Eating Italian Food On Keto: What to Eat/Avoid, Restaurant Tips, and Recipes

Updated Aug 22nd, 2021 – Written by Craig Clarke

No matter where you travel in Italy, it seems like they have cracked the code on good cooking. Whether you have pasta, pizza, salad, lasagna, soup, or dessert, you can’t go wrong with authentic Italian food.

Unfortunately, many of the best dishes are filled with starchy foods, flour, or sugar. This can make it challenging to satisfy your craving for Italian food on keto. Find out exactly which foods to avoid when making delicious Italian food.

However, this doesn’t mean you have to give up on all of your Italian favorites to stay in ketosis.  In fact, with a few simple ingredient substitutions, restaurant ordering tips, and keto-friendly recipes, you can have a complete Italian meal that tastes authentic and helps you get the results you want.

The Problem with Eating Italian Food on Keto: High Carb Ingredients that Impair Ketosis

The Problem with Eating Italian Food on Keto: High Carb Ingredients

Often, the most popular Italian dishes feature high-carb foods and ingredients. In general, the following are the most common keto offenders are:

  • Pasta — It is best to avoid all pasta dishes and side items with pasta on keto. This includes ravioli, tortellini, manicotti, and lasagna as well. Though they are commonly stuffed with keto-friendly foods like cheese and meat, don’t forget about their high-carb pasta wrapping.
  • Bread, breading, breadcrumbs, and croutons — Each one is made from high-carb flours. Be cautious of meatballs and meat/seafood dishes as they typically have breadcrumbs or breading added to them. Double-check with the wait staff before ordering.
  • Pizza crust — Pizza crust is made up of the same components as bread. This means that pizza, strombolis, and calzones should all be avoided (or made with keto-friendly crust).
  • Rice or corn-based dishes — The most common culprits in this category are risotto, arancini, and polenta.
  • Soup — Most Italian soups feature pasta, beans, starchy veggie, or a combo of these ingredients. For example, Zuppa Toscana, minestrone, and Italian wedding soup all have high-carb ingredients lurking in their broth.
  • Dessert — Italian classics like cannolis, tiramisu, lemon cake, and biscotti are far from keto-friendly. To satisfy your craving for these desserts, we’ve included several options in our keto Italian recipe section below.

Keto Italian Food Staples You Can Order at the Restaurant

Keto Italian Food Staples You Can Order at the Restaurant

Though we’ve just taken away a big chunk of the menu, there are still plenty of traditional Italian options you can rely on that are both keto-friendly and delicious:

  • Olives — Ask for fresh olives instead of bread.
  • Cured meats — Prosciutto, pepperoni, salami, soppressata, coppa, capicola, bresaola, etc. The fattier the meat, the better.
  • Carpaccio — Raw, thinly sliced meat or fish
  • Italian cheeses — Ricotta, mozzarella, parmesan, buffalo mozzarella, etc.
  • Fresh tomato slices — Always opt for fresh over sun dried tomatoes to keep carb intake lower.
  • Fresh herbs
  • Roasted, grilled, or marinated vegetables — Eggplant, artichokes, and red peppers are common low-carb vegetables you’ll find on the menu. Raw peppers stuffed with meat and/or cheese are also a great option.
  • Hot Italian sausage — Opt for hot over sweet sausage. Sweet sausage typically gets its sweetness from added sugar.
  • Roasted, grilled, or steamed meat/seafood dishes — Make sure they are not breaded or served with the high-carb items from the previous section.
  • Sugar-free red sauces — Marinara, fra Diavolo, and arrabbiata sauce tend to be the lowest carb sauces. That being said, make sure to double-check with the wait staff (or the ingredient label) that it is sugar-free.
  • Flour-free alfredo sauce — Authentic Italian alfredo sauce is one of the most delicious keto-friendly options. However, before ordering, make sure they didn’t add any flour to thicken up the sauce. The best alfredo sauces are made with 2-3 simple keto ingredients, typically Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and butter.

Not only will these options help you on your way to weight loss success, but they are typically much healthier and 100% gluten free. As you’ll see below, many of our low carb Italian recipes and menu items are based on these simple Italian staples.

