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.”
The #1 Unhealthiest Dessert at 14 Popular Restaurant Chains
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.
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 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 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.