, after all, they’ve got a high alcohol concentration and, much like fructose, it’ll go straight to your liver. The result? Visceral fat, weight gain, obesity – you know the drill.
- Cold drinks:
Avoid this: You’ll find juice on the menu in most restaurants, and your local Italian joint is no exception. But as you probably know by now, this stuff is loaded with sugar and stripped of fibre. The result? Blood sugar spikes and an unhappy liver.
Order this: If all else fails, water is your friend. This stuff is free, hydrating and, most importantly, sugar free. If you can’t find anything suitable on the menu, just pour yourself some water from the table.
Mains: Be cautious of those rich Italian sauces
Avoid this: Italian pasta dishes are known for their indulgent tomato sauces loaded with salt, sugar and cream – and don’t even get us started on the carbonara! So, keep away from the tomato-based pasta dishes, the creamy carbonaras and anything fried - we're looking at you, calamari!
Order this: You can't go wrong with a simple olive oil and lemon dressing for your pasta – simple, healthy and tasty. But if you’re looking for something a little more indulgent, go for the clam sauce pasta. This sauce is usually comprised of olive oil, white wine, herbs and clams, making it a fragrant and nutritious option. Another dish that’s low in sugar, low in trans fat and high in nutrition is minestrone soup. A classic, veggie-packed affair that you really can’t go wrong with.
Avoid this: Just like with the pasta, you’ll also want to avoid the tomato sauce on your pizza. This is because it’s stripped of its fibre and packs a more concentrated amount of sugar, which can send your blood sugars haywire and wreak havoc on the progress you’ve made. Of course, it’s never too late to jump back on the wagon, but if you can help it, steer clear of the red stuff.
Order this: Go for a white pizza. These are still delicious, but without that sugar overload. Load it with all your favourites, from mushrooms and spinach to chicken and anchovies. Whatever floats your boat! Just because it’s low in sugar, doesn’t mean it can’t be a taste sensation.
What would your Italian restaurant experience be without dessert? From cannoli and tiramisu to gelato and sorbet, the Italians have it down. Just because you’ve quit sugar, doesn’t mean you can’t get in on some of that dessert action!
Avoid this: Your typical cannoli will be loaded with sugar, refined flour and possibly some trans-fat packed shortening, so this is one dish we recommend giving a miss. The gelato is also a sugar magnet, and even its healthier cousin, sorbet, tends to be loaded with added sugars.
Order this: We’d recommend enjoying an after-dinner coffee and maybe some fresh fruit instead of the typical dessert affair. If they offer any cheese plates, this can also be a surprisingly satisfying after-dinner snack!
But that doesn’t mean you have to miss out on the sweet stuff! If you have a sweet tooth, smuggle in your own low-sugar desserts, from biscotti to ricotta cheesecake, the options are endless – and if you’ve been missing that class Italian sorbet, we’ve got a treat for you. Here’s a free recipe for a little inspiration so you can enjoy the Italian dessert experience without the sugar explosion.
Choc Berry Mud
This I Quit Sugar Cookbook hit is a simple, rich and indulgent recipe that competes toe-to-toe with traditional sorbets. Perfect for an after-dinner dessert that is low in sugar and high in taste – you might even find it boasts a creamier texture than some of your old gelato and sorbet favourites. It makes enough for two people, so feel free to adjust the measurements to make more – and trust us, you’ll want to.
- 1/2 cup frozen berries
- 1⁄2 soft avocado
- 1 cup baby spinach leaves
- 1⁄4 cup raw cacao powder
- 2 trays ice cubes
- Pinch vanilla powder
- 1⁄2 teaspoon stevia
- Blend the lot in a blender, preferably a high-powered one. If you’re using a regular blender or stab-mixer, add a little water.
- Pour into bowls and serve immediately.
Remember your goals and intentions
One of the best ways to survive eating out is by keeping your dreams at the forefront of your mind. Remember why you started your sugar-free journey! Chances are you wanted to make some changes to your health – and quitting this addictive substance is the first step to getting back control of your life. So, as challenging as it can be to navigate the social aspects of eating out – and the actual eating part – keeping in mind your goals will help ground you and keep you motivated to continue on your path to better mental and physical health. You’ve probably already noticed a few signs of progress! Perhaps some of the following improvements resonate with you:
- Greater mental clarity
- Improved gut health
- Reduced inflammation
- Reduced anxiety
- Weight loss
- Balanced moods
- Better sleep
- Clearer skin and shinier hair
Plus, you can also enjoy the peace of mind in knowing your risks for obesity, type 2 diabetes and liver disease have been significantly reduced. As you probably know by now, fructose is the key component of sugar which is driving our global obesity crisis – with a whopping 1.9 billion living with the condition. Then we’ve got non-alcoholic fatty liver disease of which sugar is an insidious contributor to its development, and seeing as a quarter of the population are affected, is it any wonder growing numbers of us have come together to give sugar the slip? And it’s not just the physical stuff – most of us can attest to the unstable moods that come with a high-sugar diet, while some have even experienced anxiety disorder and depression as a result, as studies have shown rates of these conditions are greater in those who are hooked on the sweet stuff. All of these issues have one contributing factor in common – sugar. So, when you start to falter, remember the progress you’ve made for your health, your life and your happiness.