Eat This, Not That: Stay in Ketosis while Eating Italian, Simplified

What to Order at an Italian Restaurant to Stay in Ketosis

What to Order at an Italian Restaurant to Stay in Ketosis

Now that we know the keto-friendly components of Italian cuisine, let’s go over some specific menu items and how to order them in a way that keeps the carbs as low as possible:

What to Eat Before the Appetizer

Most Italian restaurants will bring you complimentary bread or breadsticks, which both should be avoided on keto. Ask them to bring some fresh olives and olive oil instead. Olives are the perfect salty, high-fat snack to set you up for a delicious keto Italian meal.

Keto-friendly Appetizer Orders (Hot, Cold, Salads, and Soups)

  • Antipasto platter — Typically contains an assortment of cured meats, cheeses, and marinated vegetables such as artichokes and peppers. Avoid any dried fruits, mostarda, jams, or bread.
  • Carpaccio — Aged, raw, thinly sliced beef or fish, usually served with an olive oil dressing, cheese, and a few low-carb vegetables.
  • Gamberoni — A traditional shrimp antipasto dish, served cold or hot after the shrimp have been sautéed with garlic and wine. Ask them to make it without any pasta.
  • Grilled, roasted, or marinated vegetables — Artichokes, red peppers, and eggplant are great low-carb Italian veggies that may be featured as a dish or served with antipasto.
  • Caprese salad — Fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, and fresh basil, seasoned with salt and olive oil, occasionally paired with arugula. Ask them to hold the balsamic vinegar if you want to keep it as low in carbs as possible.
  • Steamed mussels or clams — These should simply be steamed in broth or marinara sauce. Ask for it to be served without pasta, bread, or breading.
  • Caesar salad — Ask for it without the croutons or bread. Don’t forget to add some extra parmesan or anchovies.
  • Salsiccia alla Cacciatore — A dish that features Italian-style sausage, herbs, and low-carb veggies covered in marinara sauce. Be sure there are no starchy ingredients served with this dish, such as beans, pasta, polenta, or bread.
  • Gamberi alla Piccata — A delicious combination of shrimp, lemon, capers, garlic, butter, and tomatoes. You may also be able to get it with chicken instead of shrimp, but make sure it isn’t breaded. Hold any pasta or bread that comes with the dish.
  • Grilled portobello — As long as they don’t stuff the mushroom with breading, order it as is.
  • Seafood salad — Typically consists of shrimp, calamari, mussels, clams, peppers, arugula, olive oil, and vinegar. Make sure none of the components are breaded.

Keto Italian Dinner Menu Items

  • Costolette di Agnello (Lamb Chops) — A simple Italian lamb chop dish. Ask them to hold any reduction sauce and starch (rice, potatoes, pasta, or bread) it may come with, and opt for a side of broccoli or a house salad without croutons.
  • Salmone Rustica — Grilled salmon served with spinach, roasted tomato, red onion, and olive oil. Ask for extra spinach or a side salad to replace any starchy side it may come with.
  • Costilla Corta di Manzo — A delicious braised beef short ribs dish. Order without the sauce/reduction, bread, pasta, risotto, or potatoes that come with it. Ask for low-carb veggies or a house salad without croutons on the side.
  • Osso Bucco — Veal shanks braised with vegetables, white wine, and broth. Ask them to hold the risotto or polenta that is traditionally served with.
  • Chicken or Veal Saltimbocca — Meat wrapped (or lined) with prosciutto and sage, cooked in a marsala-based sauce. Double-check to make sure the meat isn’t covered in flour or breaded, as this dish is sometimes made in this way.
  • New York Strip Steak or Ribeye — Ask for it to be served with steamed broccoli, asparagus, or a side salad. Hold the bread, potatoes, risotto, or wine reduction it may come with.

What About Italian Dessert?

Ordering a low-carb dessert at an Italian restaurant will be much more difficult, so I recommend skipping it and having a homemade keto dessert instead.

That being said, there are a couple of simple options that most restaurants won’t mind preparing for you:

  • Berries and cream — Ask for a small serving of fresh berries and sugar-free whipped heavy cream or mascarpone cheese.
  • Espresso (no sugar or milk) — Skip the cappuccino, and order a shot of Italian espresso black. Add some heavy cream if you find the espresso to be too bitter.

