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CHOW ITALIANO: When Not in Rome...

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Shrimp scampi, pepperoni pizza, mozzarella sticks, marinara sauce, veal parmigiana, spaghetti and meatballs. Those are some of the “Italian” foods you’d be hard-pressed to find in Italy, according to Fodors.com.

No matter. Americans seem to love what restaurants call Italian food. But how much damage does it do to our waistlines and arteries?

From breadsticks to tiramisu—with plenty of cheese, meat, and white-flour pasta in between—Italian has never been confused with spa cuisine. But in recent years, restaurants have fattened the pot, deep-frying their lasagna and ravioli, pouring alfredo sauce on anything that doesn’t move, and selling platters with two or three entrées. The food— and the diners—just keeps getting heavier.

Of course, some restaurants offer lowercalorie dishes for patrons who don’t want to roll out the door looking like a meatball. Olive Garden, the largest full-service Italian chain in the country, has a Lighter Italian Fare menu with seven entrées that have less than 575 calories. And menus at Carrabba’s Italian Grill and Romano’s Macaroni Grill highlight dishes with less than 600 calories. (Most are still loaded with salt. Sigh.) At other chains, like Maggiano’s Little Italy, it would be a challenge to find any entrées below 600 calories.

Here’s a sampling of items from those four chains. The numbers—we took them from the companies’ Web sites—are likely to reflect what you’d get in similar dishes at similar restaurants. But wherever you eat Italian, you can use our tips on page 15 to slim down the usual fare