Olive garden healthy food

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The 15 Healthiest Olive Garden Meals You Can Order

Eating out isn’t easy when you’re on a diet. It’s not just fast food that makes eating healthy on the go a challenge, either. Chain restaurants are notorious for their out-of-control portions, which can throw you off track even if you order something healthy. But you don’t have to order a soup and salad every time you sit down in front of a menu. Some of the healthiest Olive Garden options, for example, are full entrées.

If you’re in the mood for Italian cuisine, here are the healthiest options you’ll find on the menu. All these meals have no more than 2,000 milligrams of sodium, fewer than 1,500 calories, and no more than 20 grams of saturated fat. Get ready to dig in.

1. Eggplant Parmesan Breadstick Sandwich

A sandwich made with breadsticks is healthier than you think. | iStock.com/harikarn

You read that right: a sandwich made with breadsticks. This lunch combo features everything you love about eggplant Parmesan and Olive Garden breadsticks, but with only 610 calories, 8 grams of saturated fat, and 64 carbs in one sandwich. This is much healthier than the Eggplant Parmigiana entrée, which packs in over 1,000 calories, 12 grams of saturated fat, and more than 100 carbs. This lighter option offers a similar taste to something you love — but less of it.

2. Herb-Grilled Salmon

Salmon is full of protein and healthy fats. | iStock.com/jaroszpilewski

Looking for something light and healthy to eat tonight? You can’t go wrong with fish. Olive Garden’s grilled salmon is high in protein and healthy fats, and it’s also low in calories and carbohydrates. The garlic-herb butter doesn’t add too many calories or too much sodium, either. You’ll only consume 460 calories and 8 grams of saturated fat for the whole meal. The dish also comes with broccoli, which adds some fiber to the mix. And bonus: it’s gluten-free.

3. Stuffed Mushrooms Appetizer

Hungry for an appetizer? Make it your meal. | iStock.com/Maria_Lapina

If you’re not sure a traditional entrée is the best option for you, order an appetizer as your main course. The Stuffed Mushrooms are filled with clams, three types of cheese, and topped with herbed breadcrumbs. It’s less than 400 calories, only has 13 grams of carbs, and offers 15 total grams of protein for the whole plate. This is an excellent option if you love appetizers but don’t want to follow up with more food.

4. Fettuccini Alfredo Mini Pasta Bowl

Choose a smaller version of your favorite meal. | iStock.com/lauraag

If you don’t want to order several meals’ worth of pasta over your lunch break, you can downsize and enjoy a mini version of a classic. The fettuccine Alfredo mini pasta bowl, only has 500 calories and just under 500 milligrams of sodium compared to its full-sized relative. That monster has more than 1,000 calories and 850 milligrams of sodium.

5. Grilled Chicken Parmigiana

When choosing between friend and grilled chicken, always choose grilled. | iStock.com/EzumeImages

When you have a choice between fried chicken and grilled chicken, always go for the latter. The restaurant’s Grilled Chicken Parmigiana features cheese and marinara sauce, along with a side of spaghetti. At 760 calories, this meal is 400 calories less than a traditional breaded preparation. The grilled option actually has more protein than the fried version, along with smaller amounts of saturated fat, sodium, and carbs. You can hardly tell this isn’t friend chicken when it’s covered in sauce and cheese anyway. Save yourself the calories (and everything else).

6. Gluten-Free Rotini with Marinara Sauce

Pasta connoisseurs have yet to decide if rotini differs in taste from other noodle shapes. | iStock.com/~UserGI15633745

Gluten-free foods on grocery store shelves and hidden deep within restaurant menus get a bad rap. Most of them are no healthier, sometimes even worse, than versions containing gluten. However, Olive Garden’s Rotini with Marinara is one of the healthiest pasta dishes you can order. Unlike a gluten-free brownie or breakfast cereal, these noodles are a little healthier than similar pasta, providing just 370 calories per serving. You can add chicken, shrimp, or Italian sausage to your plate as well. However, doing this will add more fat and sodium to an already salty entrée. The choice is up to you.

7. Linguine di Mare

Whole grain pasta > all other pasta. | iStock.com/Ravsky

With just 2 grams of saturated fat contributing to its total fat content, this entrée has the most healthy fat of all the meals on this list. All ingredients are mixed into a bowl of whole-grain linguine noodles — even the pasta is healthier. Everything is covered in pomodoro sauce — a light tomato topping often mixed with basil and similar fresh ingredients. It’s intended to accompany a lighter pasta dish, so it works well with this shrimp and mussel combo.

8. Shrimp Scampi

It’s OK to judge a pasta by its sauce. | iStock.com/EzumeImages

A meal made with fish and vegetables is just as good as — sometimes even better than — a salad. Sautéed in a light garlic sauce, the shrimp in this pasta dish joins fresh asparagus and tomatoes on top of thin angel hair pasta noodles. Enjoy all this for just 500 calories and 9 grams of saturated fat, plus 26 total grams of protein.

This entrée is even low in sodium compared to other pasta dishes on Olive Garden’s menu, mostly because of its sauce. Thicker, creamier toppings like Alfredo or cheesy marinara raise the sodium to dangerously high levels. Even if they’re relatively healthy, the salt content disqualifies them from this list.

9. Grilled Vegetable & Cheese Piadina

Piadina is an Italian flatbread, a.k.a., a fancier sandwich. | iStock.com/ALLEKO

Paidinas are flatbread sandwiches usually made with flour, olive oil, salt, and water. Olive Garden’s grilled vegetable and cheese version contains fresh red peppers, mushrooms, spinach, and a light cheese sauce. So, not only is it filling, it’s only 630 calories and provides 52 grams of carbs, but the majority of those carbs come from the fiber in this sandwich’s medley of fresh veggies. If you’re going to order a sandwich, order one that tastes great and is good for you, too.

