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The One 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 for your health.

Let's be real: going out to a restaurant is desirable for many different reasons. Between the delicious food, quality service, and enticing ambiance, it oftentimes beats cooking, eating, and then cleaning the kitchen at home. One of the absolute best parts about dining out is the various selection of options on the menu (raise your hand if you've ever overordered!), specifically from the appetizers section, as you may pass on any starters while dining at home.

The only problem with filling up on appetizers at a restaurant? It makes it very easy to rack up the calories quickly—especially when factoring in the 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 educate us all on the worst possible appetizer you should never order to avoid potential long term health issues.

So, what should you stay away from?

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

The worst appetizer you should never order at a restaurant…

Buffalo Wings

Buffalo wings

Unfortunately, spicy, saucy buffalo wings, especially boneless ones, are not only fried but are doused in BBQ sauce, which is loaded with sugar and overdosed with butter. So ordering a plate of them is simply not 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. Essentially, it's something you'll find basically everywhere as a common starter, but that doesn't mean it should be a staple part of your meal.

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To put it into perspective, Tao highlighted the nutrition facts of the common appetizer at some of the most popular chain restaurants.

For example, an order of boneless wings with buffalo sauce at Denny's contains 920 calories, 67 grams of fat, 0.5 g trans fat, 10 grams of saturated fat, and 5,100 milligrams of sodium; boneless wings from TGI Friday's meanwhile are 770 calories, 6 grams of saturated fat, and 4,100 milligrams of sodium, boneless buffalo wings from Chili's are packing 1,060 calories, 12 grams of saturated fat, and 3,840 milligrams of sodium; and boneless buffalo wings from Buffalo Wild Wings will cost you 530 calories, 37 grams of fat, and 2,740 milligrams of sodium.

Picking up on the 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 not monitoring portions and overconsuming at a restaurant and fast food places 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 buffalo wings is 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 showed "significant" evidence linking 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," she said.

Fried foods are also associated with increased consumption of sodium, and a 2013 study highlighted that 90% of Americans consume too much sodium. On top of that, in recent years, it was estimated that up to 1/4 of people's sodium intake was 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."

With that in mind, she feels cooking at home can prevent overconsumption of sodium. "By cooking these foods at home, you would be much less likely to use that much salt and you could utilize vinegar and lemon juice along with other various seasonings and herbs to flavor your food," Tao said.

What appetizer should you order at a restaurant instead?

Don't let all this talk about the potential negative effects of overconsuming boneless buffalo wings prevent you from ordering an appetizer at a restaurant, as there are still 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 rather than frying and go light on the sauce or ask for it on the side. In addition, if there are a lot of appetizers on the table, just take smaller bites of each option. Tao also suggests splitting an order of wings with a friend to avoid consuming too many calories before the main course.

"If you are splitting with friends at Denny's, add two of their 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."

If dining at TGI Friday's, she recommends opting for the Soup of the Day. "The best options would include Chicken Noodle Soup, Chili, or Tortilla Soup," Tao said.

As for Chili's, she surprisingly said that 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 explained. "Another option would be a cup of soup."

At Buffalo Wild Wings, she recommends splitting an order of Brisket Tacos as an appetizer or opting for a small order of Naked Chicken Tenders.

Keeping these tips and suggestions when it comes to appetizers in mind will help you kick off your dining experience the best way—no matter which restaurant you choose!

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