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The Worst Restaurant Appetizer You Should Never Order

Want to start your meal off the right way? Well, there's one seemingly harmless menu item that is just disastrous.
FACT CHECKED BY Jennifer Maldonado

Dining out at a restaurant is a beloved experience. Between the enticing ambiance, delicious food, and quality service, it more often than not beats cooking over a hot stove and doing the dishes when you're done. After we ate at home more than ever last year, it's a true treat to be able to safely go back out to eat.

One of the absolute best parts about dining out? The vast selection of options on the menu, specifically from the appetizers list. (Raise your hand if you've ever overordered!)

The only problem with filling up on appetizers at a restaurant? It's very easy to rack up calories, especially when factoring in a main course and the possibility of dessert. To avoid consuming too many calories, fat, sodium, cholesterol, and more while dining at a restaurant, we checked in with Amy Tao, MS, of Based Wellness to find out which common menu offerings are actually the worst possible appetizers to order.

So, what should you stay away from?

While there were a handful of contenders like fried calamari, mozzarella sticks, and onion rings because of the high calorie, saturated fat, and sodium content, the winner is a crowd-favorite that you might just be bummed to learn you shouldn't really get your hands on—literally.

The worst appetizer you should never order at a restaurant is . . .

Boneless Wings

boneless buffalo wings

Unfortunately, spicy, saucy buffalo wings—especially boneless ones—are fried. Sometimes, wings are also doused in BBQ sauce, which is loaded with sugar and overdosed with butter. Either way, ordering a plate of them isn't an ideal way to start your meal.

"While items like mozzarella sticks and onion rings can rack up the calories, wings are very common at American restaurants," Tao said. Sure, they're a common starter basically everywhere, but they shouldn't be a dinner staple just because they're prolific.

To put things into perspective, Tao highlighted the nutrition facts of boneless wings at popular chain restaurants. An order of Frank's RedHot buffalo boneless wings from TGI Friday's contains 770 calories, 7 grams of saturated fat, and 4,100 milligrams of sodium; the boneless buffalo wings from Chili's pack 1,060 calories, 12 grams of saturated fat, and 3,840 milligrams of sodium; and the boneless buffalo wings in Original Buffalo sauce from Buffalo Wild Wings have 530 calories, 37 grams of fat, and 2,740 milligrams of sodium.

Picking up on any trends here?

"As you can see, boneless wings are high in calories, and while it isn't healthy to obsess over calories, it is a good idea to have an idea of how many calories you are consuming and how many calories you are burning in your day to day activities," Tao said, adding how a 2008 study showed that not monitoring portions and overconsuming at restaurants and fast food joints are linked to weight gain and obesity.

"Keeping this in mind will help you get an idea of the number of calories you need to consume for weight loss, maintenance, or gain," she said. Another potential issue with boneless wings? They fall into the ultra-processed food category.

"According to a 2017 review about ultra-processed foods, 80% of studies found that those who had higher instances of consuming and purchasing ultra-processed foods had higher instances of being overweight or obese," Tao said. "In addition to obesity, these foods were linked to an increase for an adverse diagnosis for metabolic syndrome."

There are also many negative effects of overconsuming fried foods. A 2020 study found "significant" evidence linking a high fried food (which is high in sodium and fats) intake to higher instances of prehypertension and hypertension. "This study also mentions the American Heart Association listing lifestyle factors such as a diet high in sodium, saturated, and trans fats with an increase in blood pressure," Tao added.

Fried foods are also associated with increased consumption of sodium, and a 2013 study highlighted that 90% of Americans consume too much sodium. In recent years, it was estimated that up to 1/4 of people's sodium intakes were from restaurant foods.

"Because of sodium's link to high blood pressure, which can lead to a slew of health problems and complications, it is very important to monitor sodium intake and be aware of how much sodium you are consuming," Tao said. "For example, an order of Denny's wings have what would be the equivalent of two and 1/4 teaspoons of salt."

What can prevent overconsumption of sodium? Cooking at home.

"By cooking these foods at home, you would be much less likely to use that much salt," Tao said. "And you could utilize vinegar and lemon juice along with other various seasonings and herbs to flavor your food."

Your ultimate restaurant and supermarket survival guide is here!

What appetizer should you order at a restaurant instead?

Don't let this talk about the potential negative effects of overconsuming boneless buffalo wings prevent you from ordering an appetizer at a restaurant. There are plenty of healthier options out there to choose from. If you're having a wing craving, see if the restaurant can bake or grill them instead of frying them. Choose to go light on the sauce, or ask for it on the side.

If there are a lot of appetizers on the table, take smaller bites of everything. Tao also suggested splitting an order of wings with a friend in order to avoid consuming too many calories before the main course.

"If you are splitting with friends, add two boneless buffalo wings to a house salad with fresh avocado," she said. "Also inquire about menu items that may be baked rather than fried, such as chicken or shrimp, or items that are cooked without being covered in high calorie, high sodium sauces or breading."

At some restaurants, such as Chili's, you're better off ordering from the sides menu rather than the appetizers.

"Choices from the sides menu like black beans, asparagus, and Mexican rice are all better choices than the options from their starter menu," she added. "Another option would be a cup of soup."

When it comes to appetizers, keeping these tips in mind will help you kick off your dining experience on a better note—no matter what restaurant you choose!

Samantha Faragalli Younghans
Samantha Faragalli Younghans is a freelance food, health, and lifestyle writer. Read more about Samantha