12 Unhealthiest Things You Can Order At Olive Garden

multi-course olive garden meal
multi-course olive garden meal - Olive Garden/Facebook

Practically everything on the menu at Olive Garden could be considered an indulgence, but some items are healthier than others. Most Olive Garden customers are probably aware of and open to the restaurant's lack of conventionally healthy dietary choices. Nevertheless, there are plenty of valid reasons to mitigate the health impact of even an indulgent meal, whether it's a group dining situation or a so-called cheat day in the midst of an otherwise controlled diet.

Of course, healthfulness is subjective. For the sake of this exercise, unhealthiness depends on two factors: nutritional content and a menu item's function in a meal. While the former is self-explanatory -- most of us know that too much salt or fat isn't good for you -- function is important, too. For example, a sugary drink tacks extra sugar and carbs onto a meal. Even if its total sugar and carb counts might be lower than some other items, that drink could be considered unhealthier because it's relatively superfluous and unnecessary, compared to an entrée that could at least provide a daily meal.

Meanwhile, ingredients were not exactly a factor in our estimation. That's because, like many other chain restaurants, Olive Garden doesn't readily list just what's in each of its dishes (though it does provide overall nutritional info and gives a heads-up for anyone with food allergies, gluten sensitivities, and vegetarian or vegan diets). With that said, the following list is comprised of the 12 unhealthiest items on the Olive Garden menu.

Read more: The Healthiest Fast Food Chains In The U.S.

1. Spinach-Artichoke Dip

plate of spinach-artichoke dip
plate of spinach-artichoke dip - Olive Garden

While there are a few healthy-ish entrees available at Olive Garden — the herb-grilled salmon, for example, comes with broccoli and is a relatively low 610 calories — the appetizer menu pretty much entirely consists of unhealthy options. One of the unhealthiest Olive Garden appetizers is the Spinach-Artichoke Dip, made with a cheese blend and served with flatbread crisps for dipping.

An order of the Spinach-Artichoke Dip, consists of 1,160 calories, 81 grams of fat, 21 grams of saturated fat, 1 gram of trans fat, 70 milligrams of cholesterol, 2,440 milligrams of sodium, 75 grams of carbs, and 8 grams of sugar. Of note first and foremost is its fat content, which exceeds the total amount of fat in many other items on the menu, including plenty of entrees. That gram of trans fat is important, too, given that many sources consider virtually any quantity of trans fat to be unsafe. Meanwhile, the sodium exceeds the daily recommended maximum of 2,300 milligrams per day, as per the FDA. All told, the Spinach-Artichoke Dip's total number of calories, sodium, and carbs are quite high, especially considering this is intended to kick off a meal rather than make up the bulk of a lunch or dinner.

2. Shrimp Fritto Misto

bowl of shrimp fritto misto
bowl of shrimp fritto misto - Olive Garden

Another Olive Garden appetizer that stands out for its relatively unhealthy nature is the Shrimp Fritto Misto. Olive Garden added this fried shrimp appetizer to its menu in 2021, where it's remained ever since. In addition to shrimp, Olive Garden's take on the tempura-like dish includes fried onions and bell peppers, plus marinara and spicy ranch sauces for dipping.

One order of the Shrimp Fritto Misto contains 1,280 calories, 79 grams of fat, 5 grams of saturated fat, 240 milligrams of cholesterol, 5,010 milligrams of sodium, 101 grams of carbs, and 9 grams of sugar. The one redeeming nutritional quality of this item is that it provides a sizable dose of protein courtesy of its shrimp, totaling 41 grams. However, this is also the single saltiest item on the menu, appetizer or otherwise, more than double the FDA maximum (it's worth noting the American Heart Association recommends an even lower maximum of 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day). Given that Olive Garden offers a pretty robust selection of sodium-rich foods, this one fact eclipses even its high amounts of calories, fat, cholesterol, and carbs, single-handedly earning the Shrimp Fritto Misto a spot among the unhealthiest items at Olive Garden.

3. Meatballs Parmigiana

bowl of meatballs parmigiana
bowl of meatballs parmigiana - Olive Garden

Meatballs Parmigiana is another appetizer, consisting of meatballs tossed in breadcrumbs, then baked in cheese and marinara sauce. It's worth noting that virtually every item on the Olive Garden menu with "Parmigiana" in its name is an unhealthy choice — the Eggplant Parmigiana, for example, includes 20 grams of sugar, which is the most of any non-dessert or drink on the menu. It's the Meatballs Parmigiana appetizer, however, that trumps all other parmigianas for its unhealthiness.