10. Dinner Cucina Mia: Angel Hair Marinara Pasta with Grilled Chicken

Pasta, why so salty? | iStock.com/gkrphoto

If you needed proof that sauces are what make pasta dishes at restaurants so salty, look at the components of a Cucina Mia meal. Angel hair pasta only has 10 milligrams of sodium per serving, but a basic meat sauce would add 1,000 milligrams to that total. Marinara sauce, however, adds only 140 additional calories to angel hair’s 350. It also offers only 720 milligrams of additional salt — the lowest of the five available pasta sauces. This is the perfect way to enjoy a pasta meal without accidentally eating a day’s worth of calories or sodium.

11. Dinner Cucina Mia: Parmesan Pesto Spaghetti with Sautéed Shrimp

Take control of your pasta bowl. | iStock.com/bhofack2

If you want a slight variation of a more traditional shrimp and pasta combo, you can also use the Cucina Mia meal options to your advantage. Olive Garden’s Parmesan pesto sauce is both gluten-free and vegetarian-friendly. It’s also only 530 calories per serving, adding on 7 grams of saturated fat and 760 milligrams of sodium. Throwing some sautéed shrimp on top only adds an additional 60 calories to your meal. This means, choosing these options, you still get a full-size pasta bowl for less than 1,000 calories — which is pretty miraculous compared to the restaurant’s more traditional pasta selections.

12. Kids’ Cheese Pizza

You might look like an adult, but you’re really just a kid hungry for a pizza that’s not bigger than your face. | iStock.com/erkanatbas

Here’s one way to get a handle on your portion sizes: order from the kids’ menu. The portion size is much smaller, meaning there are fewer calories and less salt than a meal made for adults. A tiny cheese pizza satisfies your craving for something cheesy without taking things too far. It’s only 400 calories, and has less salt than a massive plate of pasta. Whether or not you’re actually allowed to order a kids’ meal over the age of 12 depends on the restaurant, but you’ll never know unless you try.

13. Tilapia Piccata

When in doubt, order fish. | iStock.com/peredniankina

You’ll love this dish if you’re in the mood for seafood but want something besides shrimp. Tilapia is loaded with healthy fats and is relatively low in carbs, which makes it the perfect heart-healthy meal, especially if you’re counting calories. You’ll only put away 420 calories from this entrée, and the protein from the fish and the side of zucchini will keep you feeling full until your next meal.

14. Tuscan Sirloin

Meat lovers, rejoice! | iStock.com/Magone

This 11-ounce sirloin and its companions, surprisingly, don’t have as many calories as you’d think. The meal does have about 1,700 milligrams of sodium, however, the majority of the salt comes from the garlic mashed potatoes and the garlic-herb butter coating the meat. You still get plenty of protein from the sirloin and fiber from the broccoli. This meal also only has 9 grams of saturated fat, too — impressive for a 620-calorie meat-and-potatoes dinner.

15. Chicken Margherita

Once again, grilled chicken wins the prize. | iStock.com/AVNphotolab

Full of veggies and healthy protein, this meal will leave you feeling full — even though it’s only 590 calories. The dish features grilled chicken, fresh tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, pesto, and a light lemon-garlic sauce. It also comes with Parmesan-crusted zucchini. This comes out to about 70 total grams of protein, 9 grams of carbohydrates, and just over 1,000 milligrams of sodium. We’ll admit 11 grams of saturated fat is a little high, but it’s nothing compared to the 48 grams of saturated fat in a Tour of Italy.

Homemade pasta with seafood and cherry tomatoes on wooden table (iStock)

Yes, you can have a hearty, healthy-ish meal at Olive Garden! Just watch out for words like “unlimited,” which pop up over and over on this menu — even too much salad and breadsticks can result in that over-stuffed feeling. And be wary of anything with pesto, garlic sauce, or alfredo, as those tend to be higher in fat and calories, Tara Collingwood, MS, RDN, official nutritionist for runDisney, told Fox News. Now go ahead and try one of these meals, approved by health nuts across the country!

Minestrone Soup and House Salad with Grilled Chicken
Olive Garden is known for its soup and salad, so here’s a version that amps up your meal’s nutrition. When you start with the minestrone soup, the lowest-calorie (110 per serving) soup on the menu, you may fill up and eat a smaller meal. “Studies have found that warm liquid calories are more filling than cold ones, which is great news if you love soup,” Maggie Moon, MS, RDN, author of “The MIND Diet,” told Fox News. As for the salad, request the dressing on the side — the fat it contains helps you absorb important vitamins, so go with a few drizzles. A side of grilled chicken adds lean protein to your meal. The soup-and-salad combo comes with breadsticks, but limit yourself to just one because each has 140 calories and 460 milligrams of sodium. “This meal still has a lot of salt, so drink plenty of water,” Moon advised.

THE HEALTHIEST ITEMS AT YOUR FAVORITE FAST FOOD RESTAURANTS

Herb-Grilled Salmon
The salmon boasts heart-healthy omega-3 fats and is an excellent source of protein. Plus, the calories, fat, and sodium are lower than those of many other Olive Garden dishes. Order not one but two sides of broccoli because a double portion is only 40 calories yet provides 4 grams (16 percent of the daily value) of fiber, Tammy Lakatos Shames, RDN, and Lyssie Lakatos, RDN, dietitians, personal trainers, and co-authors of “The Nutrition Twins’ Veggie Cure,” told Fox News. “Broccoli contains sulforaphane, which has been shown to prevent and fight a wide variety of cancers in test tube research,” they said.

Cucina Mia!
This “pasta your way” option lets you customize a healthier pasta bowl by choosing the type of pasta, sauce and protein. Opt for whole-grain linguine for extra fiber, marinara sauce in lieu of a creamy or oily one, and grilled chicken or sautéed shrimp for a lower-fat protein. Go with the shrimp option, and that’s 550 calories and 13 grams of fat for the whole dish. “If you overload your dish with heavy, creamy sauces and ingredients, you could be getting a lot of extra calories, fat and sodium,” Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, author of “Read It Before You Eat It,” told Fox News. Case in point: The asiago garlic alfredo sauce alone contains 940 calories and 91 grams of fat!

