As the Mediterranean diet is one of the healthiest in the world, there's no reason you can't enjoy pasta, pizza and other delicious Italian dishes. From olive oil to tomatoes, Italian cooking is full of nourishing ingredients with plenty of benefits to your health and wellbeing.


Next, find out all you need to know about the Mediterranean diet, see our healthy Mediterranean recipes, healthy Italian recipes and vegetarian Italian recipes.

1. Keep it seasonal

The typical Italian diet makes good use of fresh produce, so wherever possible, buy ingredients when they are in season. Using seasonal produce helps to give fantastic flavour to dishes and also means you won't have to add lots of extra fat, salt or sugar to improve the taste. Fresh, seasonal ingredients are also usually more nutrient-dense and therefore better for you. Italians love to wander around local markets to select their ingredients – picking the produce you'll soon prepare and cook is all part of enjoying the experience and ritual of making food.

2. Don't overdo the pasta

Pan of tomato pasta with fresh basil and parmesan shavings

People often make the mistake of throwing a whole bag of pasta in the pot and end up cooking and eating far too much. Around 120g of dried pasta per person (or less) is a good rule of thumb. Take care not to overcook the pasta – al dente (firm to the bite) pasta has a lower glycemic index than soft, overcooked pasta, so it will fill you up and keep you satisfied for longer.

There's no end of pasta recipes – try our lighter spaghetti & meatballs, roasted squash, shallot, spinach & ricotta pasta, roasted pepper linguine with crisp crumbs, and see more healthy pasta recipes.

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3. Change your oils

Swap your regular cooking oil for a good quality olive oil. Olive oil is much better for you than many regular cooking oils and definitely better than cooking with butter or margarine if you are trying to be healthy. Virgin olive oil is high in 'good' fats like monounsaturated and omega-3 as well as containing antioxidants.

Find out more about the health benefits of olive oil.

4. Fish


Try to eat at least two portions of oily fish a week. Fish is an important part of the Italian diet, along with shellfish, which is high in nutrients. Start with our spaghetti with smoky tomato & seafood sauce or whole stuffed roast fish with fennel.

5. Make mealtimes an occasion

Mealtimes are a big occasion in Italy, with families convening around the dinner table to enjoy the experience of sitting and eating together and appreciating the food they consume. Follow suit and avoid TV dinners and other distractions which will enable you to concentrate on what and how much you're eating to help control portion sizes and really enjoy your food.

6. Cook from scratch

Homemade passata in jars

The satisfaction you'll get from mealtimes will be much greater if you manage to cook a couple of dishes from scratch each week. You'll also know exactly what's going into your pot and onto your plate. Make your own passata and meatballs from scratch, and at the weekend, when you have more time, have a go at making your own pasta.

7. Watch your sauces

Italians lightly coat their pasta instead of drowning it with sauce. Excessive smothering just piles on the calories and fat content without adding any extra flavour. If you're watching your weight, choose your pasta shape wisely and avoid tube-shaped pastas such as rigatoni and penne as they soak up a lot more sauce.

8. Dessert

Grapefruit salad

Swap calorific desserts for a healthy summer fruit salad or winter fruit salad. If you buy fruit when it's in season you'll find the sweetness will conquer any sugar cravings.

9. Salad dressing

Choose a good quality and flavoursome balsamic vinegar when dressing salads so that you can reduce the amount of oil you mix with it. Balsamic vinegar is low in calories; to make a healthy dressing, simply mix it with a little virgin olive oil as a replacement for creamy salad dressings or mayonnaise.

10. Gremolata

Use a gremolata instead of a creamy or oily sauce to add plenty of flavour to grilled steak or fish. Gremolata is an Italian garnish of raw, finely chopped garlic, fresh parsley and lemon zest which adds huge amounts of flavour without the calories or fat when it is sprinkled on top of meat or fish at the end of cooking. Why not try our sardine tomato pasta with gremolata or caramelised red onion & anchovy pasta with gremolata.

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All health content on is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local health care provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.

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