Family Health




8 Most Unhealthy Restaurants in America: From Fast Food to Sit-Down

Closeup studio shot delicious tasty minced beef meat cheeseburgers fast food with two small United States of America national flag pinned on bread bun placed on plaid napkin on old retro wooden table.

8 Most Unhealthy Restaurants in America: From Fast Food to Sit-Down

Everybody loves to go out to eat. Sometimes, food tastes better when someone else makes it, and you don't have to spend time cooking or cleaning the kitchen. But if you are trying to eat healthy, eating out can be intimidating. You probably already know some of the tricks, like researching the menus before visiting the restaurants so you can make good, healthy choices. And steering clear of the bread basket at sit-down places. Another tip is to know about the most unhealthy restaurants in America so you can decide whether they are worth a splurge or if you need to skip the urge to eat out.

Restaurant food tastes good but has more calories and sodium than home-cooked food. Restaurants use extra butter and salt, which makes food richer and taste better. These places want you to enjoy your food so you will come back. So, if you are watching your weight, cholesterol levels, or sodium intake, eating at home is the best choice. But we know it gets boring, and sometimes you want to go out. And since knowledge is power, here is a list to help you make the best choices for your diet and lifestyle when deciding where to eat.

8 Most Unhealthy Restaurants in America

fast food mix mozzarella sticks club sandwich hamburger mushroom pizza caesar shrimp salad french fries ketchup mayo and cheese sauces on the table
Sometimes, you just want the convenience of eating out.

©s sonyy/Shutterstock.com

None of the restaurants on the list are bad. These are all popular chains with a devoted customer base. We are not judging and have enjoyed each and every one of these places before. The places on the list have some unhealthy options that might not fit your diet and fitness goals. We would never suggest you never eat at these places; go in knowing how to make choices that align with your diet. You never have to say never, but you can decide to enjoy some of these places in moderation.

1. The Cheesecake Factory

One of the reasons we like The Cheesecake Factory is because the menu is huge. There is something for everyone, from pasta to steak to burgers and tacos. This place makes the dreaded where should we eat, conversation easy to solve. That is unless you are watching your diet. The menu has some high-calorie, high-sodium dishes you should watch out for, like the Pasta Napoletona, which has 2,480 calories and 5,150 milligrams of sodium. Those are not typos. It also comes in at 221 grams of fat and 155 grams of carbs. While not all menu items are quite this over the top, many are not good for your diet. 

Luckily, The Cheesecake Factory has a Skinnylicious menu with some decent options. However, it is a little deceiving since some of the things on the Skinnylicious menu seem like good choices, but it is eye-opening when you look at sodium levels. For example, the chicken lettuce wrap tacos only have 450 calories per order. But they have 49 grams of carbs and 1,040 milligrams of salt. Every salad on the Skinnylicious menu, except for the simple house and green salad, has over 1,000 milligrams of sodium. The American Heart Association recommends 1,500 milligrams of sodium per adult per day. Even the kid's menu has high sodium. The kid's pasta and marinara sauce has 2,180 milligrams of sodium, and the kid's pepperoni pizza has 2,280 milligrams of sodium. You can still enjoy The Cheesecake Factory. Just check the nutrition and enjoy it in moderation.

2. Olive Garden

The Italian-American restaurant chain Olive Garden is a popular favorite among Americans. They have an excellent salad and plenty of breadsticks to snack on while waiting for your entrée. One of the things we like about Olive Garden is they are not trying to be authentic Italian, and nobody expects them to be. However, many of their dishes are high in fat, calories, and sodium. The worst offender on the menu is the Chicken Tortelloni Alfredo. We are not going to lie; it sounds delicious: tortelloni in a creamy Alfredo sauce. But this dish is a high-calorie plate at 1,980 calories and 3,720 milligrams of salt. The Chicken Parmigiana is also high in calories, with 1,020 and 3,300 milligrams of salt. You are better off ordering the Herb Grilled Salmon, Shrimp Scampi, or Grilled Chicken Margarita. One important thing here is to watch the breadsticks; each is 130 calories with 280 grams of sodium. The problem is it’s hard to eat just one. 