In total, the Meatballs Parmigiana contain 1,040 calories, 83 grams of fat, 40 grams of saturated fat, 3.5 grams of trans fat, 145 milligrams of cholesterol, 2,800 milligrams of sodium, 27 grams of carbs, and 5 grams of sugar. The two primary reasons this dish makes for such an unhealthy choice are its quantity of sodium and its trans fat content. The former number may not approach the sodium in the Shrimp Fritto Misto, but it lands among the four or five saltiest menu items all the same.

That 3.5 grams of trans fat, however, is the most in any single item on the standard Olive Garden menu. Since health experts recommend avoiding trans fat altogether, and since the type of fat you're eating matters more than you think, that's reason enough to consider the Meatballs Parmigiana particularly unhealthy. For what it's worth, Olive Garden's meatballs contain trans fat no matter how they're served, but it's only in this dish that the total amount exceeds 3 grams.

4. Large Alfredo Dipping Sauce

container of alfredo sauce
container of alfredo sauce - Olive Garden

Like Red Lobster and its Cheddar Bay Biscuits or the brown bread at Cheesecake Factory, Olive Garden's breadsticks are among the chain's most iconic food items. One way to spruce up those breadsticks is with an order of dipping sauce — typically, that's a choice of marinara, five cheese marinara, or alfredo. A small order comes with two breadsticks and a large order comes with four. As a general rule, bread and sauce is rarely ever going to be healthy, but the Large Alfredo Dipping Sauce with Breadsticks in particular is one of the unhealthiest dishes at Olive Garden.

Combining the nutritional content of a large order of Alfredo Sauce with the nutritional content of a plain breadstick multiplied by four results in a combined 1,390 calories, 91 grams of fat, 54 grams of saturated fat, 2 grams of trans fat, 285 milligrams of cholesterol, 2,320 milligrams of sodium, 111 grams of carbs, and 10 grams of sugar. Calorically, one Large Alfredo Dipping Sauce order is just about equivalent to an entrée. Plus, it's higher in carbs than many of the chain's pasta dishes and higher in saturated fat than practically all other non-alfredo items on the Olive Garden menu. Combined with significant quantities of cholesterol and sodium, plus a gram of trans fat, there are ample reasons that the Large Alfredo Dipping Sauce is noteworthy for its unhealthfulness.

5. Chicken & Gnocchi Soup

chicken and gnocchi soup bowl
chicken and gnocchi soup bowl - Olive Garden

Entrées at Olive Garden typically come with both breadsticks and a soup or salad. Of the many sides (many of which we've ranked), the single unhealthiest entrée accompaniment of each of those options is a bowl of Chicken & Gnocchi Soup, consisting of chicken, spinach, and dumplings in a cream-based broth.

That side of Chicken & Gnocchi Soup totals 230 calories, 12 grams of fat, 4.5 grams of saturated fat, 55 milligrams of cholesterol, 1,290 milligrams of sodium, 22 grams of carbs, and 4 grams of sugar. While most of those quantities aren't noteworthy in isolation, they become so when you count them out per calorie of soup. Factoring 1,290 into 230 results in 5.6 grams of sodium per calorie — that's higher than the 3.9 grams of sodium per calorie in the Shrimp Fritto Misto, the menu item with the most total sodium. When they're likewise counted per calorie, those quantities of cholesterol, carbs, and even sugar stand out too. That side portion of Chicken & Gnocchi Soup can sneakily add extra calories and other potentially undesirable macros to an already unhealthy meal.

6. Spaghetti With Meat Sauce & Sausage

spaghetti with meat sauce plate
spaghetti with meat sauce plate - Olive Garden

In a figurative if not literal sense, pasta is Olive Garden's bread and butter. Of the many ways to order pasta at the Italian-American chain, the Spaghetti with Meat Sauce entrée accompanied by Italian sausage is among the tougher propositions for your health. One order of Spaghetti with Meat Sauce & Sausage totals 1,100 calories, 62 grams of fat, 21 grams of saturated fat, 180 milligrams of cholesterol, 2,190 milligrams of sodium, 87 grams of carbs, and 19 grams of sugar.

