The #1 Unhealthiest Dessert at 14 Popular Restaurant Chains
When you choose a sweet treat from a restaurant menu, you're likely not focused on which one is the unhealthiest dessert. But, you may want to steer clear of a few options that are ridiculously over the top. For instance, there are decadent dishes at popular restaurant chains that can be seriously concerning, primarily due to the amount of sugar, fat, and calories found in each.
Frankly, eating a dessert that's a reasonable size and isn't overloaded with concerning ingredients is totally fine for most people. But Wan Na Chun, MPH, RD, CPT tells Eat This, Not That!, "Desserts with excessive calories, unhealthy fats, and added sugars can contribute to weight gain and increase the risk of chronic health conditions. Additionally, desserts that lack essential nutrients may provide little nutritional benefit."
In fact, a large analysis published by the BMJ in 2023 identified "[s]ignificant harmful associations" between consuming sugar and "18 endocrine/metabolic outcomes, 10 cardiovascular outcomes, seven cancer outcomes, and 10 other outcomes (neuropsychiatric, dental, hepatic, osteal, and allergic)." Those included increased body weight and ectopic fatty accumulation, and an increased risk of gout, as well as a higher risk of coronary heart disease and all-cause mortality. Obviously, this is a cause for concern and why you need to be wary of wildly unhealthy desserts.
What determines the unhealthiest dessert at a restaurant
The American Heart Association (AHA) points out that people tend to get the bulk of the sugar they consume through soda, candy, snacks, and desserts. The AHA also recommends that women limit the amount of sugar they consume each day to 6 teaspoons (which is around 100 calories), while men should have no more than 9 teaspoons (or 150 calories). Unfortunately, people can get much more than that while digging into just one dessert.
"Dessert options at restaurants are rarely healthy, however, some are astronomically worse than others," says Cesar Sauza, Nutrition Specialist at Health Canal with over 9 years of experience as an outpatient registered dietitian. "Total sugar is the first step in choosing a dessert, and the dessert option with the most sugar will likely (but not always) be the worst. If the desserts have similar amounts of sugar, proceed to check the amount of saturated fat, followed by the amount of calories."
"When determining the 'worst' dessert options at a restaurant, several different factors come into play," adds Chun. "These include high-calorie content, excessive fat content (especially saturated and trans fats), high-sugar content, lack of nutritional value, and portion size."
Chun explains that "It's important to consider individual dietary needs and preferences when making choices, focusing on informed decisions aligned with your specific nutritional goals and requirements."
Now that you know how to spot potentially problematic dishes, check out the following unhealthiest desserts found at popular chain restaurants.
The #1 Unhealthiest Dessert at 14 Popular Restaurant Chains
Olive Garden's Chocolate Brownie Lasagna
Olive Garden's Chocolate Brownie Lasagna not only includes chocolate shavings and drizzle on top, but it's also made with a fudge brownie and cream cheese frosting. Of course, in order to turn it into a "lasagna," they combine eight layers that alternate between the brownie and cheesecake combo. That means both the sugar and calories are abundant.
This dessert has a whopping 910 calories per serving, and when it comes to that amount, Sauza notes "half of which are coming from fat." That's why he says "the Chocolate Brownie Lasagna is easily the worst dessert choice at Olive Garden."
Applebee's Sugar Dusted Donut Dippers
Applebee's Sugar Dusted Donut Dippers may seem like a tiny treat due to the fact that they come as mini puffs of dough. However, they're also coated with powdered sugar and are meant to be enjoyed with caramel and hot fudge sauces. Sauza points out that "at 178 grams of sugar for the Donut Dippers, and over 1,500 calories per serving, this dessert contains more calories than many whole meals at Applebee's."
Chili's Molten Chocolate Cake
Chili's Molten Chocolate Cake may have hot, melted chocolate in the middle, but that doesn't do anything to melt away the number of calories in this dessert—which happens to be 1,170.
When you order the party serving, "The Molten Chocolate Cake contains 512 grams of sugar and 4,540 calories," says Sauza. He also tells us that "even if this cake was split into 4 servings, it would still contain over 100 grams of sugar and over 1,000 calories per serving."
Outback Steakhouse's Thunder & Lightning
Outback Steakhouse's Thunder & Lightning "is by far the worst dessert option at Outback, as it combines two desserts into one, containing 147 grams of sugar and 1,920 calories," says Sauza. This dessert features the chain's Chocolate Thunder from Down Under Brownie, as well as a piece of Butter Cake on top with ice cream, whipped cream, chocolate shavings, chocolate sauce, strawberry sauce, and strawberry slices. You can opt to have any of those layers or toppings left off, but in order to put it in a reasonable range, you would probably have to get rid of the items that make this dessert what it is.