3. Applebees

Another sit-down restaurant that has a diverse menu makes the list because, unfortunately, most entrees are over 1,000 calories. Many dishes are fried, and even the salads aren't safe; the Quesadilla Chicken Salad has 1,520 calories and 4,620 milligrams of sodium. And the Oriental Chicken Salad has 1,560 calories and 1,620 milligrams of sodium.

The best way to enjoy Applebees is to steer clear of pasta and burgers and instead enjoy the sirloin or ribeye steaks. They come in at under 1,000 calories and are high-protein options. Save Applebees for special splurge occasions to keep your health and fitness goals on track.

4. Dairy Queen

The fast food chain made famous by blending candy with ice cream for the iconic blizzard makes the list of unhealthy restaurants in America. Dairy Queen is known for their slogan Grill and Chill, but it will be hard to chill when you know exactly how many calories and sodium are in some of its iconic treats. The worst treats in terms of calories are the brownie cookie dough blizzard, with 1,510 calories and 125 grams of sugar. And the New York cheesecake blizzard with 1,350 calories and 700 milligrams of sodium. If you want a cold treat, stick with a simple soft cone of ice cream.

Some items on the grill are pretty high in sodium and calories, too, like the Bacon Ranch Stack Burger and the Honey Barbecue Chicken Basket. You will want to stick to a basic hamburger to keep from sodium overload.

5. Wendy’s

A long time ago, Wendy’s had a classic salad bar and baked potato bar where you could make your own salad and choose how healthy or unhealthy you wanted to make it. But sadly, those days are gone, and now the menu is full of items like the Baconator, which has 1,010 calories, and Dave’s Triple, which has 1,204 calories. Of course, they have other menu options like the Avocado Chicken Salad and Caesar Chicken Salad, which both come in at under 500 calories. The baked potato and cup of chili are good lunch items. But if you really want a sandwich, choose the grilled chicken option with 321 calories; just skip the fries.


With stacks of high-carb, sugary pancakes and waffles and sodium-heavy sausage and bacon, IHOP makes our list. But luckily, if you find yourself out to breakfast with the family, there are some better options on the menu. Let your kids have the stacks of pancakes topped with whipped cream while you stick to the egg white omelet with pesto and some fresh fruit. If you really are feeling FOMO, then opt for the protein-rich pancakes, so you have some protein to balance out those carbs. 

7. KFC

Deep-fried everything should be the motto at Kentucky Fried Chicken. We get it; sometimes, a bucket of fried chicken and fluffy biscuits is what you need, and we would never tell you to give up KFC. But you might want to look at the nutritional profile of some of your favorite items to see if you should hit the drive-thru a little less frequently.

8. Dominos

Of course, a pizza place is going to make the list. As much as we love pizza, it is a heavy load of greasy, cheesy, spicy pepperoni and thick crust. And then add in the breadsticks and dipping sauces; well, now you have a pretty unhealthy meal. The key to not overdoing it is to stick to one slice; we know that's hard. Or lighten up your meat-heavy pizza, opt for some veggies on your pie, and stick to a thinner crust. Look, nobody turns to pizza when they want to clean up their diet, but there are times when Domino's pizza makes sense. The famous pizza chain gets a bad reputation for being one of the most unhealthy restaurants in America, and well, a lot of the menu items are pretty intense. However, if you watch your order, you might be able to enjoy a slice or two from the number one fast-food pizza places in the U.S. without doing too much damage to your diet. Their veggie pizza is one way to indulge, but keep it in check.

The restaurants on this list are all staples of American culture, and it's hard to avoid them completely, and luckily, you don't have to. But you can be aware of their menu items and pay attention to nutrition so you can make educated decisions about where to spend your money and how to feed your body.

To top