Saturday, March 31, 2007

Olive Garden's 'No Sugar Added' Dessert Sham

Olive Garden ain't exactly a place for "low-carb friendly" meals

If my wife Christine had unlimited resources and was able to buy anything she wanted in the whole world, then there's no doubt in my mind that she would buy her very own Olive Garden restaurant to fill her need for their famous soup, salad, and breadsticks. The woman would literally live off of this meal every single day if she could, although she does admit she'd probably balloon up in weight just as quickly as we'd go bankrupt paying for it! :D

Unfortunately for her, though, the closest Olive Garden to our house has been much too far away for us to visit. So imagine my surprise a few months ago when some new construction started across the street from the Super Wal-Mart along a main road in Spartanburg, South Carolina and we noticed the sign indicated they were building an Olive Garden restaurant. I think Christine did cart wheels inside the car that day!

When the restaurant opened for business about two weeks ago, I told my anxious wife we should wait a few months after the novelty of the "new" restaurant in town had worn off before paying a visit. She wasn't happy with that answer, but agreed it was probably a good idea. So when I returned back from my work as an extra in the "Leatherheads" movie today, I foolishly asked my wife, "Where would you like to go eat and it can be anywhere?"

Boy, was that a stupid question or what?! She said, "We could go to Ruby Tuesday if Olive Garden is busy." Gee, I wonder where Christine REALLY wanted to go. I told her that they would probably be mad busy on a Saturday and since they were still new and all, but we'd check it out. Predictably, when we pulled into the parking lot, it was extremely packed with vehicles and we parked a long way from the front door. But knowing how much the wifey-wifey wanted to eat there, I told her we'd stay no matter how long it took to be seated. Thankfully, it was only about a 15-minute wait because this place was HUGE inside!

While we were waiting for our table, I saw a few friends from church who looked at me almost with an accusatory look of "How dare YOU come to an Italian restaurant being on a low-carb diet." Of course, out of their mouths came the obvious question, "So, what are you gonna eat?" Good question and I really didn't know until we sat down and looked at a menu.

When we got seated and started looking at the menu for the first time, I was pleasantly surprised to notice a section of the menu devoted to people on a diet. There were dishes for people "looking for low-fat options" which included all of their Garden Fare entrées and they even had some options for people who are "watching carbohydrates."

"Savor one of our grilled entreés with fresh vegetables in place of potatoes. Enjoy our pasta entreés with whole wheat linguine."

Hmmm, isn't it interesting the Olive Garden would even acknowledge some people are STILL livin' la vida low-carb in 2007? I like the fact that they recommend grilled meats and even fresh vegetables as part of a low-carb diet. That's awesome since most people think potatoes are vegetables they should be consuming in high quantities. NOT! Plus, this proves that they know people on the low-carb lifestyle can and do eat their veggies. Way to go, Olive Garden!

As for the whole wheat pasta substitute, it may be a better alternative than the regular pasta, but it's still fairly high in carbs. Nevertheless, I had the 5-cheese baked ziti using this alternative for my meal just to give it a try and it was VERY delicious. Christine, of course, loaded up on the basket full of breadsticks, soup, and salad. And, yes, I ate one-third of a breadstick just to give me a little taste. It was okay, but I can DEFINITELY live without it if I had to. That's okay because Christine would keep eating them until they started coming out of her ears!

When we were just about finished with our meal, the waitress came back and I joked with her that she probably doesn't want to ask me if I want dessert since she undoubtedly doesn't have anything sugar-free. She then replied back to me pointing at the menu that they do offer a "no sugar added" dessert for people avoiding sugar like diabetics and low-carbers. That piqued my curiosity, so I checked it out.

Here's a picture of Olive Garden's Torta di Chocolate "no sugar added" dessert:

It certainly looks good with those fresh strawberries dipped in vanilla cream sauce and a warm double chocolate cake oozing with yummy-ness written all over it! But what was it sweetened with? Inquiring minds want to know. So I asked the waitress about it and what kind of artificial sweeteners were used in it. She didn't know, so she went to her manager to find out.

I leaned over to Christine and told her that it probably has some sort of blend of Splenda, ACE-K, maltitol, and/or erithyritol to make the chocolate and vanilla taste palatable as so many of the sugar-free products these days commonly use. But when the waitress came back she declared there were no sweeteners used in the dessert at all and that it has a "flour chocolate" as the sweetening agent.

