The #1 Unhealthiest Side Dish at 11 Popular Restaurant Chains
Chain restaurants are some of the best places to get a quick and easy meal (and often for a decent price). Plus, you can usually count on receiving exactly what you're expecting no matter where in the country you're eating. For those of us who are really trying to stay on course toward our nutritional goals, thankfully, starting in 2018, the FDA mandated that all restaurants with 20 or more locations must publish their nutritional information. This makes it easy to see what dishes will keep you on track and what will really throw you off.
But something we often don't think about are the side dishes that we're consuming while dining out. Of course, we all know that french fries and onion rings lack substantial nutritional value, and high rates of sodium or saturated fats can really contribute to some nasty side effects like type 2 diabetes or health disease, the latter of which is especially prevalent in females with approximately 44% of all women in the US living with some form of heart disease.
To help you navigate your favorite chain restaurant's available nutritional info, we've collected the unhealthiest side dishes at 11 popular chain restaurants…and the results of our survey may surprise you! Read on, and for more, don't miss The #1 Healthiest Burger at 10 Major Restaurant Chains.
Chili's Roasted Street Corn
Corn is supposed to be healthy, right? Well, corn itself is packed with fiber and antioxidants, but when you load on the mayonnaise, sour cream, and cotija cheese, you really start to rack up on the fat and calories – and not to mention the sugar, as this restaurant side dish comes with 12 grams of sugar per serving. Just remember, corn is deliciously sweet on its own with just a sprinkle of seasonings, so there's no need to load up on unhealthy ingredients.
Outback Steakhouse Over The Top Brussels Sprouts
This one really caught us by surprise, as Brussels sprouts are truly a superfood. Half a cup of this cruciferous vegetable provides you with 91% of the daily value of Vitamin K, 53% of vitamin C, and 12% of your daily folate. But covered with bacon and many cheeses, this side quickly becomes the most unhealthy side dish on the menu. Even though you're still ingesting the beneficial nutrients of the Brussels sprouts themselves, consider passing on this one, as the downsides heavily outweigh the benefits. Ask if you can get plain roasted sprouts instead.
Ruby Tuesday's Loaded French Fries
It's not shocking that French fries are one of the unhealthiest sides you can get at any restaurant (ugh…but they're just so addictive!). Ruby Tuesday's is known for its robust salad bar and healthier options, though, so their loaded french fries are a no-brainer when it comes to their unhealthiest side dish. These bad boys clock in at 750 calories with bacon bits and melted queso. While it may be delicious, just remember that this dish also comes with a whopping 2,740 milligrams of sodium, and an excess of sodium can put you at serious risk for heart disease.
Texas Roadhouse Loaded Baked Potato with Texas Red Chili
On its own, with just a pad of butter and a sprinkle of salt, a baked potato really isn't an unhealthy choice. Potatoes are a great source of vitamins C and B6, and they also provide potassium. But when you go to Texas Roadhouse and think you're making a smart decision by getting a baked potato as your side, just remember that adding all the fixings – bacon, cheddar cheese, sour cream, whipped butter, and Texas red chili – can really add up and throw you off your nutrition goals.
TGIFridays Cheddar Mac and Cheese
Listen, we all love mac and cheese – there's just no denying that! But we really have to remember that moderation is key when it comes to our favorite comfort foods. This mac and cheese comes with a whopping 1,530 milligrams of sodium and 28 grams of fat. We recommend you do your health a favor and ask for a side of lemon-butter broccoli, a fruit cup, or even coleslaw instead.
Denny's Buttermilk Biscuit
Buttermilk biscuits are a breakfast delicacy, but we all know the heavy stomach and need for a nap that comes after downing these fluffy pastries. At Denny's, their buttermilk biscuits (two biscuits are one serving), come with a pretty egregious 26 grams of fat due to the amount of butter and other ingredients used in the baking process. There's also a good amount of sodium in these – if you're going to indulge, we recommend drinking lots of water (put down that third cup of endless coffee!) to balance out your sodium levels.
Applebee's Waffle Fries Basket
Believe it or not, there is a nutritional difference when it comes to fry type. It turns out that, at Applebee's, the waffle fries take the cake in terms of the unhealthiest side dish with 770 calories, as opposed to their normal shoestring fries with 640 calories. You can even get onion rings for fewer calories than both fry types, but of course, we recommend opting for the steamed broccoli, the garlicky green beans, or their signature coleslaw.
LongHorn Steakhouse Honey Wheat Bread
While technically french fries take the cake for the "unhealthiest" Longhorn Steakhouse side, we want to highlight that the honey wheat bread that comes out before your meal takes second place, and this is where you can really get off track from your nutritional goals. With 480 calories and only 2g of fiber out of 88g of carbs, this isn't the best food to fill up on before your entree arrives. It's easy to be talking and enjoying your time, nibbling here and there, only to realize suddenly that the bread is gone (not to mention the butter). So, be alert to what you're eating, and try to load up instead on proteins and veggies!
Red Robin Yukon Chips
Red Robin's Yukon Gold chips take the cake in terms of the unhealthiest side dish, far outnumbering traditional fries in both caloric and fat counts. As one of Red Robin's signature dishes, these chips come with quite a lot of saturated fat (31 grams), which may contribute to heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Although little known, there is an option for a side of steamed broccoli, which of course, we recommend to limit your consumption of these unhealthy fats.
IHOP Onion Rings
Although I personally don't think onion rings really "go" with my double-stack of pancakes, IHOP offers an array of lunch sides that you can mix and match for any meal. That being said, onion rings are undoubtedly IHOP's unhealthiest option for a side dish. With a whopping 1,130 milligrams of sodium and 31 grams of fat, you're really going to want to take a second look at options like fruit, oatmeal, or even ham or plant-based sausage instead of going for the grease. Plus, don't you want to enjoy a good old-fashioned breakfast instead?
Cracker Barrel Two Buttermilk Pancakes w/Butter
Cracker Barrel has extended its reach into the world of breakfast foods, and with your chicken and dumplings, you get a side of two buttermilk pancakes. Although we don't personally recommend that flavor combination, you have a lot of creative freedom. But the pancakes come at a steep nutritional price with 530 calories and 1,840 milligrams of sodium, which will make you really want to chug some ice-cold water. Consider options for other country classics like turnip greens or whole-kernel corn instead.
- Source: https://www.fda.gov/food/food-labeling-nutrition/menu-labeling-requirements
- Source: https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/women.htm
- Source: https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/170383/nutrients
- Source: https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/sodium/effects-of-excess-sodium-infographic
- Source: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-truth-about-fats-bad-and-good