If you’re feeling like Italian, but are avoiding gluten for some reason, you might be wondering if you can eat gluten-free at Olive Garden – and what the healthiest choices to order are if you do. So, we decided to check things out…
Does Olive Garden Have a Gluten-Free Menu?
They have a gluten-sensitive menu which includes five main courses and two sides/starters.
These are mostly natural proteins like salmon or steak with veggies – but, they do have a gluten-free pasta and two different sauces to choose from.
They also have three GF pasta-based gluten-sensitive dishes for kids.
Dishes to steer clear of are obviously the conventional pasta dishes as these are wheat-based, but, also anything fried as they do say that they don’t have a separate fryer available so there may be a risk of cross-contamination.
What Does Gluten Sensitive Mean?
It means that none of the raw ingredients in these dishes naturally contain gluten – so there’s no wheat, rye, barley, oats, or substances made from them used in the making of any dish on the gluten-sensitive menu.
However, they say they don’t use the words gluten-free because Olive Garden has not specifically measured levels of gluten in the dish to ensure it fits the FDA criteria to be called gluten-free.
The one item on the menu that they have confirmed does fit this criteria is their gluten-free pasta which is made from brown rice flour and has been measured to ensure it contains less than the 20 parts per million of gluten that the FDA allows.
This is also cooked and held separately from the other kinds of pasta to reduce the risk of cross-contamination.
In the allergen information on Olive Garden’s website, they say to also ensure you tell your server that you are avoiding gluten as this will change the processes in the kitchen, for example, they will use different serving utensils on your meal and gloves will be changed before preparation.
What Does This Mean to You?
What this means, is that if you’re just avoiding gluten because, perhaps, too much of it makes you feel bloated (see more about that here) or tired, you’ll be okay to order from the gluten-sensitive menu at Olive Garden as if there is a tiny bit of cross-contamination it probably won’t set off your symptoms.
However, if you are diagnosed as coeliac and avoiding gluten for medical reasons, you can’t completely guarantee that the items on the gluten-sensitive menu are free from cross-contamination with gluten from other items served in the restaurant – although they will do their best.
Obviously, for you, this could be more of a concern.
Healthy Choices on the Olive Garden Gluten-Sensitive Menu
So, if you are ordering from the gluten-sensitive menu and if you’re also watching some other elements of your diet, what then?
Which of the gluten-sensitive options will also provide the lowest calories, or contain the least fat or salt, or suit vegetarians or vegans? We did a bit more of a deep dive into the menu to find out…
What’s the Lowest Calorie Gluten-Free Option at Olive Garden?
As we discovered when we wrote our general piece on the lowest calorie options at Olive Garden, the gluten-sensitive menu also contains the lowest calorie option on the whole menu – the 6oz sirloin served with broccoli at 280 calories.
All meals at Olive Garden come served with either a salad or soup on the side. If you’re ordering from the gluten-sensitive menu you can choose either the Garden Salad without croutons or the Zuppa Toscana – of the two, the Garden Salad contains the fewest calories at 110 including the dressing.
Other lower-calorie choices on the gluten-sensitive menu would be the Herb Grilled Salmon (460 calories) or the Rotini Pasta with Marinara (530 calories).
You could have both of these with the Garden Salad for under 600 calories if you leave the dressing off the salad – the dressing is classed as gluten-sensitive but they do say that it comes from a factory where gluten is processed so, if you’re avoiding gluten for medical reasons you might want to be extra careful with that anyway.
If you want to add a little more protein to your meal, according to the Olive Garden Allergen menu, the extra servings of chicken, sauteed shrimp, and Italian sausage are also suitable for the gluten-sensitive.
What Vegetarian Options are on the Gluten-Sensitive Menu?
You’d be looking at the Rotini Pasta with Marinara Sauce. This is also vegan-friendly.
This comes with soup or salad and you’ll need to pick the salad as the Zuppa Toscana contains sausage.
Make sure you ask for the olive oil and balsamic dressing though as the normal one is not suitable for vegans – but do note the warning about gluten and the salad dressing above.
What’s the Lowest Sodium Dish on the Gluten-Sensitive Menu?
That would be the Grilled Salmon which has 1110mg of sodium.
The Famous House Salad that comes with it has 670mg of sodium.
What’s the Lowest Fat Dish on the Gluten-Sensitive Menu?
That would be the Sirloin Steak which has 8g of fat – served with the salad which has another 8g of fat.
However, don’t rule out the salmon. It has 29g of fat, but most of that will be healthy fats from the fish so don’t completely discount that one.
Does Olive Garden Make Gluten-Free Breadsticks?
We’re sorry but no they don’t.
Can I Have Dessert?
Unfortunately not. All of the Olive Garden desserts list gluten as an ingredient.
So, that’s our guide to eating gluten-free at Olive Garden. Don’t forget though that menus and ingredients do change often so it’s always a good idea to check the company’s actual allergy listing before you order – and always remember to tell your server that you are avoiding gluten just to reduce the risk of any mix-ups.
Who is The Wellness Nerd?
My name is Helen Foster, and I’m a health journalist and wellness author. Publications I’ve written for include Women’s Health, Reader’s Digest, Body and Soul, Good Health at the Daily Mail, and more. I have also written 16 books on health and nutrition.