Italian Phrases for Food Allergies and Preferences


There are currently 5 million vegetarians in Italy, and the number of people adopting a plant-based diet is ever increasing. Food restrictions are on the rise too. Still, don’t expect much understanding when trying to explain your avoidance of certain types of foods to Italian waiters. I’ve heard all sorts of stories of vegetarians being served fish and seafood because “they're not meat!”

Here is how to express your dietary requirements. We will also help you figure out what you can eat on a menu and find suitable alternatives, in case your server still doesn’t get it. 

Ready? Let’s begin.

italian food preferences allergens vocabulary allergies

Vegetarianism – Vegetarianismo

Vegetarianism is the practice of abstaining from the consumption of meat, including red meat, poultry, seafood and the flesh of any other animal. In other words, vegetarians don’t eat products made from dead animals. 

If you follow this type of diet, say:

Sono vegetariano/ Sono vegetariana – I’m vegetarian.

If you are vegetarian, be aware that most soups are made with chicken or beef broth, and that some Italian dishes have hidden meat or fish in it. Here is a list of meat and fish words that you may find on Italian menus: 

  • prosciutto (cured ham);
  • pancetta (cured pig meat, bacon);
  • guanciale (cured pork jowl);
  • würstel (wurst);
  • bottarga (salted, cured fish roe);

Avoid dishes containing them.

Now, let’s have a look at the different types of vegetarianism.

Lacto-ovo vegetarianism – Dieta latto-ovo-vegetariana

Lacto-ovo vegetarians are people who don’t eat meat, poultry and fish, but do include eggs, milk and dairy products, such as cheese, butter and yogurt, in their diet. The majority of vegetarians in Italy are of this type. 

Ovo vegetarianism – Dieta ovo-vegetariana

An ovo-vegetarian diet allows for the consumption of eggs and vegetables, but not milk, dairy products and ingredients made from milk, such as casein and whey. In other words, ovo-vegetarians don’t eat meat, poultry, fish, milk and dairy products, but do eat eggs and products containing eggs.

In Italian, this type of diet is called dieta ovo - vegetariana.

Lacto vegetarianism – Dieta latto-vegetariana

A lacto-vegetarian diet includes veggies and dairy products such as milk, cheese, yogurt, butter, cream and kefir. Lacto-vegetarians don’t eat meat, fish, poultry, eggs and products containing eggs, such as many baked goods.

In Italian, this type of diet is called dieta latto-vegetariana

Pescatarianism – Pescetarianismo

Pescatarians, also called pesco-vegetarian, avoid meat but may eat fish, and consume dairy and eggs. In other words, seafood is the only source of meat in an otherwise lacto-ovo vegetarian diet.

It’s called pescetarianismopescatarianismo or pescovegetarianismo in Italian. If you follow this type of diet, say: 

Sono pescetariano / Sono pescetariana – I’m a pescatarian.


Pollo-vegetarians avoid red meat and pork products, but may eat poultry, including chicken, turkey, goose, duck and quail. People who follow this type of diet are called pollotariani in Italian.

Veganism – Veganismo

Veganism is the practice of abstaining completely from the consumption and use of any products derived from animals. No matter if it is food-related, such as meat, cloth-related, such as wool, or anything else. 

Vegans don’t eat food of animal origin and any by-products of animal slaughter, which means that they abstain from the consumption of meat, poultry, fish and any animal products, including eggs, milk, dairy products, honey, gelatin, lard, broths, suet, gravy and aspic.

If you want to say that you follow a vegan plant-based diet, simply say:

Sono vegano/ Sono vegana – I’m vegan.

