Foods to Avoid at Popular Chain Restaurants


Published January 19, 2009


America has been called a "fast food nation" and for good reason. Every day, one out of four Americans eats a fast-food meal. Eating just one fast-food meal can pack enough calories and fat for an entire day. With that said, an obesity epidemic has indeed overtaken the United States, with some two-thirds of Americans now considered overweight, and about one-third categorized as obese.

Studies have indicated eating out as one factor contributing to the spread, and Americans are demeaning restaurants more than ever. These days, at most fast-food restaurants, they have a menu that is dedicated to eating healthier foods. You will see items such as grilled chicken, salads, baked potatoes, reduced-fat desserts, and many other menu items that can be healthier for you to order. So you can still go to your favorite fast-food restaurants and order tasty, but healthy dishes.

Fast Food Facts:

• According to studies at the University of Minnesota, fast-food consumption has increased in the United States over the past three decades.

• In 1972, we spent 3 billion a year on fast food - today we spend more than $110 billion.

• Harvard Medical Center reported that currently, Americans eat 200 calories more food energy per day than they did 10 years ago; that alone would add 20 pounds annually to one's weight.

• Portion sizes offered by fast food chains are now two to five times larger than when first introduced in 1950.

• 40 percent of American meals are eaten at chain restaurants.

Tips to help you dine out healthfully:

• Steer clear of large, jumbo and king size orders. Even a medium portion can be big, so share it with a friend. Better yet, opt for the small. The government recommends a three-ounce portion of protein. A great way to make sure you have the correct portion size is by using the "deck of cards" rule. The correct portion size should be about the size of a deck of cards.

• Eat half of what you order. Ask for a doggie bag and take it home.

• Have a bottle of water or diet soda instead of a regular soda or fruit drink.

• Start your meal with a soup and salad.

• Order vegetables as your side dish.

• Savor your food and put your fork down between bites - this will help you eat less.

Red Lobster

Seafood is a great source of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, but when prepared in butter and sauces, it adds an extra 21g of fat. When ordering dishes at Red Lobster ask for a lemon wedge or cocktail sauce as a healthier compliment to your fish.

Best Appetizer• Chilled Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail: 6 shrimp = 138 calories, 2g fat, 0g fiber Shrimp Cocktail is probably one of the best appetizers to order at a seafood restaurant. It is a lean protein, and for 138 calories, you can enjoy six succulent pieces of shrimp.

Worst Appetizer• New England Clam Chowder: 940 calories, 65g fat, 6g fiber This bowl of cream, milk and butter contains as many calories as 4 custard filled donuts.

Best Entree• Broiled Flounder: 240 calories, 5g fat,0g fiber Lean white fish, like flounder is one of the healthiest fish in the sea. Fish provides protein, vitamins and minerals. Most of the health benefits of sea bass can be attributed to the presence of Omega 3 essential fatty acids.

Worst Entree• Cajun Chicken Linguini Alfredo: 1,828 calories, 117.2g fat, 1g fiber You will be hard-pressed to find any Alfredo dish that isn't packed with fat and calories. Once this sauce is soaked over the pasta, this dish must be ordered with a side or Lipitor and a heart pump.

Olive Garden

The Olive Garden is one of the most popular Italian food chains in America. When dining at Italian restaurants, pasta is usually the main focus. A main course of pasta in the United States can have as much as 1,000 calories - that's more than half your total calories for the day. Therefore, pasta-rich dishes probably aren't on the menu for you, but there are many yummy dishes to order instead. But you can shave roughly 200 calories off any pasta dish by ordering a lunch portion (any time of day). To its credit, Olive Garden offers unlimited salad or soup with all entrees. Ask for half the dressing and it's an offer you can't refuse. Another plus: a side of vegetables comes with most dishes.

Best Appetizer:• Minestrone Soup: 120 calories, 1.5g fat, 1g fiber Ordering minestrone soup can be a great starter during these cold winter months. One cup contains a whopping amount of fiber, allowing you to fill up without filling out. Starting a meal with a vegetable-based soup will enable you to eat less of your entree while remaining full and satisfied. Your best bet is to always start your meal with a soup and a small salad with the dressing on the side. This combination helps to provide both fiber and protein, and fills you up while adding a minimal amount of calories.

Worst Appetizer:• Hot artichoke and Spinach Dip: 1099 calories, 94g fat, 4g fiber Don't be fooled by the fact that this dish has vegetables in it. Most dips are made with regular mayonnaise and/or sour cream, which contain ample amounts of calories and fat. This appetizer is the highest in calories and fat on the menu.

Best Entree: • Venetian Apricot Chicken: 380 calories, 4g fat, 8g fiber This dish is a scrumptious twist to a classic chicken cutlet. The apricots provide you with a boost of fiber, making this a great fiber and protein combination.

Worst Entree:• Stuffed Chicken Marsala with Garlic Mashed Potatoes: 1315 calories, 86g fat, 8g fiber While you may think you're choosing to be healthy because you not ordering pasta, any chicken drenched in a buttery sauce with a side of mashed potatoes, will only put you at greater risk for a heart attack.

Boston Market

Boston Market has been highly praised for its home-style menu. They are known for their rotisseries and side dishes, but choose wisely as the calories and fat can definitely throw you. Dark meat with the skin can even be as fattening as prime rib, so go with the breast meat, no skin.

• Usually the meals come with 2 side dishes so try to choose at least one healthy side like steamed veggies and the other not so healthy.

