We all know Italy for its food. Italians are passionate about eating a well-balanced Mediterranean diet that is seasonal and fresh. You will find that fruit and vegetables are generally only available in season on local menus, and that the flavor they contain may be much more intense than what you are accustomed to. So, if your diet is restricted due to picky eating, we encourage you to taste everything at least once, because it may be the best thing you’ve never had! However, if you do have a restricted diet, have no fear. Italy, despite being behind the curve on some modern trends, is a world leader in healthy food options for everyone.
Cuisine in Italy varies considerably by region, so do some research on where you will be visiting before you go to have an idea of what you may or may not be able to eat.
Vegetarians have it pretty easy in Italy! Most pizza, pasta and rice dishes can be made without meat – just be sure to specify that you don’t tolerate meat at all. It could be lurking in the broth or cooking juices used to make some soups or side dishes that otherwise don’t contain meat. The Mediterranean diet is centered of lots of vegetables and legumes so look out for dishes like pasta e ceci (pasta with chickpeas), minestrone (vegetable soup), or zuppa di faro (faro soup) for a healthy, hearty vegetarian meal. Also remember that contorni (side dishes) are often vegetable based as well.
Depending on where you go, vegan options are also quite readily available nowadays in Italy. The further south you go, the less prominent they become, but they are available in most major cities.
For a list of Vegan restaurants in Europe, see here: http://www.paginevegan.it/cat/ristorazione/
Gluten free pasta is readily available in most major cities in Italy. You can also ask when you sit down to eat at a restaurant if they have pasta senza glutine as a substitute. If gluten free pasta is unavailable, look for other options such as risotto, rice-based dishes, or polenta, a porridge made with cornmeal. Another great option is farinata or cecina, a kind of flatbread made from chickpea flour that is very popular across the north of Italy.
Gluten free bakeries are popping up every day, and many farmacies carry gluten free products, so check out the Italian Celiac Association’s website for suggestions on where to buy gluten free: http://www.celiachia.it/dieta/Dieta.aspx?SS=95&M=1280
Believe it or not, many people who consider themselves lactose intolerant in the United States find that they have no problem with dairy here in Italy! Different methods of production and laws regarding additives make the dairy products in Italy extremely tasty and healthy, and much more easy for our bodies to handle. A lot of hard Italian cheeses are actually naturally lactose free as well. Emmenthal, Gorgonzola, Grana Padano, Gruyere, Parmigiano Reggiano, Pecorino Stagionato and Smoked or Sweet Provolone can all be eaten without problems! In the café you can opt for latte di soia (soy milk) in your coffee.
If you do require products like milk, that are senza lattosio (lactose-free) they do exist, but most likely not in any restaurant. You will need to look in a pharmacy or a large chain supermarket.