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Articles Fitness Nutrition

Eat This, Not That: Olive Garden Edition

Mar 6, 2013
In the second part of our series on eating at chain restaurants, we take a look at Olive Garden. Check out part one, where we examine Taco Bell.

For many, the Olive Garden represents a nice place to take your family for Sunday dinner. It's also where every high school guy takes his homecoming dance date. To a 17 year old this is 5-star Michelin Dining. While the Olive Garden does have some healthy fare, more often than not patrons will overindulge themselves a little. Here's what to avoid at the O.G. and some other options to help you eat healthy.

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DON'T EAT: Calamari, appetizer portion


I love tiny fried squid. It's true. However, as much as seafood is good for you, breading and frying it isn't quite as much. This appetizer clocks in at nearly 900 calories (890), 54 grams of fat, 2,340 milligrams of sodium, and that doesn't even factor in the marinara or parmesan-peppercorn dipping sauce.

INSTEAD EAT: Stick with the plain bread sticks, or even the chicken fingers pack less of a gut punch than the calamari.

DON'T EAT: Chicken Alfredo Pizza

If you are going to order pizza at Olive Garden, avoid the Chicken Alfredo version at all costs. 1,310 calories (yes, you read that right), 46 grams of fat, 3,200 milligrams of sodium and 164 grams of carbohydrates.

INSTEAD EAT: If you have pizza pangs, try the Create Your Own. Still not a great menu choice, but you'll cut out nearly 400 calories and halve the fat content. A much better and health conscious choice. Remember, the more toppings you add to a plain cheese and sauce pie, the more calories, fat, etc. you will add.

DON'T EAT: Tour of Italy

If you take too many Tours of Italy, your cardiologist may be taking a tour of your arteries. The worst pasta dish on the menu, here are some mind and waist-line boggling stats: 1,450 calories (almost an entire day's worth), 74 grams of fat and 97 grams of carbs.

INSTEAD EAT: I know this is an Italian restaurant, and I know pasta is excellent here, so if you want to go for that option try the Cappellini Pomodoro or the Lasagna Primavera with chicken. At right around 500 calories, they pack plenty of flavor with the right amount of calories, fat, carbs and sodium. There are plenty of pretty good choices under their "Lighter Italian Fare" menu.

DON'T EAT: Steak Gorgonzola Alfredo

Again, when choosing pasta dishes at Olive Garden, the lighter fare menu is the best way to go. Steer clear of the Steak Gorgonzola Alfredo or you'll be making up 1,310 calories and 73 grams of fat. Do you know how many hours on the treadmill or number of boot camp classes it requires to burn that off?

INSTEAD EAT: Stick instead with grilled seafood, such as the Grilled Salmon. Not only is it more health-conscious, but the omega-3 in the fish is extra beneficial.

DON'T EAT: Zeppoli


Last but not least, we come to the deserts. Avoid this 1,130 calorie desert with chocolate sauce at all costs.

INSTEAD EAT: If you must indulge your sweet tooth, the strawberry mousse is only 210 calories. You'll also save about 26 grams of fat and over 100 grams in carbs.

With a bigger menu and lighter fare options, Olive Garden has the best of both worlds. Follow these guidelines, check out their nutrition information here, and buon appetito!

Ryan Barnhart, MS, PES, is a certified Performance Enhancement and Injury Prevention Specialist through the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM). He also holds a master's degree in exercise science, as well as a bachelor of sport management, both from California University of Pennsylvania. Ryan has worked with numerous collegiate and amateur athletes across many different fields. Ryan also has had the opportunity to work with several professional athletes. Recently he has worked with amateur and professional athletes within the emerging sport of Mixed Martial Arts.

Ryan is currently the director of fitness at a 700+ member gym near Pittsburgh, PA. He enjoys working with weekend warriors, athletes, and everyone in between. You can contact Ryan at rbbarnhart@gmail.com.




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