Menu Navigator: Best (and Worst) Choices on an Italian Pasta Menu

We'll show you the healthiest choices (and splurge-only dishes) to help you order wisely at Italian restaurants.

Pasta is all about the fixings―the carbs are fine, but how are they sauced or stuffed? Fettuccine Alfredo can weigh in at 1,220 calories, but swap marinara for the cream sauce and the calories and fat plummet. We analyzed six favorite pasta dishes from popular U.S. restaurants to help point you to healthful choices. Nutrition numbers are estimates: Results vary according to portion size. If sodium is a concern, ask the kitchen not to add salt, and watch your intake the rest of the day. Buon appetito.

Smart Pasta Strategies
Pass up typically preassembled pasta dishes, like lasagna, since you can’t specify more or less of key ingredients like cheese. And don’t feel compelled to join the clean-plate club. If your serving is enormous, take some (or most!) home with you.

How to Steer Clear of Three Pasta Pitfalls

  • Avoid cream sauces: Stick to olive oil or tomato sauce pastas, or substitute those for a cream sauce, if possible.
  • Ask your server about half portions: Pasta dishes can be huge―a half order might be more than enough.
  • Grated cheese on the side, please: Add a tablespoon yourself rather than the three or four the kitchen might deploy.

Splurge Only: Spaghetti Carbonara
820 calories
Saturated fat from pancetta, cheese, and sometimes cream make it a splurge.

Healthy Choice: Penne Puttanesca
496 calories
Olives, capers, and anchovies flavor lycopene-rich tomato sauce in this tangy dish.

Ask Your Server: Pasta Primavera
567 calories
Vegetable-packed, but often smothered in cheesy cream sauce that’s a fat overload.

Healthy Choice: Linguine Aglio e Olio
451 calories
Olive oil, garlic, and hot pepper add zest and healthful fats to this ultrasimple dish.

Ask Your Server: Ravioli
490 calories
Look for fillings with cheese and vegetables, like spinach, or lean protein, such as lobster.

Splurge Only: Manicotti
940 calories
These may be stuffed with a half-pound of cheese and a day’s worth of saturated fat!

More...