Are the Olive Garden breadsticks gluten free?


The answer is no – Olive Garden’s famous breadsticks are not gluten free. They contain wheat flour which means they have gluten. For those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, Olive Garden does offer a few gluten free options, but the breadsticks are off limits.

What is gluten and why does it matter?

Gluten is a protein found in grains like wheat, barley and rye. For most people, gluten is harmless and does not cause any issues. However, for those with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, gluten can cause serious health problems and damage to the small intestine. That’s why it’s crucial for those with gluten issues to avoid gluten in their diet by choosing gluten free foods.

Celiac disease

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder where the ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine. Over time, this damage prevents the absorption of nutrients from food. Symptoms of celiac disease include diarrhea, abdominal pain, bloating, fatigue, weight loss and anemia. The only treatment for celiac disease is a strict lifelong gluten free diet. Even small amounts of gluten can cause issues for those with celiac.

Non-celiac gluten sensitivity

Non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) is a condition where gluten triggers symptoms like diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain, headaches, fatigue and skin rashes. Unlike celiac disease, NCGS does not cause long-term damage to the small intestines. However, those with NCGS do need to avoid gluten to prevent symptoms.

Why avoiding gluten is important

For those with celiac disease or NCGS, eating gluten can greatly impact quality of life and lead to malnutrition if the intestinal damage from gluten impairs nutrient absorption. That’s why following a strict gluten free diet is the only treatment option. This requires vigilance in avoiding even small traces of gluten from cross-contamination.

Are Olive Garden breadsticks gluten free?

No, Olive Garden’s famous breadsticks are not gluten free. According to Olive Garden’s website, their breadsticks contain wheat flour as a main ingredient. Since wheat contains gluten, the breadsticks are definitively not gluten free.

Ingredients in Olive Garden breadsticks

The main ingredients in Olive Garden’s breadsticks are listed as:

  • Enriched flour (wheat flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid)
  • Water
  • Yeast
  • Soybean oil
  • Sugar
  • Salt
  • Dough conditioners
  • Garlic
  • Parsley
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Salt

As you can see, the very first ingredient listed is enriched wheat flour. This immediately rules out the breadsticks as a gluten free option.

Risk of cross-contamination

Even if Olive Garden were to offer a gluten-free breadstick option made without wheat flour, there would be a high risk of cross-contamination in the kitchen during preparation and cooking. The same equipment and surfaces are likely used to make standard breadsticks containing gluten. So gluten could easily get transferred to gluten free breadsticks.

What gluten free options does Olive Garden offer?

While the breadsticks aren’t gluten free, Olive Garden does offer some gluten free menu options:

Gluten free pasta

Olive Garden has gluten free pasta options like rigatoni, penne and spaghetti. These are made from a blend of corn and rice flour. They cannot be cooked in the same water as regular pasta to avoid contamination.

Gluten free salad dressings and sauces

Olive Garden offers a few different salad dressings that are gluten-free, like Italian, blue cheese, balsamic vinaigrette and oil & vinegar. They also have gluten-free marinara sauce.

Gluten free dessert

The only gluten free dessert option is Olive Garden’s flourless chocolate cake made with almond flour.

Modified menu items

Some dishes can be modified to be gluten free by removing croutons and high-risk sauces/ingredients. This includes options like salad without croutons or grilled chicken breast without sauce.

Tips for dining at Olive Garden with gluten issues

If you need to avoid gluten, here are some tips for safely eating at Olive Garden:

  • Stick to gluten free pasta, dressings and sauces
  • Avoid breaded or fried menu items as they likely contain gluten
  • Request grilled chicken or shrimp instead of breaded versions
  • Ask for salad without croutons
  • Skip the breadsticks and opt for the gluten free chocolate cake for dessert
  • Tell your server you have a gluten allergy so they take extra precautions
  • Check that your food is marked “gluten free” before eating it

The bottom line

Olive Garden’s unlimited basket of warm, garlicky breadsticks is tempting. But unfortunately for those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, the breadsticks are off limits due to containing wheat flour. While you’ll have to pass on the breadsticks, Olive Garden does offer other gluten free options like pastas, sauces and salads to enjoy safely.

With some modifications and special requests, you can still have a satisfying Italian meal at Olive Garden without gluten. Just be sure to confirm your dishes are gluten free and exercise caution to avoid cross-contact with gluten.

So the verdict is clear – Olive Garden’s famous breadsticks are delicious, but contain gluten. To stay safe, opt for one of their gluten free menu choices instead and don’t give in to the breadstick basket!

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