After a long week, it can be an absolute pleasure to hit your favorite restaurant...
After a long week, it can be an absolute pleasure to hit your favorite restaurant and enjoy a couple of drinks to treat yourself and unwind. We love meeting friends for cocktails and catching up, however, many of our favorite restaurant chains offer cocktails that sound (and taste!) delicious but are packed with sugar and calories. We looked at some of the top restaurants’ signature cocktails to identify the most unhealthy cocktails in the country.
“While there is no hard and fast rule about limits for cocktails if you are trying to stay healthy (as everything can fit in the diet as long as the diet is balanced and you practice moderation overall), a good way to think about choosing a cocktail is to pick one that tastes less sweet,” says Jinan Banna, Ph.D., RD. “One of the biggest things you want to look out for with cocktails is a huge amount of added sugar, so avoiding this will be the most important thing if you are looking to stay healthy. A standard margarita has about 170 calories and 36 grams of sugar, so you can keep this in mind and aim to choose drinks that are ‘skinny’ or opt for the less sweet options.”
Methodology: To identify the unhealthiest restaurant cocktails in the nation, we examined the drinks menu at eight popular restaurant chains: Olive Garden, Red Robin, Cheesecake Factory, TGI Friday’s, Red Lobster, Chili’s, Outback Steakhouse, and Applebee’s. We also took saturated fat and sodium contents into consideration. We then ranked by calories and grams of sugar to get our final list. We only included, at most, the top two unhealthiest cocktails from each restaurant. We excluded regional and limited-time-only drinks from this list, too.
Outback Steakhouse’s Huckleberry Hooch Moonshine Cocktail
This cocktail combines Ole Smoky Blackberry Moonshine with muddled seasonal berries and a mixture of mango, orange, and pineapple juices. First off, that is a lot of sugar for only 180 calories.
“To avoid unhealthy drinks, you’ll mainly want to beware of sugar,” says Banna. “These calories add up fast and are ’empty’ calories that don’t give you anything you need.”
Olive Garden Frozen Strawberry Margarita
In order to avoid all the sugar and calories in these drinks, a smart move is to steer clear of anything with a boxed mix, says Stacy Davis, RD.
“Choose a mixer with less sugar and calories, like an unsweetened iced tea, seltzer, or use muddled fruit,” Davis explains. “Avoid the drinks that are made with boxed mixes that are usually loaded with calories and sugar like pina coladas, daiquiris, and margaritas.”
Outback Steakhouse’s Watermelon Hunch Punch
The Hunch Punch also features Ole Smoky Blackberry Moonshine, which is mixed with lemonade and fresh watermelon. The juice and flavored spirit add up to nearly 130 grams of sugar, which is well over the recommended amount of sugar most people should eat a day. “You want as little as possible added sugar! We want less than 24-36gm of added sugar a day,” says Davis
TGI Friday’s Frozen Blue Hawaiian
This frozen tiki-style drink is loaded with calories and added sugars, which we’ve already established you should avoid. Typically, this pastel blue drink is made from a blend of rum, pineapple juice, blue curaçao liqueur, and coconut cream. “I’d skip this drink as it has more calories than many meals. It has 440 calories and 67 grams of sugar,” says Lisa Young, PhD, RDN. “It also does not contain much in the way of nutrients. It has no fiber or vitamins.”
TGI Friday’s Flaming Frozen Lava Flow
Another drink with more calories than an actual balanced meal, this frozen calorie, sugar, and sodium bomb is actually lit on fire when it’s brought to your table, which is a neat trick, but won’t burn off the effects of this cocktail.
Red Lobster’s Raspberry Lobsterita
Red Lobster’s raspberry-flavored margarita packs the most sugar out of all of the margarita flavors available at the restaurant, along with a startling amount of calories.
“This drink is not healthy and contains 500 calories and 70 grams of sugar,” says Young. “That’s far too many calories and sugar. I’d skip it or share it with two people.”
Red Lobster’s Alotta Colada
Some of these calorie counts are downright shocking. For comparison, you could order the Simply Grilled-Garlic Shrimp Skewers for 320 calories and pair it with the restaurant’s broccoli (40 calories) and green beans (90 calories) sides and you’re looking at no more than 450 calories for your meal.
Applebee’s Mucho Shark Bowl Cocktail
This is one of the most sugar-packed of all the cocktails we found in our research, with almost 120 grams of sugar per serving. It’s no wonder—this giant blue drink is even topped with a candy shark.
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TGI Friday’s Ultimate Mudslide
This is essentially a milkshake with alcohol, and anyone ordering a mudslide already knows that, but TGI Friday’s goes the extra mile with three kinds of booze in this calorie and sugar bomb. A reminder from Davis: “It’s better to eat your calories than drink them.”