Not Sure What to Order? Use These Three Keto Italian Ordering Tips

If the menu or the waitstaff leaves you feeling confused, make sure to order with these tips in mind:

  1. Avoid the flour, starches, and desserts — This includes bread, croutons, risotto, pasta, potatoes, beans, polenta, pizza crust, etc.
  2. Look for non-breaded meat/seafood dishes — Whether they are cured, carpaccio-style, grilled, roasted, or steamed, make sure they aren’t breaded, dredged in flour, or served with high-carb sides.
  3. Add fat and flavor with olive oil and cheese — If your dish is falling flat, don’t forget to amp up the flavor and fat content with extra virgin olive oil and cheese. Grated parmesan and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil can really turn a bland meal around.

However, as with eating out at other restaurants, it is difficult to figure out how many calories, fats, carbs, and protein are in your order. This is why preparing most of your meals at home is one of the best foolproof strategies to ensure that you get the results you want.

In fact, there is no better way to enjoy your favorite Italian dishes than by making them yourself.

Making Keto Italian Food Yourself:  Low Carb Substitutes for Traditional Italian Ingredients and Dishes

The first step to converting Italian meals into a keto-friendly dish is by using low-carb alternatives for the most common high-carb ingredients:

Italian pasta → Low-carb vegetables, shirataki noodles, or homemade keto noodles

Pasta is typically made from wheat flour, which is packed with net carbs.

To make your favorite Italian pasta dishes keto-friendly, try using spiralized zucchini, eggplant noodles, spaghetti squash, sliced cabbage, shirataki noodles, or a homemade keto pasta noodle recipe instead.

To learn more about each low-carb pasta option, check out our guide to eating pasta on keto.

Italian pasta → Low-carb vegetables, shirataki noodles, or homemade keto noodles

Lasagna → Keto pasta sheets, low-carb vegetables, or go noodle-free

Since lasagna filling is usually made with keto ingredients, all you have to do is swap out the high-carb pasta sheets. The easiest option is to forget about the layers and double up on the meat and cheese.

Alternatively, if you’re looking to emulate every aspect of authentic Italian lasagna, then lasagna with keto noodle layers will be the best choice.

For a list of keto lasagna recipes, check out the lasagna section of our keto pasta noodle article.

Lasagna → Keto pasta sheets, low-carb vegetables, or go noodle-free

Risotto → Riced cauliflower

Cauliflower is one of the most versatile keto vegetables. Not only can you make low-carb fried rice with it, but you can turn it into a creamy, Italian-inspired risotto as well.

Feel free to add your own spin on it and change the flavors, fillings, and additional cheeses that can be added to it. It’s customizable, easy to make, delicious, and keto-friendly!

Risotto → Riced cauliflower

Breading for meat, seafood, and vegetables → Ground pork rinds, flaxseed meal, parmesan cheese, and Italian seasoning

Some Italian dishes just don’t taste right without the breading.

Fortunately, there are several ways to cut out the high-carb flour and keep the coating keto-friendly.

One of our favorite ways to make low-carb cutlets is by using a mixture of ground pork rinds, flaxseed meal, parmesan cheese, and Italian seasoning for the breading. Check out our chicken parmesan recipe to learn how.

Breading for meat, seafood, and vegetables → Ground pork rinds, flaxseed meal

Pizza → Keto pizza crust (meat-, keto flour-, or cauliflower-based)

The problem with pizza is the high-carb crust, but there are dozens of ways to make it without the excess carbs.

To find the right keto pizza crust option for you, check out our top 10 pizza recipes featuring meat- and keto flour-based crusts by following this link.

Alternatively, if you have some extra cauliflower in the fridge, you can turn that into keto pizza crust as well (with the help of this recipe).

Pizza → Keto pizza crust (meat-, keto flour-, or cauliflower-based)

Italian dessert → Use sugar-free keto-friendly ingredients

Italian desserts are a notoriously delicious combination of fatty richness and sugary sweetness.

To experience the authentic flavors you crave from your favorite desserts, it is best to make them yourself with keto-approved recipes.