First of all, the dish's sodium and carb totals are on the higher end of the spectrum, contributing to its unhealthfulness. But what's most nutritionally notable is its quantity of sugar, which is significantly higher than that of all but one savory item on the Olive Garden menu. An amount of sugar that's arguably closer to a small dessert than an typical meal — one serving of three Oreos contains 14 grams of sugar, for example — earns the Spaghetti with Meat Sauce & Sausage its spot on this list.

7. Chicken Tortelloni Alfredo

chicken tortelloni alfredo bowl
chicken tortelloni alfredo bowl - Olive Garden

The Olive Garden alfredo sauce, which you can order as an appetizer, also serves as the backbone of a variety of entrees, from a straightforward Fettuccine Alfredo to a Seafood Alfredo that's made with shrimp and scallops. The least healthy of all the alfredo-based entrees is surely the Chicken Tortelloni Alfredo, which consists of cheese tortelloni — a stuffed pasta similar to the more common tortellini — baked in alfredo sauce, extra cheese, and breadcrumbs, served with grilled chicken on top.

A full portion of the Chicken Tortelloni Alfredo contains 1,980 calories, 131 grams of fat, 76 grams of saturated fat, 2.5 grams of trans fat, 650 milligrams of cholesterol, 3,720 milligrams of sodium, 95 grams of carbs, and 9 grams of sugar. First and foremost, this is the single highest calorie item on the menu (apart from large-portion catering options), practically equaling the 2,000-calorie daily limit that the FDA recommends for adults. As of this writing, it's also the item on the Olive Garden menu with the most fat, the most saturated fat, and the most cholesterol. Plus, its hefty quantity of sodium is second only to the Shrimp Fritto Misto. Given such excesses in multiple categories, the Chicken Tortelloni Alfredo earns its rather dubious spot on this list handily.

8. Ravioli Carbonara

bowl of ravioli carbonara
bowl of ravioli carbonara - Olive Garden

At Olive Garden, carbonara refers to a cream-based sauce made with bacon and cheese, forgoing the raw egg yolk that occasionally sits atop a pasta carbonara. Olive Garden's Ravioli Carbonara is particularly noteworthy for its unhealthfulness, which is perhaps unsurprising given that it consists of cheese ravioli coated in the chain's carbonara and then baked.

A plate of Ravioli Carbonara adds up to 1,390 calories, 104 grams of fat, 63 grams of saturated fat, 2.5 grams of trans fat, 325 milligrams of cholesterol, 2,660 milligrams of sodium, 63 grams of carbs, and 6 grams of sugar. Cholesterol and fat are the most important metrics in this case, both of which are unmatched by the majority of items on the Olive Garden menu. Of course, its non-negligible quantity of trans fat and a huge dose of sodium are significant too.

It's worth pointing out that the Chicken & Shrimp Carbonara is nutritionally similar to this dish, no to mention higher in cholesterol, carbs and sugar. However, it's lower in calories, fat, saturated fat, and sodium. A customer prioritizing a reduction in cholesterol might rightfully consider the Ravioli Carbonara to be relatively healthier than its chicken and shrimp-based sibling — but the higher quantities in a greater number of categories mean that, for a greater percentage of diners, the Ravioli Carbonara is likely to be the unhealthier of the two.

9. Rigatoni With Creamy Mushroom Sauce And Meatballs

create your own pasta bowls
create your own pasta bowls - Olive Garden

Beyond its composed entrees, Olive Garden gives diners the option to customize a pasta order. Overall, four pasta shapes, four sauces, and six toppings are on currently offer in the "Create Your Own Pasta" section of the menu. Technically, all six toppings can be added to a single order, and doing so would result in what may well be the single unhealthiest Olive Garden menu item. But if we're more realistic and assume that the vast majority of customers limit themselves to one topping, Rigatoni with Creamy Mushroom Sauce and Meatballs becomes the unhealthiest combination without crossing over into stunt eating territory.

Adding up nutritional data for Rigatoni pasta, the chain's Creamy Mushroom Sauce, as well as an order of three meatballs results in 1,780 calories, 133 grams of fat, 73.5 grams of saturated fat, 4 grams of trans fat, 315 milligrams of cholesterol, 2,160 milligrams of sodium, 103 grams of carbs, and 12 grams of sugar. Notably, combining the trans fat content of the Creamy Mushroom Sauce with the trans fat in three meatballs results in a higher total quantity than what's in any of Olive Garden's prefab menu items.

