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17 Menu Items That Are Total Health Red Flags

No matter where you're dining, these are the meal options you'll want to completely avoid.

When you go to a restaurant, you probably already know that what you're ordering won't be as "healthy" as something you might make at home. For instance, most menu items have more oil, sugar, sodium, and other delicious but not-so-great-for-you things that can cause calories to skyrocket. And the portion sizes are huge, so you could be eating two or three servings in one sitting. At home, you have control over the portion sizes, cooking technique, and the ingredients, so it's a bit easier to make sure you're eating something with some nutrition, rather than just a total diet wrecker.

Yet, a perk about going out to eat is that you get the chance to enjoy some of your favorite dishes. So, you should still indulge and treat yourself, of course, but it's also worth noting which specific menu items might be a doozy if you're trying to diet or simply maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Here are 17 popular menu items that no matter where you're dining, are super bad for you. It's best to just ditch them if you can and order something else!

Onion Rings

Onion rings

"These breaded and fried onions offer basically no nutritional value. They are just full of grease and will quickly add calories to your meal," says Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD. Instead, you can get raw onions in a salad or even a few caramelized onions on a burger. As long as they're not fried!

Loaded Nachos


"The combination of high-calorie foods on nachos, like cheese, sour cream, and ground beef, adds up to a really caloric appetizer. Not to mention the tortilla chips themselves," says Rizzo.

You're better off making healthier nachos at home with some cheese, black beans, avocado, and pico de gallo.

Deep Dish Pizza

slice of deep dish pizza lifted out of pizza pan in chicago

Sorry, Chicago, but this one is a no-go.

"Although deep dish pizza tastes really good, the dough is cooked in a lot of butter to give it the flakey texture. Then it's covered in sauce and cheese, making it really high in calories, sodium and fat," says Rizzo.

If your pizza craving is calling, go with thin crust instead! (If you're looking for more meal inspiration, be sure to sign up for our newsletter to get daily recipes and food news in your inbox!)

Baby Back Ribs

baby back ribs

A huge rack of ribs smothered in a sweet sauce may taste great, but it will use up your daily calories before you even add extra sauce and a side dish or two.

"You're better off going for a pork loin or pork chop instead," says Rizzo, which is lean and has less of that sugary sauce.

General Tso's Chicken

general tsos chicken

"Although chicken is a lean meat, General Tso's chicken is fried chicken covered in a sugary sauce. It's way too high in calories, fat, and sugar," says Rizzo. Instead, go with plain chicken and broccoli or even steamed chicken, like steamed chicken dumplings.

Potato Skins


"Potatoes are actually a healthy food on their own, but topping them with sour cream, bacon, and cheese makes them a no-go," says Rizzo, and you already know that's how this dish is typically prepared. Get a baked potato plain instead, and then add a little bit of butter or cream, along with some healthier toppings like veggies.

Jalapeño Poppers

jalapeno poppers

Anything stuffed with cheese and cooked in the deep fryer is bound to be bad for you, let's be real.

"Jalapeño poppers are usually an appetizer, but they may have more calories and saturated fat than the main meal," says Rizzo.

Salad with Crispy Chicken

salad crispy chicken

If you see salads with "crispy chicken," know that chicken is packed with calories and fat. Don't let the wording fool you!

"It usually means it's fried chicken. Just because it's over a bed of lettuce doesn't mean that it's a healthy meal," says Rizzo. Plus, fried chicken salads are usually accompanied by heavy cream-based dressings, cheese, and other high-calorie toppings, so go with grilled chicken instead. And keep an eye out common menu words that are secretly red flags.

Bacon Cheeseburger

bacon cheeseburger

There's nothing wrong with having a burger every once in a while, but covering red meat in cheese and bacon really increases the saturated fat and calories. And then there's the bun to factor in, too.

"Some bacon cheeseburgers are also served with fries, so the entire meal may be more calories than you need in one day," says Rizzo.

Fettucine Alfredo

fettuccine alfredo

"This pasta dish is covered in butter, cream, and cheese, meaning that it's really rich in calories and unhealthy fats. Plus, the portion sizes of pasta dishes are usually much larger than you would eat at home," says Rizzo.

The same goes for carbonara, a popular alfredo dish with pancetta. If you're craving pasta, order one with a marinara or oil-based sauce instead.

Spinach and Artichoke Dip

spinach artichoke dip

Since this dip has "spinach" and "artichoke" in the name, you might think it's made with mostly veggies. But nope, that's just not the case.

"Unfortunately, it's most cream and cheese with just a few vegetables thrown in," says Rizzo. It's fine to order this and split it with a few people as an appetizer, but don't order one just for yourself. It's high in calories and salt, plus think of those chips!


three milkshakes

No matter how you spin it, a loaded milkshake as your beverage or for a dessert definitely adds up.

"You may think a shake is lighter than other desserts, but milkshakes are usually made with a ton of ice cream and additives," says Rizzo. In other words, they are essentially a blended ice cream sundae that is packed with calories and sugar. Not so great, after all.

Mozzarella Sticks

Mozzarella sticks

Cheese on its own isn't bad for you, but when it's fried, breaded and loaded with salt, it's a diet doozy, says Maggie Michalczyk, MS, RD. That sodium can take you back for a whole day's worth and it's just an appetizer.

Taco Salad

taco salad

Sometimes you're better off just getting a taco, as not every salad is created equal.

"A taco salad seems healthy but the taco shell the greens sit in can really pack on those calories, salt, and carbs," says Michalczyk. Plus, the salad itself is often loaded with fattening dressing and other high-calorie items. Ask for it in a bowl!

Chicken and Biscuits

chicken and biscuits

Chicken and biscuits are super high in fat, salt, and calories, says Michalczyk, since the chicken is fried and crispy and the biscuits are covered in butter or oil. Plus, biscuits don't have nutritional value, like whole-grain or wheat would. Although this meal may be a truly delicious comfort food dish, it's one you should skip.

Chow Mein

bowl of chow mein with chopsticks

While it's tasty, the portion is often huge when it comes to chow mein, says Michalczyk, and you can't help but keep slurping up those tasty salty noodles (which happened to be drenched in sauce, as well). Add in a protein and the calories increase further. Add this to the list of beloved restaurant dishes that are terrible for you.

Cheese Curds

fried cheese curds with dip

It's easy to just keep on eating these as they're sitting in front of you, and you won't realize how many calories you're taking back in just that snack or appetizer before your main course even shows up.

"Cheese curds are fried, which increases saturated fat and sodium, and think of the size of each curd. The bites are so small you can't stop popping them one right after the other," says Michalczyk.

Isadora Baum
Isadora Baum is a freelance writer, certified health coach, and author of 5-Minute Energy. Read more about Isadora
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