With the help of the right recipe, you can make keto-friendly tiramisu, Italian cheesecake, and panna cotta. For a comprehensive list of keto Italian dessert recipes, scroll down to see our dessert menu.

Italian dessert → Use sugar-free keto-friendly ingredients

50+ Keto Italian Recipe Round-up: Your Favorite Foods Made Keto-friendly

Making the dish yourself is the best way to ensure that you’ll get all of the authentic Italian flavors and textures you love while achieving your goals with keto. To help you find your favorites, we created a comprehensive keto Italian menu divided into the following sections:

  • Breakfast and brunch
  • Italian low-carb lunch
  • Appetizers and snacks
  • Soup and salad
  • Keto-approved Italian pasta
  • Keto Italian dinner entrees
  • Side dishes (keto contorno)
  • Pizza and bread recipes
  • Italian desserts (sugar-free dolces)

Italian-inspired Keto Breakfast and Brunch Recipes

Italian-inspired Keto Breakfast and Brunch Recipes

Speculoos and Macadamia Biscotti — A satisfying keto-friendly version of the traditional Italian biscuit. Try dipping it in Ketoproof Coffee for the perfect start to your day.

Mini Pizza Egg Bakes — Get your morning pizza fix without having to fiddle with keto pizza crust.

Eggceptional Sausage Keto Frittata — There’s no better way to celebrate the Italian frittata than by combining the traditional egg dish with Italian sausage.  If you love Italian sausage, you’ll find this recipe to be undeniably satisfying.

Keto Pepperoni Pizza Quiche — Though quiche isn’t keto-friendly or Italian, we can make it into a keto Italian dish by using keto-friendly pizza crust ingredients and Italian-inspired toppings.

Breakfast Keto Pizza Waffles — This recipe sells itself, satisfying your craving for pizza and waffles at the same time.

Ham, Ricotta, and Spinach Casserole — One of the cheapest and simplest ways to fit low-carb vegetables, meat, eggs, and Italian cheese into your day with one quick casserole.

Savory Italian Egg Bake — A savory casserole dish for those who need a hearty protein-packed breakfast to start the day. Feel free to make this for lunch or dinner as well.

Italian Low-carb Lunch Menu

Italian Low-carb Lunch Menu

Personal Pan Pizza Dip — All the pizza toppings you love, but without the crust. Eat it by the spoonful, scoop it up with pork rinds, or serve with a side of Keto Breadsticks.

Italian Cheesy Bread Bake — Ooey gooey doughy goodness without the high-carb flour. If you’ve been craving authentic Italian stromboli since you started keto, this recipe will really hit the spot.

Hot Sausage & Pepper Soup — A delicious low-carb alternative for Italian soups that come with beans or pasta.

Grilled Tuna Salad with Garlic Dressing — A hearty & healthy keto salad inspired by the fresh flavors of Italy’s Mediterranean coast.

Rosemary Chicken Salad with Herb Balsamic Vinaigrette — This is nothing like the salads where they just plop a bland piece of grilled chicken breast on top. With this recipe, every component is bursting with Italian flavor.

Prosciutto, Caramelized Onion, and Parmesan Braid — Yes, it’s as delicious as it sounds. After you have this mozzarella-based braid, you’ll never reach for a high-carb calzone or stromboli again.

Keto Hoagie Lunch Bowl — This keto lunch bowl is like having a cold Italian antipasto combined with delicious hoagie sandwich toppings.

Keto Sub Sandwich Casserole — If you miss the days when you had an Italian sub for lunch, skip the bread and make this casserole instead. Pack it with your favorite meats, cheeses, and toppings for the perfect grab-and-go keto lunch.

Snacks and Appetizers (Keto Antipasto)

Italian Keto Snacks and Appetizers

Easy Keto Italian Plate — Start your keto Italian night off right with this no-frills cold antipasto.

Low Carb Keto Caprese Snack Salad — The beauty of this Caprese salad is in its simplicity. Just prep, cut, and layer the ingredients for a delicious keto snack or appetizer.

Pesto Keto Crackers — Skip the Italian bread and snack on these pesto crackers. They’ll satisfy your craving for bread while pairing wonderfully with the keto Italian dips below.

