The Unhealthiest Meal You Can Order at an Italian Restaurant—and What to Order Instead

You won't be feeling the amore from this heavy Italian dish. Find out how to keep the flavors you love in a healthy way.

There is nothing more comforting, more romantic or more celebratory than a night out at your favorite Italian restaurant. We all have our go-to dish, and there are plenty of healthy Italian recipes to choose from. There are also a few things to steer clear of. We’re revealing the unhealthiest Italian meal along with lighter (and even tastier) dishes to order instead.

What Is the Unhealthiest Italian Meal?

The unhealthiest meal you can order at an Italian restaurant is sadly one of the tastiest as well: chicken Alfredo. This dish is lacking in the nutrient department and is loaded with saturated fat and calories. Rich Alfredo sauce is traditionally made from butter, heavy cream and cheese. And if the chicken is breaded and fried, then it’s really time to find a new favorite.

The chicken Alfredo dish at Olive Garden clocks in at 1620 calories, 100 grams of fat, 57 grams of saturated fat, 430 milligrams of cholesterol and 1680 milligrams of sodium. On a typical day, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends women take in about 1800 calories and 2200 for men. A healthy adult should aim to limit fat to 78 grams and saturated fat to 20 grams in a day. Regularly eating meals with those high numbers can put us at higher risk for heart disease, diabetes and obesity.

Chicken Alfredo usually doesn’t offer many nutrients from vegetables or whole grains either. So how could we make it a bit healthier?

How to Make Chicken Alfredo Healthier

The easiest way to make this dish a little healthier is with smaller portion sizes. Enjoy a small cup of the real thing with plenty of side dishes like crisp green salad and roasted harvest vegetables.

Next, if you’re up for some experimenting time in the kitchen, play around with other foods to thicken your Alfredo sauce. Pureed cauliflower and blended cashews can both offer a creamy texture with way less fat than heavy cream.

Finally, try topping your fettuccine Alfredo with roasted veggies like eggplant, red bell peppers and onions for a delicious boost of fiber and vitamins.

Ideas for a Healthy Italian Night

Fortunately, when it comes to healthy Italian dishes that don’t skimp on flavor, there are endless options. Start with something simple like copycat Olive Garden soup and salad.

If you’re craving a creamy pasta dish, cooking at home is almost always healthier than eating out. Try a copycat restaurant pasta recipe that tastes like the real thing. Sneak in some veggies and cut carbs with zucchini lasagna, then add some lean protein with rosemary chicken with spinach and beans.

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Carrie Madormo, RN
Now a freelance health and food writer, Carrie worked as a nurse for over a decade. When she isn't hunched over her laptop with a baby in hand, you will find her cooking her grandmother’s recipes, lacing up her running shoes or sipping coffee in the bathroom to hide from her three young children.