What's more, this custom dish is exceptionally high in saturated fat, cholesterol, and carbs. While rigatoni just barely edges out each other pasta option in unhealthfulness, health-focused customers creating their own Olive Garden pasta will want to avoid the Creamy Mushroom Sauce and the meatball protein option in particular.

10. Tour Of Italy

one tour of italy order
one tour of italy order - Olive Garden

Olive Garden's dinner menu features a dish called the Tour of Italy, though it would be more apt to call it a tour of Little Italy, given the Americanized fare of the chain. It includes portions of meaty lasagna, fettuccine alfredo, and chicken parmigiana — which is expressly an Italian food they don't serve in Italy. Unsurprisingly, this mash-up of three indulgent Italian-American staples isn't all that healthy.

One Tour of Italy will set diners back 1,550 calories, 97 grams of fat, 50 grams of saturated fat, 1.5 grams of trans fat, 325 milligrams of cholesterol, 3,220 milligrams of sodium, 99 grams of carbs, and 12 grams of sugar. Virtually every single one of these numbers is high by any consideration, which will hardly come as a surprise given the unhealthfulness of just about every alfredo pasta and parmigiana dish on the Olive Garden menu. Overall, the Tour of Italy holds the ambiguous distinction of containing excessive and unhealthy quantities in just about every relevant nutritional category.

11. New Chocolate Lasagna

new chocolate lasagna slice
new chocolate lasagna slice - Olive Garden

Arguably, every dessert at Olive Garden can be considered one of the chain's unhealthiest items given the role dessert typically plays in a meal. After all, most desserts are low in nutritional value, high in indulgence, and ultimately extraneous (though we won't tell you not to enjoy an occasional treat). Even so, the New Chocolate Lasagna stands out as the single unhealthiest item on that dessert menu. Compositionally, it's a sort of cake slice that consists of standard chocolate cake, chocolate mousse, and wafers layered under a chocolate sauce.

A New Chocolate Lasagna contains 980 calories, 58 grams of fat, 27 grams of saturated fat, 140 milligrams of cholesterol, 630 milligrams of sodium, 116 grams of carbs, and 86 grams of sugar. Most notably, that quantity of sugar is the highest of any menu item (other than a full pitcher of sangria). It's also the dessert with the most fat, saturated fat, and sodium. Meanwhile, its calorie and carb totals are second only to the Warm Italian Donuts with Chocolate Sauce. So, while skipping dessert is obviously the healthiest possible when offered the dessert menu, pretty much anything other than the New Chocolate Lasagna will still make for a healthier dessert option.

12. Italian Margarita

glass of italian margarita
glass of italian margarita - Olive Garden

Between a few different sangrias, a variety of cocktails, some fruit juices, and standard sodas, Olive Garden offers customers a relatively robust selection of sugary drinks. Like desserts, virtually all sugary drinks can be considered unhealthy for adding sugar and calories to a meal with little-to-no nutritional value. The drink that most stands out for its unhealthfulness at Olive Garden is the Italian Margarita, consisting of silver Jose Cuervo tequila, triple sec, and amaretto.

A glass of the Italian Margarita totals 380 calories, 30 milligrams of sodium, 58 grams of carbs, and 49 grams of sugar. Simply put, those calorie, sodium, carb, and sugar quantities are all the highest of any proprietary Olive Garden drink, rivaled only by pure fruit juices that at least offer some nutritional benefits in addition to their doses of sodium and/or sugar. Even just ordering a glass of white wine would lower those numbers by at least half (if not more), making the Italian Margarita an especially unhealthy drink choice.

Methodology

to-go bowls of pasta
to-go bowls of pasta - Olive Garden/Facebook

The primary factor used to determine the unhealthiest menu items at Olive Garden was the nutritional data that the chain readily provides online. What's not available through the Olive Garden website are lists of ingredients, so those were a non-factor. Since plenty of items contain levels of sodium, fat, and even cholesterol that are in excess of the FDA's daily recommended values, how those quantities stack up relative to the rest of the Olive Garden menu became a more important metric. Furthermore, the fact that appetizers, drinks, and desserts are supplementary to a meal rather than its focus mattered when assessing relevant items' health impacts.

In order to narrow down what was at first a relatively large list of every potentially unhealthy Olive Garden menu item, anything similar to an existing item on this list was disqualified. For example, only one spot is dedicated to a Parmigiana and there's just a single dessert. That said, any similar items noteworthy for their unhealthfulness are noted in the relevant slides.

Read the original article on Mashed.