IHOP's Oreo Cookie Milkshake
Whether you've opted for pancakes or went for a burger instead, you would likely love to end your meal with one of IHOP's cool and creamy milkshakes. Available in classic flavors like chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry, you can also order an Oreo Cookie Milkshake, which mixes pieces of the chocolatey cookie into the milky ice cream. Each one is finished off with a hearty swirl of "whipped topping."
Sauza tells us, "Milkshakes might not be in the IHOP dessert section, but it should not be considered a drink with all flavors containing over 50 grams of sugar and over 500 calories."
Texas Roadhouse's Big Ol' Brownie
Texas Roadhouse's Big Ol' Brownie is another chocolatey treat that makes the list of unhealthiest restaurant desserts. Although this choice comes with just a single layer of brownie, as well as a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of hot chocolate sauce, Sauza says it "is packed with sugar, containing 151 grams of sugar and 1,200 calories." In that case, you may want to give this big ol' brownie a big ol' skip.
TGI Fridays' Brownie Obsession
Surprise, surprise, we have another brownie! This time, it's the TGI Fridays's Brownie Obsession. A fudge-based dessert topped with vanilla ice cream, caramel sauce, and glazed pecans, Sauza notes that it "is the worst dessert option at TGI Fridays with 125 grams of sugar and 1,180 calories per serving." Obviously, this is not a healthy obsession or a healthy dessert.
Red Lobster's Chocolate Wave
Red Lobster's Chocolate Wave may not be a brownie, but it is a piece of chocolate cake with fudge frosting, vanilla ice cream, and chocolate sauce. Because of that, Sauza tells us that "the Chocolate Wave with 93 grams of sugar and 1,110 calories is the unhealthiest dessert option at Red Lobster." It seems like we should wave goodbye to this chocolate wave.
Cheesecake Factory's Chocolate Tower Truffle Cake
"The Cheesecake Factory has a lot of dessert options that are very high in sugar and calories due to all of their cheesecake varieties," Sauza notes. "Despite the cheesecake options, the Chocolate Tower Truffle Cake is the worst option, with 143 grams of sugar and over 60 grams of saturated fat."
Including fudge cake, chocolate truffle cream, and chocolate mousse, the brand itself explains that the dessert is made up of "layers and layers" of each. However, considering the amount of sugar and saturated fat, perhaps that's a few layers too many.
P.F. Chang's The Great Wall of Chocolate
Another dessert that's more than just a little stacked, P.F. Chang's The Great Wall of Chocolate is made up of "six layers of chocolate cake, chocolate frosting, [and] semi-sweet chocolate chips," according to the restaurant chain. A decadent choice that may be way too extravagant, Sauza tells us why, by pointing out that it "contains 970 calories, with 460 calories coming from sugar (115 grams)."
Crackle Barrel's Double Chocolate Fudge Coca-Cola Cake With Ice Cream
Chocolate fudge cake is a dessert that already packs a fair share of calories, and adding soda to it only takes that number up even higher. On top of that, it can be served with a scoop of ice cream, which seriously increases the amount of sugar. That's why Crackle Barrel's Double Chocolate Fudge Coca-Cola Cake is incredibly iffy.
"The Coca-Cola Cake with ice cream at Cracker Barrel stands out above the rest with sugar and calories, containing 96 grams of sugar and 800 total calories," says Sauza.
LongHorn Steakhouse's Chocolate Stampede
When it comes to LongHorn Steakhouse's Chocolate Stampede, the brand asks, "Can you ever have too much chocolate?" Although they likely expect you to say no, you might change your mind when you find out that this dessert includes not one, not two, or even three kinds of chocolate, but six different varieties. As if that wasn't enough, it also comes with two scoops of vanilla bean ice cream and is topped with chocolate sauce.
"The Chocolate Stampede at Longhorn provides a stampede of sugar with 95 grams of sugar and over 1,200 calories per serving," says Sauza. You also need to "keep in mind the dessert has 2 servings," which means that the amount of "sugar, and calories are doubled if not shared."
Ruby Tuesday's Chocolate Chip Cookie Skillet
Ruby Tuesday's Chocolate Chip Cookie Skillet puts a warm twist on its dessert by serving vanilla bean ice cream and both chocolate and caramel sauce on top of the baked cookie. Add them all up, and Sauza notes that the dessert "provides over 100 grams of sugar and 1,300 calories, not to mention the 40 grams of saturated fat."
Red Robin's Mountain High Mudd Pie
Sauza tells us that "Red Robin has three different desserts with over 100 grams of sugar, but the biggest culprit is the Mountain High Mudd Pie." In fact, this dessert boasts a mountain of ice cream—both chocolate and vanilla—as well as fudge, caramel, whipped cream, and an Oreo cookie layer. It also contains a mountain of sugar, fat, and calories, or to be exact, "129 grams of sugar, 1,340 calories, and 40 grams of saturated fat."