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June 2, 2023

For some, dining out at your favorite restaurant can be a full experience that only happens on special occasions. If you’re someone who only treats themselves to eating out every once in a while, chances are you like to make sure that you’re taking advantage of everything the restaurant has to offer. This could mean that aside from your main meal, you may be partaking in dessert, drinks, and an appetizer before. Unfortunately though, some people don’t think about the fact that some of the unhealthiest restaurant appetizers can almost double your meal’s calories, fat, and sodium.

This can be especially true at chain restaurants like TGI Friday’s, Chili’s, Red Lobster, and Olive Garden, all places that may be known for having food that is both affordable and delicious, but also loaded with unhealthy ingredients. And since these types of restaurants often serve appetizers like wings, potato skins, creamy dips, fried onion rings, and fried mozzarella sticks, your appetizer choice is likely to be high in things like saturated fat, sodium, and sometimes even trans fat. Over time, consuming foods that are too high in these items can lead to things like high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or even heart disease.

This isn’t to scare you into completely avoiding a fun appetizer to share with the table. The point is that some chain restaurant appetizers are much worse than others, so knowing your options ahead of time can help you make the best selection for your special night out. Read on to learn about some of the unhealthiest restaurant appetizers out there, and for more healthy tips on dining out, make sure to check out 21 Best Low-Sodium Fast-Food Orders.

Tgi friday's potato skinsTgi friday's potato skins
Courtesy of TGI Friday’s

Per meal: 2,120 calories, 92 g fat (26 g saturated fat), 1,450 mg sodium, 283 g carbs (48 g fiber, 10 g sugar), 44 g protein

It’s safe to say that most of the appetizers at TGI Friday’s—such as their Philly Cheesesteak Rolls, Whisky Glaze Sliders, and Mozzarella Sticks—are not on the healthy side at all. However, the chain restaurant’s unhealthiest appetizer by far is the Loaded Potato Skins.

“This appetizer contains deep-fried potato skins filled with melted cheese, bacon, and sour cream,” says Mary Sabat MS, RDN, LD. The amount of calories, fat, saturated fat, and sodium makes this an app you may want to skip.

RELATED: Here’s What Happens to Your Body When You Eat Too Much Salt

Blooming onion appetizer from outbackBlooming onion appetizer from outback
Courtesy of Outback Steakhouse

Per meal: 1,620 calories, 126 g fat (44 g saturated fat, 4.5 g trans fat), 4,140 mg sodium, 107 g carbs (14 g fiber, 20 g sugar), 15 g protein

According to Sabat, the Bloomin’ Onion from Outback Steakhouse, although quite famous, may not be the best choice if you want a healthier meal when eating out.

“This popular appetizer features a deep-fried onion that is sliced to resemble a flower and is served with a dipping sauce, and it contains around 1,620 calories and over 120 grams of fat, making it one of the unhealthiest appetizers on any menu,” says Sabat.

Let’s take the calorie count: Although your daily recommended calories vary depending on your health needs and goals, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans says that women need, on average, between 1,600 and 2,400 calories per day, and men need between 2,000 and 3,000. This appetizer has over 1,600 calories, so eating it all in one sitting will come close to your calorie requirements for an entire day.

Olive garden lasagna frittaOlive garden lasagna fritta
Courtesy of Olive Garden

Per meal: 1,130 calories, 76 g fat (31 g saturated fat, 1.5 g trans fat), 1,880 mg sodium, 75 g carbs (5 g fiber, 6 g sugar), 39 g protein

When you learn that Lasagna Fritta translates to “fried lasagna,” you won’t be surprised that this menu item is among the worst to choose when visiting Olive Garden.

“The Lasagna Fritta features small portions of lasagna that are breaded and deep-fried,” says Sabat. “It contains over 1,100 calories and over 75 grams of fat, making it a very unhealthy choice.”

