Most nutritionists and food professionals will tell you that a "don't ever eat that, forbidden food mentality won't work in the long term." We've heard it before: Everything in moderation! Well, that rings especially true if you have a sweet tooth and a sore spot for the dessert menu when dining out. And while we all have to treat ourselves at some point, there is one restaurant dessert in particular that unfortunately, most nutritionists agree is a universal no-go.
So what dessert should you avoid ordering?
We consulted Julie Cunningham, MPH, RD, LDN, CDE, IBCLC of Julie Cunningham Nutrition LLC about the worst possible dish on any restaurant dessert menu. It doesn't matter which kitchen it's made in—all across the board, this popular dessert option is full of sugar, calories, and trans fat.
The worst dessert dish you should never order at a restaurant is…
Cheesecake, specifically Oreo or brownie cheesecake
"Cheesecake definitely makes the cut for the worst dessert," Cunningham explains. "A restaurant-sized portion typically has more than 300 calories and is loaded with sugar and artery-clogging fat."
The main ingredients in a standard cheesecake recipe include cream, cream cheese, butter, sour cream, sugar, eggs, and graham crackers. Combine that high-calorie interior with the extravagant toppings usually paired with different flavors of cheesecakes and you're easily eating more than the recommended daily intake of saturated fats in one sitting.
According to Jennifer Glockner, RDN and creator of Smartee Plate, there's one specific flavor of cheesecake that's the worst offender of all.
"The worst dessert you can order at a restaurant is a brownie or Oreo cheesecake topped with whipped cream," Glockner says. "This is filled with loads of calories, saturated fat, possibly trans fats, sugar, and surprisingly, even sodium. For example, at The Cheesecake Factory, the Oreo Dream Extreme Cheesecake, has 1,630 calories, 98 grams of fat, 57 grams of saturated fat, 3 grams of trans fat, 135 grams of sugar, and 860 milligrams of sodium."
"The dietary guidelines recommend limiting added sugars to 10% of the daily calories," Glockner explains. "So, for a 2,000 calorie diet, a person should limit added sugars to 200 calories or 50 grams of sugar for the day. This sugar content is extremely high."
With triple the amount of saturated fat that should be consumed daily, Oreo cheesecake actually increases a person's risk for cardiovascular disease.
Sodium is also a significant problem with this dessert.
"For a healthy adult, sodium consumption should not exceed 2,300 milligrams daily, which is about 1 teaspoon," Glockner says. "This dessert checks in at about one-third of the sodium limit for the day. Sodium is a risk factor for hypertension and consequent heart disease, strokes, and kidney disease."
What makes the Oreo or brownie cheesecake particularly egregious is its fillings and whipped cream, Amanda A. Kostro Miller, RD, LDN of Fitter Living explains.
"Chocolate pudding/filling/fudge (and other types of fillings) are full of saturated fats, sugar, and calories," Miller says. "Eating too many calories leading to overweight/obesity can promote adipose tissue growth and abdominal obesity. This puts people at greater risk of inflammation and chronic disease."
Not to mention, whipped cream is simply heavy cream, confectioner's sugar, and vanilla extract. There's not much nutritional value there, if any at all.
"Whipped cream is made with heavy cream, which is very high in unhealthy saturated fats," Miller explains. "If it's sweetened, then it also has loads of sugar. Saturated fats increase bad cholesterol." And if you're looking for more help navigating menu items, you're in luck as your ultimate restaurant and supermarket survival guide is here!
Which dessert should you order at a restaurant instead?
With cheesecake off the table, which dessert option is better for you? If you're going to treat yourself, Cunningham says to opt for a fruit-based dessert instead.
"For a better alternative, choose a fruit-based dessert," Cunningham advises. "You may not get fewer calories, but at least you'll get some fiber."
According to Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids, the recommended daily intake of fiber is 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men.
Fruits with the highest percentage of fiber per weight include avocado (6.7%)—though you likely won't find many dessert options featuring avo, some do exist—raspberries (6.5%), pears (3.1%), and bananas (2.6%).
But take that advice with a grain of salt, Bansari Acharya, RDN, warns of picking the fruit-based option. While you are indeed getting some fiber out of this deal, your "healthy" alternative is still probably loaded with sugar.
"With the other desserts, you know what you are getting as most people know that ice cream, cakes, cookies, and milkshakes will be high in calories. However with fruit pies, sometimes it is made to appear 'healthy' due to the fruit component in it and most people don't realize when they ate more than 1,000 calories per serving!" she says.
Acharya suggests staying away from fruit pies, but adds, "On the other hand, a nice fruit cup or fruit salad seasoned with herbs such as basil with a light lime dressing on it could be a great dessert option!" Sure, a fruit cup may not fulfill your dark chocolate fantasies, but it's certainly the lesser of two evils.
To Acharya's point, the most important part of indulging in dessert is certainly the portion size.
"Whenever there is a fruit or vegetable component in dishes, there is a bias in the mind that the food item is 'healthier' and it is okay to eat more of it," she adds. "With other desserts, it is easier to eat smaller portions as most people are aware of the high caloric content of them."
Miller agrees: it's all in the portions.
"While it's OK to enjoy dessert, controlling your portion size is the best way to have your cake and eat it too," Miller concludes. "Most restaurant desserts are 2+ portions in one serving, so make sure to box half or share with others at your table."