Cheesy Hearts of Palm Dip — Incredibly cheesy and satisfying, this Italian-inspired dip is a guaranteed crowd favorite.

Spicy Sausage Cheese Dip — Craving something meaty and spicy to kick off your keto Italian dinner? This simple dip will be the perfect starter.

Garlic and Herb Breadstick Bites — Not only are these breadsticks keto-friendly, but they are so much more satisfying than their high-carb counterpart. Serve as a hot appetizer or have it on the side with your soup, salad, or main dish.

Keto Stuffed Artichokes — Inspired by the traditional Italian appetizer, these stuffed artichokes taste surprisingly authentic. Preparing the artichokes can be intimidating at first, but with the help of this recipe, you’ll be able to make a restaurant-quality plate.

Keto Arancini (Cauliflower Rice Balls) — To pull off the ultimate keto Italian magic trick, make yourself some low-carb arancini by replacing the rice and breading with cauliflower and pork rinds. Pour your favorite low-carb sauce over the finished product and enjoy! (Skip the jalapeno if you don’t want the added spiciness.)

Soup and Salad

Italian Keto Soup and Salad

Homemade Keto Caesar Salad — Just like authentic Caesar salad, but without the bread or high-carb croutons. Serve with keto breadsticks or low-carb croutons instead.

Vegan Cucumber and ‘Bacon’ Side Salad — Add some extra low-carb vegetables and healthy fats to your Italian meal with this side salad. Don’t forget the sugar-free Italian dressing.

Sausage and Kale Soup — Whether you are craving escarole and bean soup, zuppa Toscana, or minestrone, this recipe is one of the most satisfying low-carb alternatives for these classic Italian soups.

Low-Carb Broccoli Lemon Parmesan Soup — A comforting, cheesy, and creamy broccoli soup that’ll get your taste buds ready for the main course.

Oven Roasted Caprese Salad — Fresh mozzarella accompanied by roasted garlic and tomatoes, tossed together with fresh basil and pesto. This is arguably one of the best salads on keto.

Keto Italian Pasta Recipes

Keto Italian Pasta Recipes

Keto Spaghetti alla Carbonara — Just replace the carb-heavy pasta with a keto option and experience the sublime combination of egg, Parmesan cheese, and bacon that make Carbonara so delicious.

Bolognese Zoodle Bake — A satisfyingly meaty keto sauce without the added sugar and high-carb veggies that are typically added to bolognese. Feel free to serve it with any of your preferred low-carb pasta alternatives.

Zucchini Ribbons & Avocado Walnut Pesto — A lighter and brighter tasting keto pasta dish featuring basil and walnut pesto.

Eggplant and Bacon Alfredo — Surprisingly enough, eggplant makes for the perfect keto noodle, soaking up the alfredo flavors better than fettuccine.

Keto Lasagna — This is the closest you’ll get to the real thing on keto. In fact, you may even find this to be more satisfying and flavorful than traditional Italian lasagna.

For a wider variety of keto pasta alternatives and recipes, check out our 15 best pasta recipes.

Keto Italian Meat and Seafood Dinner Entrees

Keto Italian Meat and Seafood Dinner Entrees

Simple Chicken Parmesan — A deliciously tender, pan-fried chicken cutlet with keto breading and layered with sauce and melted cheese. (You can use the same low-carb breading method to make Eggplant Parmesan as well.)

Keto Creamy Sun-Dried Tomato Chicken Thighs — Like a vodka cream sauce with a hint of chicken Cacciatore, this keto recipe belongs on the menu at the best of the best Italian restaurants.

Baked Italian Meatballs — The humble meatball deserves more attention. Its versatility, simplicity, and flavor are unmatched. After making these classic Italian meatballs, don’t forget to try stuffing them with cheese or make them with Italian sausage.

Keto Shrimp Alfredo — Pan-fried shrimp swimming in a decadent, creamy alfredo sauce without the high-carb fettuccine getting in the way of your goals.

Zingy Lemon Fish — A quick low-carb fish dish inspired by the flavors of fish Piccata.