HOW EATING CARBS CAN HELP YOU LOSE WEIGHT

Cod Piccata
Here’s a dish that offers 37 grams of filling protein for 370 calories, one of the lowest entrée calorie counts on the menu. “Since the protein takes longer to digest than carbohydrate-filled meals, it tides you over longer and helps to keep hunger at bay,” The Nutrition Twins said. Lower the saturated fat by asking the kitchen to go lighter on the butter — and do the same with the salt for a lower-sodium dish.

Chicken Margherita
Ask for a lunch portion of this grilled chicken dish, and you’re looking at a meal for 370 calories. You also get a hearty serving of protein, at well over half the daily value. While the sodium content isn’t low, at 700 milligrams, it is one of the lowest-sodium counts on the menu.

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Linguine di Mare
You get close to a day’s worth of protein and more than half a day’s worth of fiber from this 570-calorie dish that’s a mix of shrimp, mussels, whole-grain linguine and tomato sauce. “It’s one of the best choices on the dinner menu for balanced nutrition,” Moon said. The dish is higher in sodium and added sugar, so balance out the rest of your day with low-sugar and low-sodium home-cooked meals.

Amy Gorin is freelance writer and owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition in Jersey City, NJ. Connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Olive Garden is owned by Darden Restaurants, Inc., which claims to be “the world’s largest full-service restaurant company with annual sales of more than $7 billion.” They also own and operate Red Lobster, LongHorne Steakhouse, The Capital Grille, Bahama Breeze, and Seasons 52, for a total of 1,800 restaurant locations (and 180,000 employees) worldwide.

Rather than simply dismiss them as “Corporate America,” I’d much prefer to offer some suggestions on how to go to Olive Garden and get a healthy, delicious meal. Okay, sure, it’ll still be tough… but at least you can use this guide to make better choices.

Inexplicably, their published nutrition information doesn’t include protein or added sugars.

If you want to guesstimate the protein content, take the total calories and subtract them by 9 calories per gram of fat and 4 calories per gram of carbohydrate. Then take the resulting calories and divide by 4 (that’s how many calories are in gram of protein), and you’ll get the number of grams of protein in the dish. It won’t be exact, but it should get you close enough.

For example, the Stuffed Mushrooms Appetizer has 280 calories, with 19 g fat and 15 g carbs. So:

280 – (19 x 9) – (15 x 4) = 280 – 171 – 60 = 49 calories from protein. Divide that by 4 and you get about 12 grams of protein

One final thought, before we begin: Their lunch offerings are pretty much the same dishes as they serve at dinner, but are smaller portions.

I don’t see any reason why you couldn’t order a lunch-sized portion for dinner. Doing so, for example, would knock an 850-calorie Lasagna Classico down to a much more respectable 580 calories.

Appetizers – Better Choices

Of course, skipping the appetizer (including those refined-flour breadsticks) is the Better Choice, but if you want a relatively light bite — and one that’s easy to split with your fellow diners — go for the Stuffed Mushrooms.

Stuffed Mushrooms
280 cal, 5g sat fat, 19g total fat, 720mg sodium, 15g carbs, 3g fiber

Breadstick with Garlic-Butter Spread
150 cal, no sat fat, 2g total fat, 400mg sodium, 28g carbs, 2g fiber
Whatever you do, please don’t add the alfredo dipping sauce (see below)!

Appetizers – Worst Choices

Just about everything else on the appetizer menu is high in calories or sodium, or both. Some examples:

Mussels di Napoli
180 cal, 4g sat fat, 8g total fat, 1,770mg sodium
These would be good if it weren’t for the sodium!

Bruschetta

610 cal, 13g total fat, 1,760mg sodium

Caprese Flatbread

600 cal, 11g sat fat, 36g total fat, 1,1520mg sodium

Grilled Chicken Flatbread

760 cal, 15g sat fat, 44g total fat, 1,500mg sodium

Hot Artichoke-Spinach Dip

650 cal, 15g sat fat, 31g total fat, 1,430mg sodium

Lasagna Fritta

1,030 cal, 21g sat fat, 63g total fat, 1,590mg sodium
Seriously?! Half a day’s calories, and all your saturated fat, in just your appetizer?

Smoked Mozzarella Fonduta

940 cal, 28g sat fat, 48g total fat, 1,940mg sodium

Sicilian Scampi

500 cal, 10g sat fat, 22g total fat, 1,850mg sodium

Calamari

890 cal, 5g sat fat, 54g total fat, 2,340mg sodum

Calamari with Parmesan-Peppercorn Sauce

1,190 cal, 10g sat fat, 84g total fat, 2,680mg sodium

Alfredo Dipping Sauce

380 cal, 22g sat fat, 35g total fat, 510mg sodium

Marinara Dipping Sauce
70 cal, no sat fat, 2.5g total fat, 540mg sodium

Soups & Salads – Better Choices

Pasta e Fagioli (one serving)

130 cal, 1g sat fat, 2.5g total fat, 680mg sodium, 17g carbs, 6g fiber

Garden-Fresh Salad (one serving, without dressing)

120 cal, 0.5g sat fat, 3.5g total fat, 550mg sodium, 17g carbs, 3g fiber

Soups & Salads – Worst Choices

Garden-Fresh Salad (one serving, with dressing)

350 cal, 26g fat, 1,930mg sodium

Grilled Chicken Caesar

850 cal, 64g fat, 1,880mg sodium

Chicken & Gnocchi (one serving)

250 cal, 1,180mg sodium

Minestrone (one serving)
100 cal, 1,020mg sodium

Zuppo Toscana (one serving)
160 cal, 960mg sodium

Dinner Entrées – Better Choices

To be a “Better Choice” I settled on these three criteria: Under 800 calories, under 12g saturated fat, and under 1,500 mg sodium.

Remember, many of these are available as Lunch Entrées, which are smaller portions.

Also, I discuss the Never Ending Pasta Bowls separately, below.

Venetian Apricot Chicken

380 cal, 1.5g sat fat, 4g total fat, 1,420mg sodium, 32g carbs, 8g fiber

Herb-Grilled Salmon

510 cal, 6g sat fat, 26g total fat, 760mg sodium, 5g carbs, 2g fiber
Personally I wouldn’t order this because the salmon is likely farmed.

