7 Worst Pasta Dishes in America

Pop quiz: Who’s your all-time favorite Italian-American actor?

A. Marlon Brando (The Godfather)
B. Henry Winkler (The Fonz)
C. Snooki (The Trainwreck)

Okay, it's a trick question. None of the three is actually Italian. And that means they have a lot in common with the pasta dishes coming out of the kitchens of America's chain restaurants. They're Italian in appearance, but dig deeper and you'll realize that they're reckless imitations with a good PR team. Eater discretion is advised.

Now get this: Pasta supposedly makes you fat, right? Well, Italians eat an estimated 60 pounds of pasta per year, but only 10 to 20 percent of Italian adults are obese. Americans, on the other hand, chow down only 20 pounds of pasta each year, and a full third of us are obese.

Part of the reason: Restaurants keep noodling with our noodles. Butter, cream, oil, egregious portion sizes—you name it, they’ll do it (not unlike Snooki and the girls of Jersey Shore!).

To help you dodge death by Alfredo, I’ve rounded up seven of the very worst pasta dishes around. Avoid these starchy travesties and you’ll be well on your way to a shore-worthy bod.

BELLY-BLASTING TIPS: Want to stay on top of all the latest and greatest weight loss trends? Sign up for our FREE Eat This, Not That! daily newsletter and be sure to follow me on Twitter. You’ll lose weight without ever dieting again!

#7 Worst Supermarket Pasta

Stouffer’s Restaurant Classics Fettuccini Alfredo (1 box)
630 calories
35 g fat (12 g saturated, 1 g trans)
840 mg sodium

Think of Alfredo sauce as the buzzkill of the pasta world. Its cream, butter, and/or oil base turns any pasta dish into a full-fat assault on your waistline. Even this relatively small portion of fettuccini Alfredo from Stouffer’s packs more than half a day’s saturated fat. Stouffer's Easy Express Skillet is a much more reasonable frozen dinner, and it highlights an important pasta point: The more veggies and lean protein, the less room for excess pasta and fatty sauces. For more help navigating those increasingly confusing supermarket aisles, check out the 125 Best Supermarket Foods in America and pick up a copy of the all-new Eat This, Not That! Supermarket Survival Guide.

Eat This Instead!
Stouffer's Grilled Chicken & Vegetables Easy Express Skillet
360 calories
9 g fat (2.5 g saturated)
860 mg sodium

#6 Worst Pasta Appetizer

Olive Garden Lasagna Fritta
1,030 calories
63 g fat (21 g saturated)
1,590 mg sodium

American chains love to put their spin on classic ethnic dishes. Unfortunately, that spin often involves a trip to the deep fryer. Take this ridiculous deep-fried lasagna offering from Olive Garden. Lasagna’s heavy enough to begin with, so there’s certainly no need to batter it and submerge it in oil. Most of Olive Garden’s entrées offer plenty of calories on their own, so you’d be wise to forgo an appetizer all together. But if you’re really jonesin’ for a pre-meal snack, go with something lighter, like the baked Stuffed Mushrooms.

Eat This Instead!
Olive Garden Stuffed Mushrooms
280 calories
19 g fat (5 g saturated)
720 mg sodium

FATTENING FREEBIES: Did you know that three Olive Garden breadsticks will set you back 450 calories? Restaurant giveaways may not cost you in dollars and cents, but you’ll certainly pay for them on the bathroom scale. Don’t fall victim to The Worst “Free” Restaurant Foods in America!

#5 Worst “Healthy” Pasta

Romano’s Macaroni Grill Whole Wheat Fettuccini
1,060 calories
46 g fat (11 g saturated fat, 0.5 g trans)
1,630 mg sodium

Swapping processed grains for whole grains offers plenty of health benefits, but that doesn’t necessarily mean “whole wheat” is synonymous with “healthy.” Enter Romano’s Macaroni Grill Whole Wheat Fettuccine. This item starts with a nutritious base—whole wheat fettuccine, chicken, and broccoli—but excess oil and a mountain of grated cheese take this dish down faster than you can say “mamma mia.” Tomato-based sauces—like Arrabbiata—are usually lighter than cream- and oil-based options, making them your best bet when it comes to pasta toppers.

