Americans love what we call Italian food, but the excessive white-flour pasta and meat- and cheese-filled entrées could have a devastating impact on our waistlines and arteries. And it all starts with the appetizers.
Here’s a sampling of overly-indulgent appetizers from Carrabba’s Italian Grill, Olive Garden, and Maggiano’s Little Italy. The numbers—we took them from the companies’ Web sites—are likely to reflect what you’d get in similar dishes at similar restaurants.
Carrabba’s Tomatoes Caprese
Saturated Fat: 18 grams
Sodium: 340 mg
“Fresh milk mozzarella with sliced tomatoes, red onions, fresh basil and a balsamic reduction” keeps the sodium admirably low. And it’s one of the few dishes not loaded with white flour. Share it with others to dilute nearly a day’s saturated fat.
Olive Garden’s Grilled Chicken Flatbread
Saturated Fat: 15 grams
Sodium: 1,500 mg
“Chicken, mozzarella, roasted red peppers and basil with alfredo and garlic spread.” Flatbread pizza may sound healthy, but it’s loaded with calories from the same white flour, cheese, and alfredo sauce that may well show up in your entrée.
Saturated Fat: 10 grams
Sodium: 920 mg
Half a dozen pieces of buttered toast topped with fresh tomatoes, basil, balsamic vinegar, and roasted garlic. Olive Garden’s nine-piece order swaps the butter for oil, so the saturated fat drops to just 3 grams. But you’ll be starting dinner with 950 calories’ worth of white flour and close to a two-day supply of sodium. Ugh.
Olive Garden’s Parmesan Olive Fritta
With Gorgonzola Cream Sauce
Saturated Fat: 11 grams
Sodium: 980 mg
With Citrus Aioli Sauce
Saturated Fat: 12 grams
Sodium: 850 mg
“A bite-sized blend of olives and Italian cheeses, rolled together and lightly fried.” Translation: deep-fried olive-and-cheese balls with an oil or cream sauce. Ordering the Crispy Risotto Bites (deep-fried cheese-and-rice balls) instead drops the calories to 350 and the saturated fat to 4 grams, but the sodium is about the same.
With Housemade Marinara
Saturated Fat: 13 grams
Sodium: 1,960 mg
With Spicy Italian Pepper and Lemon Butter Sauce
Saturated Fat: 53 grams
Sodium: 2,130 mg
Who can afford to share roughly 1,000 or 1,500 calories—mostly from the frying oil and the breading that entombs the squid—before dinner? The calamari with lemon butter sauce (and its 2½-day load of saturated fat) should come with a defibrillator.
Maggiano’s Stuffed Mushrooms
Saturated Fat: 26 grams
Sodium: 1,280 mg
Butter gives Maggiano’s mushrooms about twice the calories—and five times the saturated fat—of Olive Garden’s version. Macaroni Grill’s hit 640 calories and 15 grams of saturated fat thanks to the Italian sausage and goat cheese filling.
Olive Garden’s Lasagna Fritta
Saturated Fat: 21 grams
Sodium: 1,590 mg
“Parmesan-breaded lasagna pieces, fried and served over alfredo sauce, topped with parmesan cheese and marinara sauce.” Do you need a new appetizer for your restaurant? No problem. Just deep-fry an old dish and add alfredo sauce! Nothing like 1,000 calories and a day’s sat fat and sodium to start a meal.