Parmesan Crusted Tilapia

590 cal, 10g sat fat, 25g total fat, 910mg sodium, 42g carbs, 6g fiber

Cheese Ravioli with Marinara Sauce

660 cal, 11g sat fat, 22g total fat, 1,440mg sodium, 84g carbs, 7g fiber

Spaghetti with Meat Sauce

710 cal, 8g sat fat, 22g total fat, 1,340mg sodium, 94g carbs, 9g fiber
Not to be confused with the Spaghetti & Meatballs, which has 1,110 calories and 2,180mg sodium. The Spaghetti & Italian sausage is even worse, with 1,270 calories and 3,090mg sodium.

Dinner Entrées – Somewhat Better Choices

To be a “Somewhat Better Choice,” it has to meat at least two of the these criteria (those that aren’t met are in bold):

Under 800 calories, under 12g saturated fat, or under 1,500mg sodium.

Seafood Brodetto
480 cal, 3g sat fat, 16g total fat, 2,250mg sodium, 35g carbs, 7g fiber
That’s a pretty high sodium-to-calorie ratio.

Ravioli di Portobello
670 cal, 17g sat fat, 30g total fat, 1,400mg sodium, 74g carbs, 15g fiber

Parmesan Crusted Bistecca
690 cal, 19g sat fat, 35g total fat, 1,480mg sodium, 40g carbs, 7g fiber

Shrimp Primavera
740 cal, 2g sat fat, 12g total fat, 1,640mg sodium, 110g carbs, 14g fiber

Chicken Marsala
770 cal, 5g sat fat, 37g total fat, 1,800mg sodium, 59g carbs, 16g fiber

Capellini Pomodoro
840 cal, 3g sat fat, 17g total fat, 1,250mg sodium, 141g carbs, 19g fiber

Dinner Entrées – Worst Choices

It’s a large menu, so I’m just going to highlight a few items here. Hopefully this will give you an idea of some of the worst offenders.

Create Your Own Pizza (with cheese and sauce only)
910 cal, 12g sat fat, 28g total fat, 2,970mg sodium, 129g carbs, 8g fiber
If you split this with a friend, the calories and fat aren’t too bad. But it’s still insanely high in sodium. And that’s without any additional toppings. Adding any of the veggies — except black olives — are good choices, though. The olives add 350 mg of sodium.

Chicken Alfredo Pizza

1,180 cal, 40g total fat, 3,330 mg sodium

Tour of Italy

1,450 cal, 33g sat fat, 74g total fat, 3,830mg sodium

Pork Milanese

1,510 cal, 37g sat fat, 87g fat, 3,100mg sodium

Spaghetti & Italian Sausage

1,270 cal, 24g sat fat, 67g total fat, 3,090mg sodium

Chicken Parmigiana

1,090 cal, 3,380mg sodium

Fettuccine Alfredo

1,220 cal, 47g sat fat, 75g total fat

Eggplant Parmigiana
850 cal, 1,900mg sodium

Braised Beef & Tortelloni

1,020 cal, 22g sat fat, 53g total fat, 2,060mg sodium

Lasagna Rollata al Forno

1,170 cal, 39g sat fat, 68g total fat, 2,510mg sodium

Chicken Alfredo

1,440 cal, 48g sat fat, 82g total fat, 2,070mg sodium

Garlic-Herb Chicken con Broccoli

960 cal, 18g sat fat, 41g total fat, 2,180mg sodium

Chicken & Shrimp Carbonara

1,440 cal, 38g sat fat, 88g total fat, 3,000mg sodium

Seafood Alfredo

1,020mg sodium, 31g sat fat, 52g total fat, 2,430mg sodium

Grilled Shrimp Caprese

900 cal, 17g sat fat, 40g total fat, 3,490mg sodium

Never-Ending Pasta Bowls

Okay, I’m hesitant to even discuss these, since if you’re getting more than one bowl — which is the point — completely misses my point. Then again, there’s a wide range of options here, between the pastas, sauces, and “add-ons,” so what you order can make an enormous difference.

Pastas are listed below, in order of increasing calories (exception: I put the Whole Wheat Linguine at the top of the list!)

Whole Wheat Linguine

370 cal, 7 g fiber

Orecchiette

300 cal, 5g fiber

Regular Linguine
380 cal, 4g fiber

Penne
390 cal, 4g fiber

Spaghetti

430 cal, 4g fiber

Angel Hair

450 cal, 4g fiber

Fettuccine

460 cal, 3g fiber

Never Ending Pasta Sauces – Better Choice

If you want meat with your pasta, it’s better to get the Marinara and then add Meatballs or Roasted Chicken, rather than getting one of the meat-based sauces.

Marinara

90 cal, 700mg sodium

Never Ending Pasta Sauces – Worst Choices

Alfredo

610 cal, 35g sat fat, 56g total fat, 820mg sodium

Chianti Three Meat

340 cal, 11g sat fat, 25g total fat, 1,400mg sodium

Creamy Parmesan Portobello

560 cal, 28g sat fat, 49g total fat, 900mg sodium

Five Cheese Marinara
280 cal, 1,040mg sodium

Meat Sauce
260 cal, 1,210mg sodium

Never Ending Pasta Bowl Add Ons – Better Choices

Meatballs

130 cal, 4g sat fat, 9g total fat, 280mg sodium

Roasted Chicken

140 cal, 1g sat fat, 3.5g total fat, 270mg sodium

Never Ending Pasta Bowl Add Ons – Worst Choice

Sausage

280 cal, 8g sat fat, 23g total fat, 880mg sodium

Menu Mondays are my recommendations for the most healthful options at chain restaurants. Although it may be tough to find “perfect” options when eating out, it’s important to choose “better” whenever possible, and I hope these guides will help make that easier for you.

indicates the “best-of-the-best,” and indicates the “worst-of-the-worst,” more or less.

Olive Garden Nutrition Information (online)

Olive Garden Nutrition Information (PDF)

View all my “Menu Mondays” Restaurant Reviews

Photo by agroffman.