Many traditional Italian dishes don’t contain meat and dairy, such as:

pasta con pomodoro fresco e basilico(tomato basil pasta)with fresh tomatoes and basil
penne all’arrabbiata penne pasta with diced tomatoes, crushed red chili pepper flakes, minced garlic and fresh basil;
spaghetti aglio, olio e peperoncinowith garlic, oil and chili pepper
farinata genovesemade from chickpea flour, oil and salt
pasta e fagioli (bean and pasta soup)a classic soup with pasta and borlotti beans
caponataa Sicilian version of ratatouille, made with eggplants, olives, capers and raisins
carciofi alla romana an iconic dish of Rome, in which marinated artichokes are cooked in white wine
pappa al pomodoroa Tuscan soup made of bread, tomatoes, basil, garlic and olive oil
ribollita toscanaa thick soup made with stale bread, cabbage, beans, carrots, onions and potatoes
polenta ai funghi porciniwith porcini mushrooms
fagioli all’uccellettowith cannellini beans, garlic and tomato sauce

As you can see, Italian cuisine and veganism are not incompatible at all!

Useful for vegans is also the contorni section of the menu (side dish), with a whole lot of verdure/ortaggi (vegetables) e legumi (legumes). Furthermore, Italians hardly ever use butter, which is a good thing for vegans. Extra virgin olive oil, rich in antioxidants, is usually the fat of choice.

Let’s have a look at the most common subgroups of veganism. 

Raw veganism – Crudismo

A raw vegan diet consists of uncooked, unprocessed, raw plant foods, like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and sprouted grains and legumes. This type of dietary practice is called crudismo in Italian. If you follow a raw vegan diet, say:

Sono crudista – I’m a raw vegan.

Fruitarianism – Fruttarismo

Fruitarians are vegans who eat primarily or exclusively fruits, berries, nuts and seeds. They usually exclude grains and processed food. Many fruitarians eat only fruits that fall naturally from plants. 

If you follow a fruitarian diet, say:

Sono fruttariano / Sono fruttariana – I’m a fruitarian.


Beegans are vegans who eat honey, royal jelly and products containing honey.

Freeganism – Freeganismo

Freegans, freegani in Italian, reclaim fruits and vegetables that have been discarded. They basically avoid buying anything as much as possible, in an attempt to be eco-friendly and boycott the economic system. This type of practice is becoming more and more widespread among squatters and university students, especially in big Italian cities. 

There are also the so-called “meegans”, who eat meat products that would otherwise go to waste. I can’t think of an equivalent in Italian. 

Locavorianism – Locavorismo

Locavorianism, locavorismo in Italian, is the practice of eating only food that was grown close to where you live, in order to support local farmers and make a positive impact on the environment. 

People whose diet consists primarily or exclusively of locally grown or produced food are called locavores, locavori in Italian. As you might have noticed, the word locavore sounds similar to carnivore (carnivoro in Italian) or omnivore (onnivoro in Italian). Locavores actually eat food of both plant and animal origin.

Macrobiotic diet – Dieta macrobiotica

A macrobiotic diet, dieta macrobiotica in Italian, consists largely of vegetables, whole grains, cereals, beans, legumes and sea vegetables. It allows for the consumption of seeds, nuts and occasionally fish and seafood. The main principles of this type of dietary practice are to:

  • reduce animal products;
  • consume meals in moderation;
  • eat locally grown in-season foods.

It aims to avoid the toxins that come from eating meats, eggs and dairy products. If you follow this type of diet, say:

Seguo una dieta macrobiotica – I follow a macrobiotic diet.

Lactose intolerance – Intolleranza al lattosio

Lactose intolerance, intolleranza al lattosio in Italian, is a digestive disorder caused by the inability to digest lactose, the main carbohydrate in dairy products. It can cause various symptoms, including abdominal cramps, bloating and diarrhea. 

Make sure you specify your dietary restrictions when eating out or at somebody else’s home:

Sono intollerante al lattosio – I’m lactose intolerant. 

Be aware that dairy products and especially cheese tend to sneak into lots of Italian dishes. But, since Italians usually don’t mix cheese and fish, ordering seafood can be a safe choice if you are lactose intolerant. Alternatively, you can order a dish from the menu without cheese. For example, if you want to order a pasta dish, ask the waiter for it senza formaggio (without cheese).

