Order This, Not That: Olive Garden

Learn what to order when eating at Olive Garden.

Are you a fan of this Italian chain? Find out which menus item to choose and which ones you should say arrivederci to!

Soup, Salad and Bread Sticks

Order This: Soup is probably not a necessity, but if you’re in the mood, stick to the Minestrone with a sensible 110 calories per serving. Choose salad topped with a low-fat dressing to save 50 calories and 5 grams of fat.

Not This: Skip the Chicken & Gnocchi soup with a whopping 1,420 milligrams of sodium per serving — that’s more salt that you should have in an entire meal. The chain’s famous breadsticks come along with a garlic-butter spread, adding up to 140 calories, 2.5 grams of fat, 0.5 gram trans fat and nearly 500 milligrams of sodium  per piece.

Appetizers

Order This: Surprisingly, one of the most-sensible options on the appetizer menu is the Toasted Beef and Pork Ravioli, since they only have 340 calories and 15 grams of fat. Overall, there aren’t many sensible choices here, and if you already dug into soup, salad and breadsticks, it’s best to pass on this course altogether.

Not This: The Bruschetta Caprese may seem like a healthy choice, but don’t be fooled — it has 660 calories and 1,500 milligrams of sodium. It’s also wise to steer clear of super-fatty items like fried calamari and Smoked Mozzarella Fonduta — each racks up almost 1,000 calories and 50 grams of fat. The worst offender is the Lasagna Fritta with 1,070 calories, 71 grams of fat, 29 grams of saturated fat and 1.5 grams of trans fat — can you say "heart attack on a plate"?
Entrees

Order This: Plain pasta portions alone contribute about 400 calories to a main course. The Traditional Meat Sauce is the most-sensible sauce topper, adding only 300 calories and 19 grams of fat. Options from the “Lighter Italian Fare” menu offer chicken and fish dishes that stay under 600 calories, but beware: The sodium counts are still astronomical.

Not This: A Tour of Italy, featuring the trifecta of lasagna, chicken Parm, and fettuccine Alfredo, will cost you more than 1,500 calories and almost 100 grams of fat. It also has 3,250 milligrams of sodium, which is 41 percent above the daily recommendation! The meatless Five Cheese Ziti al Forno may seem harmless, but it's anything but, racking up 1,220 calories, 71 grams of fat and 2,160 milligrams of sodium.

Desserts

Order This: If there’s room for dessert (and there shouldn’t be), the Chocolate Mousse Cake and Tiramisu are the lesser evils, containing 380 and 470 calories, respectively.

Not This: The rest of the dessert items, including Zeppoli with chocolate or raspberry sauce, White Chocolate Raspberry Cheesecake and Black Tie Mousse Cake, tip the scales at or above 800 calories, with anywhere from 30 to 60 grams of fat per slice.

Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, is a registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer and owner of Dana White Nutrition, Inc., which specializes in culinary and sports nutrition.

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