Toasted Italian bread topped with juicy tomatoes, vivid green basil leaves and a drizzle of olive oil -- this appetizer is called bruschetta, and it's common on Italian menus. The food can be low in fat and high in essential nutrients if it's prepared the right way, making it a far better choice than other Italian appetizers such as fried calamari or gooey cheese dips.
The Base: Italian Bread
A 1-ounce slice of Italian bread contains 77 calories and about 1 gram of fat. That same slice supplies about 2.5 grams of protein, but less than 1 gram of dietary fiber. One ounce of Italian bread delivers 0.83 milligram of iron, which is 10 percent of the 8 milligrams men need every day and 5 percent of the 18 milligrams women need each day. Italian bread supplies small amounts of zinc, calcium and niacin, too. Make this a healthier option by starting with a whole-wheat loaf.
A Drizzle of Olive Oil
Olive oil contains heart-healthy unsaturated fats, which can help lower your cholesterol and reduce your risk of heart disease, according to the Harvard School of Public Health. Of the 4.5 grams of fat in a teaspoon of olive oil, almost all of it is unsaturated. Monounsaturated fats in particular, which olive oil contains, can help improve blood pressure and protect you from Alzheimer's disease, according to a 2005 article published in the "European Journal of Clinical Investigation." Olive oil contains trace amounts of vitamins E and K as well.
Fresh Tomato Chunks
Fresh tomatoes are low in fat and calories and add a boost of nutrition to the bruschetta. One-quarter of a medium tomato contains just 6 calories and only a trace of fat. That same portion of fresh tomato supplies small amounts of vitamins A and C. Fresh tomatoes also contain small amounts of fiber, folate and vitamin K.
Fresh Basil Leaves
A five-leaf serving of fresh basil leaves contains 1 calorie and trace amounts of folate, potassium, vitamin A and vitamin C. You'll also get 10.4 micrograms of vitamin K, which is about 12 percent of what you need daily. Basil contains compounds, called flavonoids, that can help protect your cells from structural damage and might reduce your risk of cancer, according to Michael T. Murray and Joseph E. Pizzorno, authors of "The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods."
Putting It All Together
A serving of bruschetta equal to one slice, made with 1 ounce of Italian bread, 1 teaspoon of olive oil, one-quarter of a medium tomato and five basil leaves contains 124 calories and 5.5 grams of fat, of which less than 1 gram is saturated. That same serving supplies about 2.8 grams of protein and 1.2 grams of fiber. You'll also get about 1 milligram of iron and almost 16 micrograms of vitamin K.
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Bread, Italian
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Oil, Olive, Salad or Cooking
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Tomatoes, Ripe, Red, Raw, Year Round Average
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Basil, Fresh
- European Journal of Clinical Investigation: International Conference on the Healthy Effect of Virgin Olive Oil
- Harvard School of Public Health: Fats and Cholesterol: Out With the Bad, In With the Good
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010
- American Heart Association: Sodium (Salt)
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Iron
- Encyclopedia of Healing Foods; Michael T. Murray and Joseph E. Pizzorno