The Surprisingly Healthy Pasta Dish You Can Order At An Italian Restaurant

More often than not, when you're trying to eat healthy, going out to restaurants can be distressing. The difficulty that comes with trying to find a nutritious and balanced meal on the menu can make you want to limit yourself to cooking at home. 

When it comes to Italian restaurants, you might think that pasta, cheese, and pizza will throw you off course. But Italians are known for their pasta and pizza as much as they are known for their olive oil, seafood, leafy greens, wine, and garlic. In fact, according to cardiothoracic surgeon and heart surgeon Dr. Steven Gundry (via The Dr. Gundry Podcast), "Italians are among the healthiest people on the planet and it's not because they are spending hours at the gym. It's their diet." 

So if you're looking for a surprisingly healthy pasta dish to order the next time you're eating at an Italian establishment, why not try the pasta with clam sauce? As shared by registered dietitian and creator of The Crowded Table, Kalee Lundmark, with SELF, "Clam sauce usually is made with olive oil, clams, white wine, and fresh herbs, so it is a lighter option that packs a lot of great flavor." Olive oil has long been lauded as one of the healthiest plant oils you can cook with, mainly because it's rich in monounsaturated fat content that can lower bad cholesterol (LDL) and increase good cholesterol (HDL), according to the American Heart Association

Just because the dish is good for you, however, is not an excuse to be eating too much pasta

With pasta, it's all about portion control

Just because Italians make pasta with durum wheat (a type of wheat that has more protein, digests slowly, and has a lower glycemic index than regular wheat), that does not mean that you should be loading your plate with it. According to Dr. Gundry, Italians don't really overdo it with pasta to start with. "The Italians always use pasta as their first course. It's called primi piatti and they have a very small portion of it," explained the author of "The Longevity Paradox: How to Die Young at a Ripe Old Age." For Italians, a primi piatti pasta dish is tailored to get various healthy herbs, vegetables, and oils into their system, said the heart surgeon. 

Head nutritionist at Casa Buiton, Valentina Cecconi (via Paste), added that it's also important to keep in mind factors like pasta consumption frequency and physical activity. "I often flavor it with vegetable seasoning and eat it with tomatoes, garlic, extra virgin olive oil, and a pinch of salt," she shared. 

Now that you've understood the Italian way of consuming pasta, what about clam sauce and white wine, two of the other ingredients in the dish? Clams are a rich source of omega-3 heart-healthy fats, per Livestrong. Although red wine is generally considered healthier than white, per Healthline, their nutritional profiles are somewhat similar, but white wine has fewer calories. 

Garlic is another ingredient used in the dish and this common household ingredient is packed full of nutrients that boost your immunity and aid heart health. 

How to make pasta with clam sauce at home

One of the pitfalls of eating at restaurants is that you never really know what goes into your food. If you want to be healthy and have control over the ingredients, cooking at home is an effective way to accomplish this. 

Making pasta with clam sauce at home is surprisingly easy. You'll need some linguini or spaghetti (get whole wheat pasta if you want to be extra healthy), olive oil, garlic, white wine, and about three cans of minced or chopped clams, according to Simple Nourished Living. For seasoning and flavor, apart from the salt and pepper, you can add anything from red pepper flakes and paprika to lemon, lime, basil, and chopped parsley. Some recipes on TikTok also feature tomatoes, onions, and cheese, although skipping the cheese might ensure your dish is as healthy as it can get. 

Start by cooking the pasta as you normally would. In a different pan, heat some olive oil and throw in the garlic, red pepper flakes, and salt, and let it simmer for a while before adding some clam juice (from the cans) and white wine. After about five minutes, add the clams and cook them in the sauce for a few seconds before adding your other ingredients like basil, chopped parsley, and tomatoes. The pasta goes in next. Taste the dish to see if you're happy with the seasoning. You can add more salt if you want (although it's always better to go easy on the salt if you're trying to be healthy). And now you've got yourself a healthy Italian pasta dish.