Celiac disease – Celiachia

Celiac disease, celiachia in Italian, is a digestive disorder resulting from an immune reaction to a gluten protein found in barley, rye, oats and especially wheat. Again, make sure you specify your food restrictions when eating out or when invited to dinner at somebody’s home:

Sono celiaco / Sono celiaca – I am celiac.

Seguo una dieta senza glutine – I’m gluten-free.

A person who is following a gluten-free diet should avoid:

  • all foods made from enriched flour, wheat, rye and barley, including bread, pasta and cereals;
  • oats;
  • beer and other grain-based alcoholic drinks.

Here is a list of gluten-free Italian dishes that should be fine for celiac sufferers:

  • grilled meat and fish, including arrosticini, tender skewers of lamb cooked over an open fire;
  • risi e bisi, a creamy rice dish made with fresh peas and diced pork;
  • plain rice;
  • Caprese (Caprese salad), made with mozzarella di bufala, tomatoes, fresh basil and extra virgin olive oil;
  • beans;
  •  lentils;
  • ragù, a meat-based sauce;
  • pesto alla Genovese, a delicious sauce made with basil leaves, pine nuts, garlic, salt and a hard cheese such as Parmigiano-Reggiano, all blended with olive oil;
  • salsiccia, a fresh pork sausage seasoned with fennel seeds;
  • Mortadella, a large sausage made of pork, traditionally flavored with pistachios and black pepper grains;
  • porchetta, a rich, intensely flavorful roast pork dish;
  • panna cotta, a dessert of cream and sugar thickened with gelatin;
  • semifreddo, a semi-frozen dessert usually made of eggs, cream and sugar;
  • zabaione, a dessert made of caster sugar, egg yolks and sweet wine;
  • almost all cheeses, including ricotta and Parmigiano-Reggiano

Vegetarian restaurants usually offer gluten-free options, but in general don’t expect gluten-free pastas, pizzas or breads to be available in Italy.

Food allergies – Allergie alimentari

Food allergies, allergie alimentari in Italian, are immune system reactions that occur after eating certain foods. The most common food allergy symptoms include:

  • swelling of the face, tongue or other parts of the body
  • abdominal pain
  • itchy rash
  • eczema
  • dizziness
  • low blood pressure
  • tingling in the mouth
  •  trouble breathing
  • anaphylaxis in more severe cases.

The majority of food allergies are triggered by certain proteins in:

  • crostacei (shellfish), such as gamberetti (shrimps), granchi (crabs) and aragosta (lobster);
  • noci (walnuts);
  • nocciole (hazelnuts);
  • arachidi (peanuts);
  • uova (eggs);
  • soia (soy);
  • mandorle (almonds);
  • mele (apples);
  • banane (bananas);
  • albicocche (apricots);
  • ciliegie (cherries);
  • pesche (peaches);
  • some spices and herbs, such as pepe nero (black pepper), prezzemolo (parsley), cumino (caraway), semi di finocchio (fennel) and coriandolo (coriander).

When dining at a restaurant or when invited to dinner at somebody’s home, alert your server or the host of your food allergies by telling them:

Ho una grave allergia alimentare a… – I have a severe food allergy to…  

È molto importante che le pietanze non contengano… neanche in minima parte – It is crucial that the food does not contain even a very small amount of…

Always read the ingredient list carefully before ordering a dish from a menu. If you are allergic to peanuts, don’t order fried food at Italian restaurants because the kitchen staff almost certainly use a combination of oils which might contain peanut oil.

Here are some products you can pick-up at the nearest pharmacy to alleviate the effects of food allergies:

  • antistaminico (antihistamine), which may require a doctor’s prescription;
  • cortisone (cortisone), which requires a doctor’s prescription.

That’s all for today. Practice your Italian while letting people know of your dietary requirements, preferences, intolerances or allergies.

About the Author

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Jessica is a native Italian speaker, a passionate linguist and a proud Grammar nerd. She has a lifelong passion for English and studied Linguistic and Cultural Mediation at the University of Milan. She currently works as a freelance translator and copywriter.

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