Best Entree:• White Rotisserie Chicken with 2 sides: 210 calories, 2g fat White meat chicken is one of the leanest proteins you can choose. Ordering two sides of vegetables provides you with the ultimate combination of fiber and protein. Fiber and protein are the two nutrients that take the longest to digest and have the fewest calories. These foods keep your serum glucose levels consistent, leading to improved energy throughout the day

Worst Entree:• Pastry Top Chicken Pot Pie: 780 calories, 47g fat, 2g fiber A flaky crust plus a rich, gravy-like filling, chicken, potatoes, carrots, and onions, probably sounds like the closest thing to heaven. However this artery clogging dish is one of the worst items on the menu.

Best Sides: •Fresh Steamed Vegetables: 60 calories, 1g fat, 3g fiber • Caesar salad with dressing on the side: 40 calories, 2g fat, 1g fiber

Worst Sides:• Sweet Potato Casserole: 460 calories, 17g fat, 3g fiber • Market chopped salad: 450 calories, 43g fat, 4g fiber (dressing: 360, 39) Steer clear of the word casserole. Casseroles are loaded with butter, cream and sugar - nothing good to maintain a healthy weight.

You may also be surprised to learn that the market chopped salad is the highest caloric and most fattening side on their menu. This is because it is dressed in cream based dressing that contains a whopping 360 calories. To avoid salad sabotage, ask for the dressing on the side and always dip your fork lightly in the dressing before digging into each bite. This will drastically reduce your dressing consumption.

PF Chang's

PF Chang's is a great Chinese restaurant that exists in so many malls throughout the nation. It is known for its large-style portions because you can dip in to every plate on the table. What makes Chinese cuisine so tasty is usually their delicious sauces. Be cautious of the fact that each tablespoon of oil contains 120 calories and 14g of fat. Limit your intake of fatty meats, fried wontons, egg rolls, shrimp toast, and fried rice (loaded with oil). Anything labeled "sweet and sour" invariably means fried and coated in a sugary sauce.

Best Appetizer:• Seared Ahi Tuna: 210 calories, 9g fat, 1g fiber You can never go wrong starting a meal with a lean protein, like tuna.

Worst Appetizer:• Chang's Spare Ribs: 1356 calories, 89g fat, 1g fiber While spare ribs are a tempting and tasty menu item, be aware that they can contain more calories than half the entrees on this menu, and this is just a starter.

Best Entree:• Cantonese Shrimp: 330 calories, 12g fat, 4g fiber Shrimp is a healthy and tasty seafood, and paired with veggies or a salad is great combination of fiber and protein which will keep you full on the fewest calories.

Worst Entree:• Pork Lo Mein = 1820 calories, 127g fat, 8g fiber This dish alone contains more calories and fat than the average American eats in one day.


When dining at T.G.I. Friday's, you might have to skip some of the typical appetizers. Most, if not all, are fried, breaded and soaked in sauces. Fried foods are very rich, tasty and crispy. Nowadays, almost all food is fried for added taste and flavor. However, they are high in calories and eating them increases the risk of obesity. They now offer a "lighter" side on their menu. This will help you choose healthier dishes than those loaded with excess calories and fat, and we're sure your taste buds will be tantalized.

Best Appetizer:• Strawberry Fields Salad with Chicken: 390 calories, 2g fat, 3g fiber This salad will satisfy both your sweet and savory cravings. The addition of fresh strawberries adds an extra boost of fiber, making this a one of a kind salad. Ask for the dressing on the side.

Worst Appetizer:• Cheese and Broccoli Soup: 540 calories, Although soup may have a reputation as a low-calorie meal option, heavy cream-based soups are most certainly not. This dish may seem like a "fiber and protein option," but due to its high fat content from the cheese, butter and cream will only provide you with unwanted calories and fat. When ordering soups, opt for broth-based soups or ones filled with vegetables.

Best Entree:• Shrimp Key West: 225 calories, 7g fat, 5g fiber This is a tasty, light dish that will keep you feeling full for less calories.

Worst Entree: • Chipotle Grilled Steak Sandwich: 1509 calories, 98g fat, 8g fiber Some cuts of red meat may contain the highest amount of fat from all other proteins. Within one bite of this sandwich, your arteries will be instantly clogged!


Starbucks is one of the biggest coffee franchises in America today. They serve the most yummy and unique blends of coffees. Don't drink your calories. Research shows that our bodies do not register calories from fluids. Meaning that the amount of calories that your drink contains has absolutely no effect on your satiety level. Starbucks will adapt to your healthy lifestyle by making their tasty beverages in low-fat versions.

Best Beverage: •Cafe Misto with Skim milk(grande)70 calories, 0g fat, 0g fiber Choosing low-fat or skim milk and no cream, will instantly cut your calories in half. Whole milk and skim milk have the same amount of protein, yet 1 cup of whole milk contains 160 calories and 5g of fat versus skim milk which contains 80 calories and 0g fat.

Worst Beverage:• Strawberries and cream blended frappucino (grande) 570 calories, 15g fat,1g fiber This drink contains as many calories as a slice of NYC pizza. Instead of ordering regular frappucinos, opt for the light, blended versions, for a savings of over 400 calories.

Tanya Zuckerbrot, MS, RD is a nutritionist and founder of She is also the creator of The F-Factor DietaC/, an innovative nutritional program she has used for more than ten years to provide hundreds of her clients with all the tools they need to achieve easy weight loss and maintenance, improved health and well-being. For more information log onto