Texas cheese fries chili'sTexas cheese fries chili's
Courtesy of Chili’s

Per meal: 1,800 calories, 122 g fat (51 g saturated fat), 4,140 mg sodium, 99 g carbs (8 g fiber, 4 g sugar), 77 g protein

Anytime you read the words “cheese fries,” it’s probably safe to assume that they aren’t going to be the healthiest option on the menu—and the Texas Cheese Fries from Chili’s are no exception.

While the calories, total fat, and sodium are all shockingly high in this appetizer, it’s the saturated fat content that should really escalate your concerns. At 51 grams per appetizer, it contains almost four times the American Heart Association’s recommended daily maximum of 13 grams. Over time, too much saturated fat can increase cholesterol levels and raise your risk of heart disease.

RELATED: 8 Healthiest Dishes to Order at Chili’s, According to Dietitians

Cheesecake factory fried mac and cheese appetizerCheesecake factory fried mac and cheese appetizer
Courtesy of The Cheesecake Factory

Per meal: 1,310 calories, 96 g fat (47 g saturated fat, 2.5 g trans fat), 2,140 mg sodium, 70 g carbs (6 g fiber, 12 g sugar), 40 g protein

When you’re diving into Cheesecake Factory’s notoriously enormous menu, Sabat recommends steering clear of the Fried Mac and Cheese Bites.

“Featuring macaroni and cheese that is breaded and deep-fried and served with a dipping sauce, this appetizer contains around 1,300 calories and over 95 grams of fat,” says Sabat.

Not only that, but this app also has 2.5 grams of trans fat, which is greater than what the WHO says you should limit yourself to in an entire day. According to the Mayo Clinic, too much trans fat can increase your “bad” cholesterol and decrease the “good” kind, which may also increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.

Applebee's loaded friesApplebee's loaded fries
Courtesy of Applebee’s

Per meal: 1,520 calories, 104 g fat (30 g saturated fat, 1 g trans fat), 4,290 mg sodium, 107 g carbs (9 g fiber, 6 g sugar), 38 g protein

Similar to “cheese fries,” another phrase you may want to watch out for when trying to avoid the unhealthiest restaurant appetizers is anything that is “loaded.” For example, the Brew Pub Loaded Waffle Fries from Applebee’s are piled high with calories, total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, and sodium. In fact, the sodium in one order is over 4,000 milligrams, which is getting close to double the daily maximum recommended by the FDA.

Texas roadhouse onion appetizersTexas roadhouse onion appetizers
Courtesy of Texas Roadhouse

Per appetizer: 2,250 calories, 135 g fat (26 g saturated fat), 5,000 mg sodium, 236 g carbs (19 g fiber, 36 g sugar), 25 g protein

The Cactus Blossom from Texas Roadhouse may look familiar, as it is a spinoff of the famous Bloomin’ Onion from Outback Steakhouse (which also made our list). Just like the Outback Steakhouse version, you’re better off skipping this one, unless you’re fine with consuming over 2,000 calories and 5,000 milligrams of sodium in just one sitting. In fact, this is one of the unhealthiest restaurant appetizers on our entire list.

RELATED: I Tried Texas Roadhouse for the First Time Ever—Here’s What I Loved

Red lobster fried calamari appetizerRed lobster fried calamari appetizer
Courtesy of Red Lobster

Per meal: 1,000 calories, 70 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 2,070 mg sodium, 44 g carbs (1 g fiber, 5 g sugar), 47 g protein

Fried calamari is a crowd-pleaser at most chain restaurants, but even though fresh calamari can provide you with protein and healthy omega-3 fatty acids, the fried version from Red Lobster comes with very little nutritional value. With 1,000 calories and over 2,000 milligrams of sodium, it may be better to opt for something else off their starter menu.

Uno's pizza skinsUno's pizza skins
Courtesy of Uno’s Pizzeria & Grill

Per meal: 1,970 calories, 131 g fat (43 g saturated fat), 2,800 mg sodium, 146 g carbs (7 g fiber, 8 g sugar), 53 g protein

With Uno’s Potato Skins appetizer basically being pizza stuffed with mashed potatoes and then topped with cheese and bacon, you’d be better off just sticking to a regular pizza. Coming in at almost 2,000 calories and 43 grams of saturated fat, this app is the unhealthiest on its menu.