Even if you live in a city with endless restaurant options, chances are you still end up at Olive Garden from time to time. (Those breadsticks are everything.) But with “endless,” “bottomless,” and “never ending” options galore on the menu, sticking to a health-minded eating plan isn’t 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 executive chef and registered dietitian Jessica Swift, RD.

Her general advice: Share your order or take half home for later, since Olive Garden’s serving sizes are pretty massive. “I would also suggest taking advantage of the vegetable side dishes, like asparagus with minced onions, instead of just focusing on the pasta,” Swift says. But if you’re craving pasta, opt for one that has a tomato-based sauce rather than a creamy sauce to save on calories and saturated fat. And unless you have a gluten allergy, you don’t need to sub their GF pasta for the sake of better health. “Nutritionally, the gluten-free pasta is right in line with the regular pasta,” she says. “It’s actually lower in protein because it’s made with potato starch and not wheat.”

However, if you’re on an eating plan like Mediterranean diet, ketogenic, or Whole30, things can get a little more challenging when navigating the menu. Here, Swift gives tips on how to enjoy Olive Garden—in all its glory—while still sticking with your health goals.

Mediterranean diet

Menu picks: Herb-Grilled Salmon; Chicken Giardino

What an RD says: Win for the Med diet: Olive Garden has an entire Tastes of the Mediterranean menu. While Swift says it might be somewhat of a marketing ploy, she says it’s generally the healthiest section of the menu (regardless of what eating plan you’re following) because everything is lower in calories.

The Herb-Grilled Salmon and Chicken Giardino are her top picks for anyone following the Mediterranean diet. “The Herb-Grilled salmon is a very reasonable 460 , and comes with a side of broccoli, while the Chicken Giardino offers a way to satisfy a pasta craving while also getting some protein—thanks to the chicken—and veggies, which are mixed in,” she says.

Order tweak: “The Mediterranean Diet definitely calls for lean protein, which you will get with the Chicken Giardino, but be mindful that it is loaded with simple carbohydrates because of the pasta,” Swift says. She suggests asking the waiter if you can halve the pasta serving in place of extra steamed veggies—and going lighter on the sauce for a healthier version with the same flavor. “And as for the Herb-Grilled Salmon, I would ask if it could be cooked in regular oil instead of the butter sauce, which will cut down on saturated fat,” Swift says.

Side-dish recommendations: Famous House Salad: “Salad is definitely one of those items that falls in line with almost any diet, and especially the Mediterranean Diet,” Swift says. But she has some major caveats. “First of all, bottomless anything isn’t healthy,” she says. Because the chain’s salad is served in a big bowl on the table for everyone to share, it can be tricky figuring out how many servings you’re actually eating.

Wait, but how is having a lot of salad a bad thing? “The vegetables are great, but both the dressing and the Parmesan cheese have a lot of sodium,” Swift says. One serving of the house salad dressing—two tablespoons—has 80 calories and 520 milligrams of sodium. (FYI: 520 milligrams of sodium is roughly 21 percent of your recommended daily value of sodium, making this a high-sodium food.) “It’s just something to be mindful of if you have cardiac issues,” she says. She says that just switching the house dressing for the low-fat Italian on the side will save you over 100 mg of sodium.

Ketogenic diet

Menu picks: Minestrone Soup; Herb-Grilled Salmon

What an RD says: The Minestrone Soup is a win if you’re keto *and* vegan or vegetarian, which isn’t easy to find, making it a major score. Swift loves this soup because it’s packed with protein and fiber. “It has 4 grams of protein per serving, which is pretty good,” she says. Just note: It has 13 grams of net carbs (and most plans advocate for 30 grams of carbs or less per day) so just keep that in mind when assessing your keto macros for the rest of the day.

Not in the mood for soup? Swift says that the Mediterranean diet-friendly Herb-Grilled Salmon works for anyone doing keto, too (only 4 grams of net carbs)—and you don’t need to ask for oil in place of the sauce since butter gets a keto pass.

Menu tweaks: None needed.

Side-dish recommendations: Famous House Salad: Once again, Swift recommends the Famous House Salad, which falls in line with all diet types. Because there are no carb-based veggies—like corn or potatoes—mixed in, it aligns perfectly with the keto diet. Again, just ask for that dressing on the side to cut down on sodium.

Whole30

Menu picks: Herb-Grilled Salmon

What an RD says: The Herb-Grilled Salmon is a triple diet win—score! Unfortunately, it’s pretty much the only menu item at Olive Garden that’s conducive to the eating plan’s strict guidelines. And you will need to tweak your order. (See below.)

Order tweak: The butter sauce is going to be a no-go if you’re doing Whole30. “If they’re able to make it using regular oil instead of the butter sauce, then it will work,” Swift says. (Just ask specifically what oil they use, since not all cooking oils are OK on the Whole30.)

Side-dish recommendations: The Famous House Salad: This one is do-able on Whole30, but you’ll have to make a few changes. Ask for olive oil and vinegar instead of the traditional dressing (or bring your own), and hold the croutons and Parmesan cheese. Swift says it can work as a main meal if you want.

If you’re craving Italian but want to make something at home, check out this recipe for cauliflower cacio e pepe and this recipe for avocado pasta.

What to eat at Olive Garden if you’re trying to be healthy

Facebook/Olive Garden The INSIDER Summary:

  • Many options at Olive Garden are loaded with carbs, but that doesn’t mean you can’t eat healthy.
  • From herb-grilled salmon to garlic rosemary chicken, here are some healthy alternatives for your trip to Olive Garden.

Trying to stay healthy? Not trying to break your New Year’s resolution? Olive Garden may be known for loading up on carbs, but don’t give up so fast. Check out these awesome options to stay healthy at your favorite Italian eatery.

Herb-Grilled Salmon

A post shared by @19august93Jul 14, 2017 at 6:34pm PDT

This delicious dish is a perfect, well-rounded meal. Get your serving of protein and Omega-3 fatty acids, along with a side of broccoli for your serving of veggies. This option clocks in at about 460 calories. Yum.

