Best (and Worst) Italian Appetizers

Find our picks for healthy choices and splurge-only starters at Italian restaurants.

Italian Appetizers

Photo: Randy Mayor

Healthy Italian Appetizers and Splurge-Only Choices

Whether you're at an Italian-American chain or an authentic trattoria, we've compared various typical starters you'd find on the menu. From bruschetta and shrimp scampi to anchovies and giardiniera, here are a few picks and pans on the antipasti list.

Tomato-Topped Bruschetta

Photo: Randy Mayor

Healthy Choice: Tomato-Topped Bruschetta

The only problem here is it's so easy to take one more from the plate. Here's the math: One large or two small slices have about 130 calories and 300mg sodium.

Shrimp Scampi

Photo: Randy Mayor

Splurge Choice: Shrimp Scampi

As served in many chains, this dish can be an oily, garlicky, admittedly delicious indulgence. Even a small serving can have 250 calories and 700mg sodium—before you mop up all that sauce.


Photo: Randy Mayor

Healthy Choice: Olives

Low in sodium they're not. But the variety of textures and flavors means a few will keep you satisfied while you're awaiting your entrée. Along with good-for-you fats, five medium olives have 50 calories and 288mg sodium.

Spinach and Artichoke Dip

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Splurge Choice: Spinach and Artichoke Dip

Loaded with cream, cheese, and salt, so even a shared portion of this chain menu mainstay moves you into entrée territory: 385 calories, 6.5g saturated fat, and 580mg sodium.

Caesar Salad

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Healthy Choice: Caesar Salad

Depends on portion and dressing, of course. Lightly dressed (as here), it can have just 260 calories. Slathered with oil, cheese, and anchovies, it can run up the fat and sodium meter. Follow with a light entrée, such as simple grilled fish.

Fried Calamari

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Splurge Choice: Fried Calamari

The problem here is restraint: You're served a mountain, and it's hard to stop after a few pieces. Even if you do stop, you'll consume about 240 calories and 720mg sodium.

Caprese Salad

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Healthy Choice: Caprese Salad

Mild mozzarella is the perfect counterpoint to bright tomatoes in this traditional salad. Splitting a portion gives you a satisfying 165 calories and 275mg sodium.


Photo: Randy Mayor

Splurge Choice: Salumi

House-cured meats are ultratrendy, complex, and delicious, but a modest 1-ounce portion of dry salami or soppressatta contains 120 calories and 540mg sodium. Best cut thin and savored.


Photo: Randy Mayor

Healthy Choice: Prosciutto

The best, sweetest varieties of Italian prosciutto are not overly salty. The key is the perfect thin cut. Have two or three slices for just 25 calories and a smidge more than 200mg sodium.


Photo: Randy Mayor

Splurge Choice: Anchovies

Watch for these briny treats on bruschetta, flatbreads, and other starters: Good fats, but four anchovies (about 0.5 ounce) eat up 25 percent of your day's sodium allowance.


Photo: Randy Mayor

Healthy Choice: Giardiniera

Practically free! Two tablespoons of this spicy, crunchy pickled snack have just 5 calories and a welcome 41mg of sodium.

Fried Polenta and Marinara

Photo: Randy Mayor

Splurge Choice: Fried Polenta and Marinara

Crispy, corny, good. But a few polenta sticks and sauce rack up 240 calories and 510mg sodium.

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