Bjs spinach artichoke dipBjs spinach artichoke dip
Courtesy of BJ’s

Per appetizer: 1,050 calories, 54 g fat (28 g saturated fat), 1,771 mg sodium, 111 g carbs (16 g fiber, 22 g sugar), 34 g protein

If you’re heading to BJ’s with the family, Sabat suggests choosing an appetizer other than their Spinach and Artichoke Dip.

“This creamy appetizer may be a favorite, but it is high in calories, saturated fat, and sodium,” says Sabat. “In fact, it contains about 1,000 calories, almost 55 grams of fat, and over 1,700 milligrams of sodium.”

Red robin towering onion appetizerRed robin towering onion appetizer
Courtesy of Red Robin

Per appetizer: 1,290 calories, 57 g fat (10 g saturated fat, 1 g trans fat), 3,550 mg sodium, 179 g carbs (7 g fiber, 42 g sugar), 17 g protein

When looking for a healthier appetizer on your night out, Sabat suggests avoiding the Towering Onion Rings from Red Robin. I mean, with a name like that, are we surprised that they are one of the unhealthiest appetizer on the menu?

“This one may be tempting, but it is high in calories, saturated fat, and sodium,” says Sabat. “One serving of this appetizer contains about 1,290 calories, 57 grams of fat, and 3,550 milligrams of sodium.”

Friendly's loaded waffle friesFriendly's loaded waffle fries
Courtesy of Friendly’s

Per appetizer: 1,061 calories, 71 g fat (21 g saturated fat), 3,796 mg sodium, 82 g carbs (6.7 g fiber, 1.9 g sugar), 22 g protein

Once again, it’s unsurprising to see more loaded fries on the list of unhealthiest restaurant appetizers, and once you see the nutrition information for the Friendly’s version, it’s easy to see why they made it. With more saturated fat than is recommended in one day and close to double the amount of a day’s worth of sodium, you may want to skip this app and opt for something else.

Cracker barrel fried picklesCracker barrel fried pickles
Courtesy of Cracker Barrel

Per appetizer: 1,760 calories, 112 g fat (19 g saturated fat, 0.5 g trans fat), 6,890 mg sodium, 169 g carbs (9 g fiber, 2 g sugar), 18 g protein

Fried pickles are a staple in many southern restaurants, but Sabat says that this Cracker Barrel appetizer is “high in calories, saturated fat, and sodium.” When it comes to sodium, the fried pickles have almost 7,000 milligrams, and when compared to the recommended daily limit of 2,300, you can see why these are an unhealthy choice.

RELATED: The Absolute Worst Dishes to Order at Cracker Barrel, According to Dietitians

Longhorn steakhouse wild shrimp appetizerLonghorn steakhouse wild shrimp appetizer
Courtesy of Longhorn Steakhouse

Per appetizer: 970 calories, 62 g fat (17 g saturated fat, 0.5 g trans fat), 3,740 mg sodium, 65 g carbs (6 g fiber, 2 g sugar), 39 g protein

At first glance, the Wild West Shrimp from Longhorn Steakhouse may not seem like that bad of an option, and truthfully, the nutritional value of this appetizer is better than some of the other items on this list. However, the 3,740 milligrams of sodium is way past the daily recommended maximum, and the half gram of trans fat is still a lot when you consider the WHO’s recommendation of no more than 2.2 grams per day.

Buffalo wild wings fried picklesBuffalo wild wings fried pickles
Courtesy of Buffalo Wild Wings

Per appetizer: 790 calories, 61 g fat (17 g saturated fat, 2 g trans fat), 3,180 mg sodium, 52 g carbs (6 g fiber, 2 g sugar), 7 g protein

Buffalo Wild Wings is not known for its healthy options, but the fried pickles are especially unhealthy when you look at the total fat, trans fat, and sodium count, which is why Sabat suggests skipping this appetizer. Although these are a bit better than the Cracker Barrel Fried Pickles when it comes to calories, fat, and sodium, you can still avoid high counts of these things by choosing a healthier item.

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