Minestrone Soup and Side House Salad

A post shared by Olive Garden (@olivegarden)Oct 20, 2016 at 8:28am PDT

If you’re in the mood for a light dish, definitely try this. The minestrone soup is vegan, with only beans, pasta, and light veggies. Get a salad with dressing on the side and you’re golden. With a light dish like this, you can afford to have one of those delicious bread sticks without too much damage.

Garlic Rosemary Chicken

A post shared by Olive Garden (@olivegarden)May 4, 2016 at 9:25am PDT

Going for a marinated chicken rather than a fried chicken is an easy way to stay healthy. If you want to get even healthier, swap the mashed potatoes for a side of roasted veggies. Still, this dish is jam packed with protein. (Note: May be discontinued in some locations.)

Mini Spaghetti with Meat Sauce

A post shared by Olive Garden (@olivegarden)Jan 26, 2017 at 10:21am PST

If you’re in the mood for the classic Italian dish, make sure you order the Spaghetti with Meat Sauce Mini Pasta Bowl. This gives you a smaller serving with all the same delicious flavors. The meat gives you protein and the pasta, which you can switch to whole grain, will give you the perfect serving of carbs.

Olive Garden also has a new lighter fare menu, which offers even more healthy options. And, for the times you are eating dinner in, check out this article so you know how to shop. Pasta can still be healthy, so don’t give up on Olive Garden so fast. I mean, what is life without a little pasta. A carb-free life? Over my bread body.

In January, just in time for New Year’s resolutions, Olive Garden will introduce its “Tastes of the Mediterranean” menu, a revamped version of the chain’s “lighter fare” offerings. The menu includes six dishes, two of them brand new, all of them under 600 calories, and all of them promising big flavor in satisfying portions. But do they deliver? There’s only one way to find out: Eat all of them.

Yup, I ate them all!Samantha Okazaki / TODAY

This is how, one recent lunchtime, I found myself at my local Olive Garden, staring down five plates of food (plus salad and breadsticks of course). I got a sneak peek of the two new dishes — Linguine di Mare and Chicken Margherita — and tried some of the older ones that will be sticking around: Shrimp Scampi, Chicken Piccata and Herb-Grilled Salmon (we skipped the Tilapia Piccata, but they’ll have that too).

RELATED: How to get a sold out Olive Garden Never Ending Pasta Pass

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Hoda, Jenna give Olive Garden’s spaghetti pie two thumbs up!

May 25, 201601:28

For me, Olive Garden is a nostalgic thing. I went occasionally as a kid in suburban New Jersey, I’m pretty sure I always ordered the fettucine alfredo, and I mostly just remember devouring the breadsticks. I’ve only been once since then, last year, with a friend who had a Neverending Pasta Pass to burn — I got the 5-Cheese Marinara. In general, counting calories is not my thing, so I’m skeptical of “lighter fare.” So I went my tasting experience cautiously optimistic: cautious that “lighter fare” might be code for “bland” or “not pasta,” optimistic that at least there would be breadsticks. Now, having eaten my weight in chicken, seafood, and pasta (yes there is pasta), here’s what I learned.

RELATED: How to make Olive Garden-Style Garlic Breadsticks

Olive Garden’s Shrimp Scampi Samantha Okazaki / TODAY

The 500-calorie Shrimp Scampi is in many ways what started it all. It first landed on the menu, along with the Chicken Piccata, as a limited-time special at the beginning of the year. But it quickly rose to become the second best-selling dish on the menu (fettucine alfredo is always and forever number one dish), edging out perennial favorites like lasagna. So Olive Garden decided to make it a permanent part of the menu, and to round it out with other Mediterranean-inspired low-calorie dishes that people would (hopefully) also love. All go heavy on ingredients like garlic, lemon and capers, to try to pile on flavor without piling on pounds

Olive Garden-style breadsticks and salad recipes to try at home

Aug. 11, 201504:29

And yes, the Shrimp Scampi, a pile of shrimp, asparagus and chopped tomato in a garlicky sauce over angel hair pasta is good. It could have used a tad more salt, and I’m not sure how I feel about eating asparagus in the middle of winter, but the garlic sauce was silky and the portion was a good size. I honestly would not have known this was a low-calorie dish if the menu hadn’t told me. It’s a big bowl of pasta! And the sauce, though nowhere near alfredo level, still tastes rich.

RELATED: How to make Olive Garden-Style Salad with Creamy Italian Dressing

Olive Garden’s new Linguine di MareSamantha Okazaki / TODAY

The new Linguine di Mare (570 calories) is the red sauce counterpart to the scampi. Here a big bowl of pasta comes tossed in a basic pomodoro sauce, and topped with handfuls of shrimp, mussels and whole roasted garlic cloves. The seafood is fresh and briny, and the roasted garlic is a flash of genius I honestly didn’t expect of Olive Garden. I was also shocked to learn that the linguine is whole grain — it’s indistinguishable from regular pasta, not gritty or wheat-y at all. But the sauce itself is one of the most noticeably “healthful” things on this menu, meaning low on salt and fat. If you’re not counting calories too hard, it wouldn’t hurt to ask for a few turns of the cheese grater on this one. Sure, cheese on seafood pasta is supposed to be a big no-no, but this is Olive Garden, and I don’t think anyone will judge you for it.

Olive Garden’s new Chicken MargheritaSamantha Okazaki / TODAY

Speaking of cheese, the new Chicken Margherita (590 calories) has plenty of it. Two chicken breasts, pounded thin and grilled, come topped with mozzarella cheese, pesto, roasted cherry tomatoes and a lemon garlic sauce. Several planks of zucchini, topped with Parmesan bread crumbs and baked, are served on the side (good, but if calories were no object I’d want more than three). This one might be a bit less filling than the pasta dishes, but it is more flavorful thanks to the double punch of lemon and fresh, garlicky pesto. It was my favorite of the two new dishes. If you want to have your low-calorie dish and eat your cheese too, this is the dish to get.

