One Of The Least Nutritious Restaurant Food Combos Of All Time Belongs To Red Lobster

Despite its widespread success, there are still some things you might not know about Red Lobster. For instance, were you aware that Red Lobster began its existence as a singular family-business seafood restaurant in the Sunshine State circa 1968? Or that, just two years later, General Mills acquired the food service company and swiftly spread it from coast to coast? What about the fact that Popcorn Shrimp dates all the way back to 1974, Lobsterfest to 1984, or Cheddar Bay Biscuits to '92? Indeed, there are plenty of fun facts in the Red Lobster sea.

Nowadays, the business belongs to a completely different set of owners. Yet, it still stretches coast-to-coast (with over 600 locations), sells its iconic dishes (for over $2 million a year), and celebrates its signature nautical holiday, Lobsterfest. It's a big fish in a huge food service pond. It's also a fairly modern business; as one of the biggest global seafood buyers, Red Lobster goes out of its way to source its goods sustainably. The corporation has also been lauded for how it treats its employees and gives back to its local communities. However, one trend Red Lobster hasn't necessarily caught onto yet is healthy dining.

Red Lobster's combo was more than a mouthful

It's no huge secret that chain restaurants are often unhealthy. Still, it's another thing to have a dish publicly denounced by scientists. Unfortunately for Red Lobster, that's exactly what happened to its "Create Your Own Combination" menu item back in 2015. The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a health advocacy group, gives out "Xtreme Eating" awards every year in an effort to expose food service companies for encouraging their customers to overindulge. As just one example, Dave & Buster's Chicken and Waffle Sliders were once declared the unhealthiest menu item in America circa 2019. Talk about bad publicity!

Another year, that same fate befell Red Lobster's "Create Your Own Combination," but it wasn't just any old combo. Instead, the union of Parrot Isle Jumbo Coconut Shrimp, Shrimp Linguine Alfredo, and Walt's Favorite Shrimp paired up with a Caesar salad, a Cheddar Bay Biscuit, and some French fries was the worst offender. In total, this combo provided consumers with 2,710 calories (far above the daily amount the CSPI recommends), as well as 6,530 milligrams of sodium (far more than double the CSPI's daily suggestion). Add the restaurant's signature Lobsterita cocktail to the mix, and that total jumped up to 3,600 calories. As one CSPI registered dietitian claimed, "This nutritional shipwreck from Red Lobster exemplifies the kind of gargantuan restaurant meal that promotes obesity, diabetes, and other diet-related diseases."

Red Lobster no longer offers that combo

Red Lobster did not take such a denunciation lying down. "CSPI's Xtreme Eating Awards hone in on just one atypical combination and, as a result, inaccurately portrays the nature of this menu item," a spokesperson claimed, per Today. "CSPI was dishonest when they neglected to reference other possible combinations, guest choice, and the lighter options available."

Tellingly, though, this specific combination is no longer offered by Red Lobster. The Parrot Isle Jumbo Coconut Shrimp, Shrimp Linguini Alfredo, Walt's Favorite Shrimp, Caesar salad, Cheddar Bay Biscuits, and french fries are all still on the chains' menu, as is the Create Your Own Combination deal. However, diners can now only get two sides, not three, and Shrimp Linguini Alfredo is not an entrée option for the combo, nor are Cheddar Bay Biscuits a side option. And although you won't find a "Lobsterita" on Red Lobster's online Signature Drinks menu, the chain debuted a Berry Sunset Lobsterita in January of 2023 and also sells classic margaritas. So, did Red Lobster simply do the bare minimum to shake off this bad bit of press, or has it truly changed its ways?

For what it's worth, the CSPI's 2022 Xtreme Eating Awards included brands like Applebee's, Chili's, and Olive Garden — plus double-offender the Cheesecake Factory — but not Red Lobster. This doesn't mean Red Lobster is healthy now, but at least it isn't counted among the unhealthiest chains. Perhaps that's the real winning combo.