HUH? What the heck is that? She attempted to clarify by stating the chocolate cake was made of flour (NOT GOOD!) and that there was "no sugar added" besides the sugar used to sweeten the chocolate and vanilla. DOUBLE HUH?! I thought this menu item that is promoted to diabetics and low-carbers was supposed to be "no sugar added?" The last time I checked, if you ADD sugar to chocolate or vanilla, then that makes it ADDED sugar. The sugar doesn't grow with the cacao and vanilla bean! Am I missing something in this equation?

Needless to say, I thanked my waitress for checking on that for me and declared to her that I would pass on dessert today. But can you believe this? If the Olive Garden is seeking to provide diabetics and low-carbers with a dessert they can consume without consequence to their blood sugar and weight, then the Torta di Chocolate just ain't gonna cut it!

What a sham of a product and it makes me wonder how many innocent people with diabetes or cutting their carbohydrate intake see the words "no sugar added" and simply ASSUME it's okay for them on their diet!


See, it is THIS kind of marketing ploy by companies exploiting people wanting to reduce or eliminate sugar from their diet either by choice or necessity that really gets me fired up. This isn't a game, Olive Garden! This could very well be the difference between life and death for some people battling a terrible disease like diabetes or obesity. Fooling these poor people into buying your dessert that is loaded with sugar carbs despite having the label "no sugar added" is criminal if you ask me.

Of course, if you visit the Olive Garden web site, then you will notice there is no mention of the nutritional information on their menu items anywhere. So we have NO idea how many carbs are in this dessert anyway. Whatcha got to hide, Olive Garden? Are you too afraid of people knowing how many carbohydrates you are actually serving to them? I'm sure it's pretty scary and it would not surprise me a bit if the average dish is well over 100g carbs! Yikes!

How about letting the corporate headquarters for the Olive Garden know how disgusted you are with their so-called healthy dessert option they are promoting to diabetics and people who are livin' la vida low-carb by using this contact page or dialing their toll-free customer service line on weekdays at 1-800-331-2729.

Be polite, but stern in voicing your opinion that a real sugar-free dessert option should be available to genuinely serve the best interests of the low-carb/diabetic customer base who dines at the Olive Garden. Let me know if you hear back from them with a response. If we band together with one voice, then perhaps they'll get the message. We can only hope!

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Blogger BamaGal said...

Olive Garden---my used to be home--I am a carb addict and used to live on pasta----rarely ate meat at all. That' how I ended up weighing nearly 400 lbs.
But back to the no sugar added dessert----when they changed the nutritional guidelines back in 1994, they really began to confuse people more---they just weren't aware they were confused. Most people believe no sugar added and sugar free are the same things----no they most definitely are not---
No sugar added means there's no table sugar, but there may be other forms of sugar such as CORN SYRUP, DEXTROSE, FRUCTOSE, GLUCOSE, MALTOSE or SUCROSE.
As for SUGAR FREE---
The word "sugar" is defined as: 1) sucrose which is a white crystalline sweet carbohydrate normally extracted from sugar cane and sugar beet, or 2) a generic term that includes any of a class of water-soluble carbohydrates with various degrees of sweetness. Using the first definition, manufacturers can claim that a product is "sugar free" if it contains less than 0.5 grams of sugar (sucrose) per serving. However, it can still contain other sweet carbohydrate mixtures such as molasses, dried cane juice, high fructose corn syrup, or a variety of sugar alcohols like erythrol, mannitol, xylitol, etc.

The only way to know all of this is to really read the nutrtion breakdown---do you math to look for hidded carbs---and read the ingredient list.
Olive Garden and all restaurants need a nutrition breakdown on their menus and websites instead of fooling people into eating what they don't need to have.

4/01/2007 11:10 AM  
Blogger dr. claus g. said...

If and when you have a metabolic deficiency like diabetes it would be advisable to take some time and read some info about it. It is and should always be your own responsibility and not somebody else's to follow rules for diets. If something looks and tastes too good: beware. Ersatz-sweeteners and other fillers are foreign to a good palate! don't trust commercials, rely on yourself.

4/01/2007 1:00 PM  
Blogger Jake Silver said...