Olive Garden’s Chicken PiccataSamantha Okazaki / TODAY

Chicken Piccata (500 calories), meanwhile, had just as much flavor minus the cheese. It comes in a similar lemon garlic sauce, with a generous scattering of capers and sundried tomatoes over the top, and those same zucchini planks. There’s also a grilled lemon half on the side, but the sauce is so tart already I can’t imagine you’d need it. Again, it won’t fill you up like a big bowl of pasta, but the capers and lemon add more salt and zip than you’ll get in either pasta dish. Out of all the dishes I tried, I actually think I liked it even better than the Chicken Margherita, but that could just be because I’m a sucker for capers. Between the two, it’s a close race.

Olive Garden’s Herb-Grilled SalmonSamantha Okazaki / TODAY

And finally there’s the Herb-Grilled Salmon (460 calories), an older menu item and the odd one out. With just a light coating of garlic herb butter and a side of steamed broccoli, it’s not very exciting. I admit, I tried it last, so I was at least one chicken breast and half a bowl of pasta in, and my appetite may have been flagging. But maybe I tried it last because out of everything I tried, it’s the only thing that really screams “diet food.” If you like salmon a lot, fine. Otherwise, skip it, because you can feel just as self righteous — or just as entitled to more of those bottomless breadsticks — while ordering any of the other dishes, and still feel like you’re living a little.

Olive Garden’s signature salad also has a new lighter fare dressingSamantha Okazaki / TODAY

Now, I can tell you that as far as Olive Garden food goes, these dishes are all good, and better than you might expect from “lighter fare”. But having eaten five at once (plus salad and breadsticks!), I can’t tell you for sure whether they will leave you feeling light and healthy. I obviously didn’t finish them all, but after hopping from Chicken Piccata to Linguine di Mare to yet another bite of scampi, I personally left as stuffed as if I’d polished off a bowl of fettucine alfredo. Which is fine by me.

Whether you’re obsessed with Olive Garden for its Zuppa Toscana soup or the unlimited breadsticks, we understand. And we’re here to, um, make your addiction worse. (Because, really, what’s better than stuffing your face with pasta and drinking wine with all your favorite people?) With these little-known facts, you can spread your love for OG — and then tell all your friends they need to make reservations for their birthdays, if only so you can gorge on tiramisu.

1. The Chain Breaks One Major Pasta-Cooking Rule.

If you don’t salt boiling water when you cook noodles, you’re in pretty prominent company: Olive Garden doesn’t either. It skips the seasoning to maintain a longer warranty on its pots, Business Insider reports.

Apparently, though, guests don’t mind the lack of salt — the company just reported its best quarterly sales in years.

2. The soups are made fresh every morning.

“All of Olive Garden’s signature soups — Pasta e Fagioli, Chicken & Gnocchi, Zuppa Toscana, and Minestrone — are made by hand and from scratch every morning using fresh, whole ingredients such as kale, peppers, and squash,” a representative for OG told Popsugar.

3. Olive Garden got its start in 1982 in Orlando, FL.

Seven years later there were already 145 locations and it quickly matched the success of its sister restaurant, Red Lobster. Today, the chain includes more than 800 restaurants and upwards of 96,000 employees. Every year it brings in $3.8 billion in sales. Talk about fast growth!

4. Its logo has changed five times.

And you’d hardly recognize the original, which — in all honesty — looks like the cursive font you’d find on a greeting card. But it was the ’80s so we understand.

Olive Garden

5. The chain’s Never-Ending Pasta Passes are insanely popular.

The cards that grant you unlimited plates of Italian noodles over the course of two months are so highly coveted that some have resold for $900 a piece on eBay. (Yeah, we wish we were kidding.)

Facebook / Olive Garden

6. The breadsticks make even better pizzas.

And crostini, too. After the winner of MasterChef Junior thought up creative uses for what’s arguably the restaurant’s customer favorite item, the garlicky breadstick was reimagined as crostini for meatballs and crust for pepperoni pizza.

Olive Garden

7. Olive Garden gives out dating advice.

No, really. The brand started a hilarious Twitter hashtag #AskAlfredo, where fans can share their romantic woes or pose love queries for the pasta-fueled Dear Abbey-like character to answer.

@camillepeiffer Only if you return the favor. ❤️ #AskAlfredo pic.twitter.com/YzNVzHFmzV

— Olive Garden (@olivegarden) February 1, 2016

8. The menu includes centuries-old Italian street snacks.

The new piadina looks like a red-sauced take on the quesadilla, but it’s actually a supremely authentic and traditional sandwich served and eaten often in Italy. So stick that to all your friends who say Olive Garden serves “faux-talian” fare.

olive garden

9. Olive Garden will cater your party.

And yes, breadsticks are included. If you order at least $125 worth of grub, you can get catering-style to-go orders for your birthday — or your next Wine Wednesday, we’re not judging. The packages include lasagna, chicken Parmigiana, and chicken marsala combos and the service is available at all U.S. and Canada locations.

olive garden

10. It’s a huge hot spot on New Year’s Eve.

At the Times Square location, tables could be reserved for $400 per person. While that price tag is quite heavy, it does include three floors to dance your way through to the tunes of a DJ from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m.; plus, there’s a bottomless buffet and three bars serve free drinks all night.

FLICKR CREATIVE COMMONS / KENNY LOUIE

11. The most popular menu items will surprise you.

“Chicken Alfredo is Olive Garden’s most popular menu item,” a representative for the brand told Popsugar. “Out of all the noodle options, Olive Garden guests prefer fettuccine noodles. As far as pasta toppings go, Olive Garden guests love the grilled chicken.”

12. You can buy Olive Garden’s signature Italian dressing.

It no doubt garnered most of its acclaim by way of the insanely popular soup, salad, and breadsticks lunch deal. So you could hunt it down at a store near you, or you could make the famous Italian dressing at home now that we cracked the recipe.

Ethan Calabrese

13. Your server will give you a free dessert (and sing to you) on your birthday.

Olive Garden is one of many restaurants that will help you celebrate your big day with birthday freebies that range from free mozzarella sticks to complimentary brownie sundaes. At OG, all you have to do is join the e-club and then dine there on your special day, when your server will sing “Happy Birthday” to your embarrassment, er, delight.

