Even if you live in a city where restaurants are innumerable, there is a good chance that you will find yourself at Olive Garden once in a while. (These breadsticks are allBut with "endless", "bottomless" and "endless" options on the menu, sticking to a healthy diet is not always the easiest thing to do. Fortunately, there are a decent amount of healthy options to choose from if you know what to look for, says chef and dietitian Jessica Swift, RD.
His general advice: share your order or take half of the house for later, because the size of the portions of Olive Garden is quite huge. "I would also suggest enjoying vegetable side dishes, such as asparagus with chopped onions, instead of just focusing on pasta," says Swift. But if you fancy pasta, go for the one that has a tomato sauce rather than a creamy sauce to save on calories and saturated fats. And unless you have a gluten allergy, you do not need to replace your GF pasta with health care. "In terms of nutrition, gluten-free pasta is exactly what ordinary pasta is," she says. "In fact, it contains less protein because it is made from potato starch and not wheat."
However, if you follow a diet such as Mediterranean, Ketogenic or Whole30 diet, things can get a little more difficult when you navigate the menu. Here, Swift gives tips on how to enjoy Olive Garden – in all its splendor – while staying true to your health goals.
Menu choice: Grilled salmon with herbs; Giardino chicken
What's an RD says: Win for the Mediterranean diet: Olive Garden offers a full menu The flavors of the Mediterranean. Although Swift says it could be a marketing ploy, she adds that it's usually the healthiest section of the menu (no matter what diet you follow) because everything is less caloric.
Giardino salmon and chicken with grilled herbs are his best choices for anyone following the Mediterranean diet. "Grilled salmon with herbs is a fish 460 [calories], and comes with a side of broccoli, while Giardino chicken offers a way to satisfy a pasta craving while getting some protein – thanks to the chicken – and vegetables, which are mixed, "she says.
Tweak command: "The Mediterranean diet definitely calls for lean protein, which you will get with Giardino chicken, but do not forget that it's loaded with simple carbohydrates because of pasta," says Swift. She suggests asking the server if you can halve the pasta served instead of extra steamed vegetables and lighten the sauce to get a healthier version with the same taste. "And as for grilled salmon with herbs, I would ask if it could be cooked in plain oil instead of butter sauce, which will reduce saturated fat," says Swift.
Accompanying recommendations: Famous House Salad: "Salad is definitely one of those dishes that fits almost every diet, especially the Mediterranean diet," says Swift. But she has some major warnings. "First of all, everything that is bottomless is not healthy," she says. As the chain salad is served in a large bowl on the table so everyone can share it, it can be difficult to determine the number of servings you actually eat.
Wait, but how is having a lot of salad a bad thing? "The vegetables are good, but the vinaigrette and parmesan are high in sodium," says Swift. A serving of homemade salad dressing – two tablespoons – contains 80 calories and 520 milligrams of sodium. (For your information: 520 mg sodium, about 21% of your recommended daily intake of sodium, making it a high-sodium food.) "It's something to watch out for if you have problems heart, "she says. She says that simply replacing the household dressing with a low-fat Italian will save you over 100 mg of sodium.
Menu choice: Minestrone soup; Grilled Salmon with Herbs
What's an RD says: The Minestrone Soup is a win if you are keto * and * vegan or vegetarian, which is not easy to find, making it a major score. Swift loves this soup because it is full of protein and fiber. "It contains 4 grams of protein per serving, which is pretty good," she says. Just note that it contains 13 grams of net carbs (and most diets recommend 30 grams of carbs or less per day), so keep that in mind when evaluating your keto macros for the rest of the day.
No mood at the soup? Swift explains that the grilled, diet-friendly Mediterranean herb salmon is also suitable for anyone who practices keto (only 4 grams of net carbs) – and you do not need to ask for oil at the place the sauce since the butter gets a pass.
Menu settings: No need.
Accompanying recommendations: Famous home salad: Swift again recommends the famous home salad, which is suitable for all types of diets. Because there are no carbohydrate-based vegetables – like corn or potatoes – blended, this fits perfectly with the keto diet. Again, just ask that the dressing on the side reduces sodium.
Menu choice: Grilled Salmon with Herbs
What's an RD says: Grilled salmon with herbs is a triple diet: a score! Unfortunately, it's pretty much the only item in Olive Garden's menu that complies with the strict guidelines of the food plan. And you will have to modify your order. (See below.)
Tweak command: If you make Whole30, the butter sauce will become a must. "If they're able to do it using ordinary oil instead of butter sauce, then it will work," says Swift. (Just ask what oil they use, because not all cooking oils are acceptable on the whole30.)
Accompanying recommendations: The famous homemade salad: this is feasible on Whole30, but you will need to make some changes. Ask for olive oil and vinegar instead of the traditional vinaigrette (or bring your own) and hold the croutons and parmesan cheese. Swift says that it can work as a main meal if you want.
If you fancy Italian but want to do something at home, check out this recipe for cacio e pepe cauliflower and this pasta recipe with avocado.