Eat This Instead!
Romano’s Macaroni Grill Capellini w/ Arrabbiata Sauce
570 calories
17 g fat (2.5 g saturated)
1,190 mg sodium

#4 Worst Specialty Pasta

Domino's Chicken Carbonara Breadbowl Pasta (1 bowl)
1,480 calories
56 g fat (24 g saturated)
2,220 mg sodium

Americans have enough problems with overeating (exhibit A: our 36 percent obesity rate). We certainly don’t need to be eating our bowls—especially when those bowls are comprised of enriched flour brushed with three different types of hydrogenated oil and “imitation Parmesan cheese.” No, Domino’s is not the place to fulfill a craving for authentic pasta. (I defy you to find an authentic Italian joint that serves pasta from a bread bowl.) Let them stick to what they’re good at, and order a couple slices of chicken-topped pizza instead.

Eat This Instead!
Domino’s Handtossed Pizza w/ Grilled Chicken & Onions (2 slices, large pie)
550 calories
19 g fat (8 g saturated)
1,240 mg sodium

#3 Worst Cajun Pasta

T.G.I. Friday’s Cajun Shrimp and Chicken Pasta
1,490 calories
88 g fat (53 g saturated)
1,950 mg sodium

Last I checked, Cajun cuisine was characterized by potent spices and hearty vegetables with fresh meat and seafood. But apparently some folks missed the memo, because cheap, heavy Alfredo sauces have become the "Cajun" norm at chain restaurants. Again, Alfredo equals “fat” and tomatoes equal “thin.” Go with a pasta dish like T.G.I. Friday’s’ Bruschetta Chicken Pasta—comprised mostly of multigrain angel hair pasta, tomatoes, and grilled chicken—and you’ll avoid a fattening fate.

Eat This Instead!
T.G.I. Friday’s Bruschetta Chicken Pasta
820 calories
35 g fat (7 g saturated)
1,370 mg sodium

BEWARE OF THESE FOOD FIBS: The supermarket is rife with misleading claims, and some of them might be sabotaging your weight-loss efforts. Avoid being duped by the 7 Most Outrageous Food-Label Lies.

#2 Worst Kids’ Pasta

The Cheesecake Factory Kid’s Pasta w/ Alfredo Sauce
1,810 calories
89 g saturated fat
653 mg of sodium

Kids love pasta, but if you love your kids, don’t let them anywhere near The Cheesecake Factory’s Kid’s Pasta with Alfredo sauce. The chain is known for its gluttonous offerings, but feeding your child a day’s worth of calories and four times the recommended daily dose of saturated fat for an adult borders on child abuse. Shame on Cheesecake Factory for this egregious dish. If you want to feel good about what you’re feeding your tyke, swap the Alfredo for marinara. And if your kid hates red sauce, the Kid’s Pasta with Butter and Parmesan (at 520 calories and 9 grams of saturated fat) is another reasonable option.

Eat This Instead!
The Cheesecake Factory Kid’s Pasta w/ Marinara Sauce
510 calories
2 g saturated fat
651 mg sodium

#1 Worst Pasta Dish in America

The Cheesecake Factory Bistro Shrimp Pasta
2,730 calories
78 g saturated fat
919 mg sodium

This heaping pile of pasta, cream sauce, and deep-fried shrimp is one of the many, many reasons why The Cheesecake Factory has earned the #1 spot on our list of The Worst Restaurants in America four years in a row. Consuming this preposterous pasta dish is the caloric equivalent of downing three sticks of butter or 14 Krispy Kreme Original Glazed Doughnuts. And while I’d like to offer you a similar alternative, every one of the chain’s pasta offerings breaks the 1,000-calorie mark. My advice: Get your fish fix with the Fresh Grilled Salmon, and quench your pasta cravings elsewhere.

Eat This Instead!
The Cheesecake Factory Fresh Grilled Salmon w/ Carrots and Broccoli
680 calories
9 g saturated fat
553 mg sodium

FOOD FADS THAT MAKE YOU FAT: Be weary of any restaurant with "snacks" on the menu or any supermarket food with "natural" on its package. To discover why, check out the 8 Best and Worst Foods Trends of 2012!

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