As one of the most popular Italian restaurant chains in the United States, Olive Garden offers a variety of soups on its menu. One of these soups is minestrone, a classic Italian vegetable soup loaded with pasta, beans and tomatoes. But is Olive Garden’s version of this hearty soup actually good for you?
In this article, we’ll take a close look at the nutritional information and ingredients behind Olive Garden’s minestrone soup to determine how healthy it really is.
According to Olive Garden’s website, one bowl of their classic chicken and fideo minestrone soup contains the following nutrients:
At first glance, a 340 calorie soup with 13g of protein and 5g of fiber seems relatively healthy. However, let’s analyze each of these nutrients more closely.
340 calories is a moderate amount for a single bowl of soup. It’s certainly not sky-high, but not very low either. This Calories count means the minestrone soup can contribute a significant chunk of calories to your daily diet if consuming multiple bowls.
10g of total fat per bowl is not alarming, since fat is necessary in our diets. However, the American Heart Association recommends limiting saturated fat to no more than 13g per day. With 4g of saturated fat per bowl, Olive Garden’s minestrone provides almost a third of the recommended daily limit of this less healthy type of fat.
The 930mg of sodium is quite high, considering the American Heart Association recommends no more than 2,300mg of sodium per day. A single bowl of this soup provides 40% of the recommended limit.
At 54g per bowl, the carbohydrate content is fairly high. However, 5g comes from fiber, which slows digestion and promotes fuller feeling. The 8g of sugar is actually quite low compared to many other soups.
The 13g of protein is a positive nutrient that will help fill you up. In general, this much protein is considered a good amount for a single soup serving.
Now let’s take a look at the actual ingredients that go into Olive Garden’s minestrone soup:
- Chicken Stock
- Kidney Beans
- Great Northern Beans
- Parmesan Cheese
- Black Pepper
- Olive Oil
This ingredient list looks relatively healthy at first glance. It includes lots of vegetables, fiber-rich beans, lean protein from chicken stock, and whole grain pasta.
However, upon closer inspection, there are a few concerning ingredients:
The high sodium level is clearly coming from the additional salt, along with the chicken stock, which is probably higher in sodium than homemade stock.
While olive oil is considered a healthy fat, the unspecified amount used means it could contribute significantly to the high fat content.
The Parmesan adds additional sodium, calories and saturated fat.
In addition to the ingredients, preparation methods impact the nutrition of Olive Garden’s minestrone soup.
Some concerning practices may include:
- Using large amounts of oil for sautéing
- Adding butter or cream for richness
- Boiling reducing nutrients in the vegetables
- Cooking chicken bones and meat for stock for hours, concentrating sodium
On the positive side, Olive Garden likely:
- Uses fresh vegetables rather than canned
- Simmer stocks rather than boiling to preserve nutrients
- Adds pasta and beans towards end to avoid overcooking
Overall, it’s difficult to assess exact preparation methods, but they certainly influence the nutritional value.
Comparison to Homemade
To better evaluate Olive Garden’s minestrone soup, let’s compare it to a homemade version with similar ingredients.
Here is the nutrition for 1 bowl (240g) of a homemade Italian minestrone soup:
Compared to Olive Garden’s version, the homemade soup is significantly lower in calories, fat, saturated fat, sodium and carbohydrates. It’s also a bit higher in fiber.
This homemade version likely uses less oil, salt, cheese and stock made from scratch. The cooking methods also preserve more nutrients in the vegetables.
Is Olive Garden’s Minestrone Soup Healthy Overall?
Given the high sodium, saturated fat and calorie content, Olive Garden’s classic chicken and fideo minestrone soup cannot be considered a truly healthy option.
However, it does have some nutritional benefits, including:
- Rich in vegetables like tomatoes, spinach, onions, carrots and celery
- Contains fiber-rich beans
- Significant amounts of lean protein
- Made with tomatoes and olive oil which provide disease-fighting antioxidants
Compared to some other soup options, especially creamy or cheese-based ones, minestrone is likely one of Olive Garden’s healthier choices.
There are some simple ways you can make Olive Garden’s minestrone healthier if dining there:
- Request low-sodium, made without added salt
- Ask for light olive oil or no added oil
- Add extra vegetables like mushrooms or zucchini
- Go easy on the Parmesan cheese
- Enjoy with a side salad instead of breadsticks
Overall, Olive Garden’s minestrone soup has some nutritional merit but is quite high in sodium, fat and calories compared to a homemade version. By customizing your bowl, you can make it a bit healthier.
But for maximum nutrition and true homemade flavor, your best bet is making your own healthy minestrone soup loaded with vegetables, beans and pasta!
Olive Garden’s classic chicken and fideo minestrone soup provides some beneficial nutrients from vegetables, beans and lean protein. However, it’s quite high in sodium, saturated fat and calories compared to homemade soup with a similar ingredient list.
Customizing your bowl with lower sodium, less oil and extra veggies can help make this soup healthier. But for the best nutrition and flavor, making your own hearty minestrone with lots of fresh vegetables is the way to go.
Overall, Olive Garden’s version is not terribly unhealthy compared to some other soups, especially creamy or cheese-based ones. But it’s also not as healthy as it could be. With a few tweaks and restraint with the breadsticks, minestrone soup can be part of a balanced meal at Olive Garden.