Wow. I don't really like Olive Garden anyway. It is too hard to figure out what the nutritional content of their stuff is. I prefer restaurants where I can easily find info on the net.

4/01/2007 2:52 PM  
Blogger Sweet Tart said...

It looks like your campaign has done some good. I was able to find limited nutritional information about the low-fat and low carb selections at the Olive Garden site on a link through the "Garden Fare" page. The Torta di Chocolate has 63 grams of carbs and 11 grams of fiber. Not exactly low carb!

4/01/2007 4:59 PM  
Blogger Cindy said...

I sent an email asking for the ingredients, saying I was visiting soon and wanted to know if I could eat the dessert with my "food allergies".

I'll let you know what they say!!

4/01/2007 8:16 PM  
Blogger Jeff Hamlin said...

It's nice to know that you can get grilled veggies instead of taters, because ya gotta debunk the "nothing but meat, eggs, cheese, and lard" myth of livin la vida Atkins, right? Heh heh heh.....

4/02/2007 2:07 AM  
Blogger Big Daddy D said...

FYI- CalorieKing.Com has free nutrition info on most foods from most chain restaraunts. While the Olive Garden desserts are not listed, many other items are. For instance, each breadstick has 26 g. of carbohydrates. Let us know if you are ever given the actual carb and fiber counts on the "no sugar added dessert".

4/02/2007 4:17 PM  
Blogger Eat2Live - Michele said...

I found out the count on the Torta di Chocolate "no sugar added" dessert.

63 carbs and 47 grams of sugar alcohols! GROSS!!

4/22/2007 12:45 AM  
Blogger Overwhelmed! said...

I just got taken to Olive Garden for a birthday lunch today. I'm having a heck of a time finding the nutrition info for their salad (as in all you can eat soup, salad, and breadsticks) and when I asked the waiter for their nutrition info sheet, it was pathetically lacking in adequate information!

7/18/2007 5:47 PM  
Blogger Tamara said...

I realize this is an older blog, but there were some mistakes made by some of the comments in the nutritional info and I would like to correct them:
Total Carbs: 57 g
Dietary Fiber: 8 g
Sugars: 1 gram (one. gram.)

This product is manufactured by Dianne's Gourmet Desserts, in MN. I actually have the whole list off of the box in front of me. This products is not low fat at all (so if you eat it, share it), but is most definitely sweetened with Maltitol. Just some FYI.

Also, there are ways to make your meal low carb at can order a grilled chicken breast (which is amazingly good!) and have it over your salad. No croutons, no dressing...olive oil & vinegar or lemon juice instead. Their salmon dinner is out of this world.
Yes, I'm partial...I am married to an OG manager! But I have had to find ways to eat low-carb there if I'm ever going to see him =)
A good manager will do everything he/she can to get you the info you need, up to and including pulling the label off the box or bringing the box to your table! Don't believe everything a server tells fact, ask for a manager instead. They are better equiped to answer you. If you still don't get the info you need, ask for the GM. And, if that doesn't work, call corporate and report them. A good OG manager will take care of every guest's needs, and corporate doesn't stand for anything less, IF they know about it!

2/18/2008 1:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm glad this final comment made it there. Don't believe everything that you hear! Servers don't always know or care about the food that they are serving!

6/23/2008 6:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just wanted to say . .
Most restaurant desserts will be on the unhealthy side. You just have to accept it, eat it, enjoy it, and watch what you eat for the rest of your days.

To people saying "gross", I had this dessert the other night, and it was unbelievably rich and delicious. The chemicals in it may be gross, but you'd never know they were there from the amazing taste.

a nutrition-aware 15-year-old

12/20/2008 4:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i would love to know how many carbs are in their salad dressing. I'm happy just eating salad without the croutons, but clueless as to the carbs.

1/10/2009 10:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just another reason I am soooooooooooooooooo overjoyed at the New York state law requiring all chains to provide calorie info on their menus and nutrition info on request. I have learned some amazing things since this law passed. And yes I've eaten in Olive Garden and nearly had a heart attack when what I thought would be a relatively low-cal option (seafood linguine) was over 1100 calories! My entire alloted caloric intake for a whole day is 1400. I was floored.

7/07/2011 8:43 PM  

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