14. You can get a discount on gift card purchases.

But you have a spend a certain amount. Buy between $500 and $999 and you’ll get a 5 percent discount. But opt for $1,000 or more (holy cow) and you’ll get 10 percent off the purchase. Check the company’s FAQ section for more details on this deal.

Olive Garden

15. Olive Garden offers gluten-free pasta.

We had no idea that the national chain was churning out pasta without wheat. According to the , you can order gluten-free noodles that are imported from Italy and are made with corn and rice flours.

Olive Garden

16. Employees get an amazing discount.

If you’re on staff at Olive Garden, you can take advantage of $1 unlimited soup, salad, and breadsticks. You can also order meals before, during, and after your shift at 50 percent off.

17. The restaurant designed a coloring app for kids.

Crayons are cool and everything, but OG totally stepped up its game with a 3D game kids can play while waiting for their meals. First, they color in an app-activiated character page, then bring it to life using the Quiver app.

18. There’s an Olive Garden cooking school in Italy.

Back in 2010, a series of Olive Garden commercials touted a picturesque Tuscan cooking school but critics and fans alike were skeptical of its authenticity. So CNN did some digging and found that the Olive Garden Culinary Institute of Tuscany is the real deal. In fact, since 1999, it’s been running authentic Italian cooking lessons for 100 of the chain’s best-performing chefs every year for 11 weeks during winter months. (During the rest of year, the property is known as Riserva di Fizzano and operates as a bed and breakfast — and winery. Because duh.)

19. OG is getting into the pot-pie game.

Chicken pot pie gets an Italian-American twist with Olive Garden’s latest limited-edition offerings. Italiano Nonna’s Kitchen Sink basically lets you taste the entire menu in one bite. It’s loaded with cheese, ziti, Italian sausage, mini meatballs and meat sauce. The Italiano Chicken con Broccoli features a blend of cavatappi pasta, alfredo sauce, grilled chicken, broccoli and Italian cheese, all tucked under a savory pie crust.

Olive Garden

Fiber On The Menu: The Olive Garden

Whenever a special occasion takes place it seems that the family finds its way to The Olive Garden. It was only fitting then, that we took the time to visit and see the sort of Full Plate Living meals we could find. We noted that the menu at this time features some Lighter Italian Fare options, and took full advantage of those.

Like most Italian restaurants, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. Salad and breadsticks may cost you nothing when it comes to the wallet, but they add up quickly in calories. Just one breadstick is 140 calories! One plate of salad, 150 (mostly due to the dressing).
  2. Most plates have oversized “American” servings. It’s always a good rule of thumb to divide the pasta and meat up in half. This will GREATLY reduce the amount of calories and provide you with something to eat the next day.
  3. Pasta on the menu is white pasta you have to specify if you would like the whole grain variety.

Fiber Finds at The Olive Garden

Soup, Salad, Breadsticks

Minestrone soup is always a great bet at The Olive Garden. You can actually have two bowls, one salad, one breadstick and a side of grapes for 530 calories and 11g fiber. If you only have 1 bowl of soup, 430 calories, 8g fiber.

Linguine a la Marinara

We ordered the whole wheat pasta and requested a cup of steamed broccoli and a cup of grilled veggies. Paired with a salad this meal clocks in at 475 calories and 10g of fiber.

Venetian Apricot Chicken

We ordered this meal as is and added a side salad. 440 calories, 8g fiber

Lasagna Primavera with Grilled Chicken

We added a side of steamed broccoli and a side of asparagus, since this meal was so low in fiber. In the end, we created a plate with 565 calories, and 7g of fiber.

This plate is friendly to anyone trying to eat gluten-free. The serving of salmon was huge (and way above the normal 4oz size recommendation) so we split it in half. We also ordered 2 servings of broccoli and 2 servings of grapes. We paired it up with a bowl of the minestrone soup instead of the typical salad (if you do require gluten free fare, skip the soup and ask for the gluten-free salad). 425 calories, 9g fiber.

If you like these ideas, you’ll love other ideas outlined in our online weight loss program, Are You Eating Enough to Lose Weight? We’ll get you thinking about fiber differently to help you reach your goal.

All the keto-friendly menu items at Olive Garden

Although Olive Garden probably isn’t the first place you think to go when you’re on a diet, don’t rule it out just yet. The Italian-American chain known for its unlimited breadsticks also has a lighter section on its menu, and four of the items are even keto-friendly.

Photo: Olive Garden

Tastes of the Mediterranean was added to Olive Garden’s official menu in January 2017. It currently features six items under 600 calories on the dinner menu and seven on the lunch menu.

Dinner dishes include: Chicken Piccata (530 calories), Shrimp Scampi (510 calories), Herb-Grilled Salmon (460 calories), Salmon Piccata (580 calories), Chicken Margherita (570 calories) and Chicken Giardino (600 calories). The lunch menu is mostly lower in calories thanks to its smaller portions, but it also includes Ravioli di Portobello (570 calories).

Photo: Olive Garden

Calories aren’t everything, though. It’s important to eat food that will help fuel your body, keep you feeling full and provide you with nutrients.

If for you that means doing the high-fat, low-carb ketogenic diet, listen up! Four of the menu items are also keto-friendly, including the Chicken Piccata, Salmon Piccata, Herb-Grilled Salmon and the Chicken Margherita. However, be sure to swap the side of Parmesan-crusted zucchini for a side of broccoli to stay in ketosis. (Ketosis is the metabolic state your body goes into that turns your fat into ketones and uses them as fuel, aka what happens when you eat very little carbs.)

Of course, each of these menu items also work for the Mediterranean diet, so whether you’re trying to eat healthier or not, your body can benefit. This year the US News and World Report ranked the Mediterranean diet as the best diet overall for 2019, as well as best diet for healthy eating, best plant-based diet, best diet for diabetes and easiest diet to follow. The diet includes filling your plate with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats like olive oil and fish.

So, head to your local Olive Garden or place an order online for pick up and live your healthiest life in 2019 (or, you know, at least for the first few weeks of January).

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