Vegan Portobello Steaks with Avocado Salsa —  A vegan-friendly way to experience Italy without the meat, cheese, and carbs.

Perfect Ribeye Steak — Follow the recipe as is or amp up the flavor by marinating the steak in Zesty Keto Italian Dressing.

Lemon & Rosemary Roasted Chicken Thighs — This keto recipe takes the classic flavors of Chicken Piccata to another level with roasted chicken thighs and aromatic herbs.

Coffee and Wine Beef Stew — A warm, comforting stew reminiscent of Beef Spezzatino (Italian beef stew).

Keto Italian Side Dishes (Contorno)

Keto Italian Side Dishes (Contorno)

Mashed Cauliflower with Parmesan Cheese and Truffle Oil — The perfect side for your main dish, especially if you’re craving mashed potatoes.

Keto Breadsticks — Italian food is better with fresh breadsticks. With this low-carb recipe, you’ll learn how to make them Italian-style or extra cheesy.

Low Carb Cauliflower Mushroom Risotto — Creamy, cheesy risotto doesn’t have to be filled with net carbs. Next time you have keto Italian night, give this cauliflower-based risotto a try instead.

Crisp Garlic Parmesan Keto Green Bean — A simple side of green beans covered in garlic and parmesan.

Low Carb Broccoli and Cheese Fritters — Another delicious keto alternative for arancini and a great way to add more low-carb vegetables to your main dish.

Keto Bread, Pizza, Stromboli, and Calzone Recipes

Keto Bread, Pizza, Stromboli, and Calzone Recipes

Low Carb Focaccia Bread — Aromatic Italian bread that is actually keto-friendly.

Keto Plain Pizza — Quick and easy plain pizza in just 5 minutes, no flour necessary.

Low Carb Pepperoni Pizza — Sink your teeth into a keto-friendly slice of thin-crust pepperoni pizza.

Cauliflower Pizza Crust — Replace the flour with cauliflower, and learn how to turn this keto vegetable into the perfect pizza crust.

Portobello Personal Pizzas — Like stuffed Italian portobellos, but they’re packed with pizza toppings.

Keto Stromboli and Calzone Options:

If you’d like to see more pizza or bread recipes for keto, click the following links:

Keto Italian Desserts (Dolces)

Keto Italian Desserts (Dolces)

Blackberry Chocolate Panna Cotta — A creamy keto-friendly alternative for the classic Italian dessert.

Keto Tiramisu — Everything you love about traditional tiramisu without the added sugar and high-carb flour.

Italian Lemon Sponge Cake — A lighter keto dessert option that features a fluffy, airy cake and a subtle lemon flavor. Don’t forget to top it with homemade sugar-free whipped cream.

Keto Mocha Gelato — Most keto ice cream recipes are so rich and creamy that they serve as a perfect gelato substitute as well. If coffee-flavored gelato isn’t your favorite, here is a link to our other keto-friendly flavor options.

Keto Cheesecake Bites — Simple, creamy, and satisfying, just like a bite-sized Italian cheesecake.

Keto Cream Cheese Truffles — Decadent truffles reminiscent of fine Italian chocolates, no specialty ingredients or sugar necessary.

Key Takeaways: How to Add Italian Food to Your Keto Lifestyle

Whether you are eating out, ordering takeout, cooking at home, or looking for a quick snack, you can eat Italian food while staying in ketosis and experiencing the benefits of keto.

To fit more of your favorite Italian dishes into your keto diet, make sure to follow these three rules:

  1. Avoid bread, breading, pasta, risotto, polenta, and desserts.
  2. Look for non-breaded meats/seafood dishes.
  3. Add more fat and flavor with olive oil, cheese, olives, and cured meats.

However, the only way to ensure that what you are eating will satisfy your craving for Italian without impairing ketosis is by making the dishes yourself. This is why we’ve included 50+ Italian keto recipes above (and why we update our keto recipe catalog regularly.)

As with any keto meal, it is also crucial to consider how these dishes fit into your nutritional needs for the day. This is because your results ultimately depend on what and how much you eat.

To help you figure out exactly what this means for you, we’ve included several tools that’ll help you achieve your health and weight loss goals with keto: