Panera Bread is a very popular spot to grab a meal, but is Panera’s food as healthy as it claims?
They offer a wide variety of foods like soups, sandwiches, and salads, as well as breads and baked goods, and have a reputation for being the healthier choice.
On the surface, all of those options sound healthy and satisfying, but what happens when we dig a bit deeper? Let’s take a look.
First, let’s look at what Panera Bread has done to increase their “healthy” reputation.
In 2015 Panera committed to removing 150 additives from their menu, stating they were concentrating on clean wholesome ingredients going forward.
They define clean as nothing artificial, specifically flavors, colors, preservatives, or sweeteners. Some of the ingredients they removed were:
- Caramel color
- High-Fructose Corn Syrup
- Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)
- Titanium Dioxide (preservative)
As you can see, that’s just a small list of some pretty scary ingredients that Panera has removed from their menu since 2015.
Does removing those components make Panera’s meals healthier for you though?
You might think so, but you should take a closer look at the ingredients they still use, and the amounts of ‘safe’ ingredients they include before deciding.
Since bread is in the name of the restaurant, lets take a look at Panera’s most popular breads.
The always-popular soft dinner roll has 190 calories, which is about even with other brands, but ingredients in their breads like High Heat Milk Solids, and Sorbitan Monostearate (a synthetic wax used as an emulsifier) are questionable, as is the 320mg of sodium in each one.
Moving on to bagels, the number one seller is the Everything bagel, which sells out frequently.
If we take a look at the Pumpkin Pie bagel you’ll find some unfortunate ingredients as well.
Panera uses ‘Cinnamon Flavored Confectionery Chips’ as part of the bagel, which contain Palm Kernel Oil, and ‘natural flavor’.
Palm Kernel Oil is high in saturated fat, which is why bakeries use it in their baked goods, it has a better shelf life.
Natural Flavour is extremely ambiguous, and can include anything from plant or fruit extracts to animal secretions.
Sometimes, it’s not the best ingredients in your breakfast.
Lets move on to meals, starting with soups. Tomato soup is a classic comfort food, especially if you pair it with a grilled cheese sandwich.
Panera’s Vegetarian Creamy Tomato soup with croutons is one of the WORST soups to pick on their menu.
It has relatively low calories but makes up for it with 13g of fat and 910mg of sodium.
Even worse is the Vegetarian Autumn Squash soup at 17g of total fat and more than 1200mg of sodium!
Don’t plan on eating anything else today if you eat that, because you might just turn into a raisin from all the sodium.
Salads seem like a good choice if you’re concerned about ingredients right?
Well, yes and no.
Salads are one of the easiest things to go overboard on; it’s very simple to pack a salad with ingredients that aren’t so great for you in the name of ‘healthy’.
The thing to note is that restaurants pack salads and salad dressings with TONS of ingredients to make them visually appealing, but are they doing you more harm than good?
The short answer is yes.
Panera’s Southwest Chile Lime Ranch Salad with Chicken has more than 1200mg of sodium when you eat the full serving of dressing as well.
That’s comparable to Wendy’s Dave’s Single Cheeseburger, and the cheeseburger at least has more protein to keep you full!
The salad also has more than 125 ingredients including all of the different dressings and garnishes. 125 ingredients. For a SALAD.
Some of these ingredients include Soybean Oil and/or Canola Oil, all of which are high in saturated fats and often come from genetically modified crops.
Other salads like the Spicy Thai Salad with Chicken are better, but still pack a punch of approximately ½ of your daily sodium allowance and more than 50 ingredients.
What about Sandwiches?
Surely they should have simple ingredients right? Bread, meat, vegetables, maybe some cheese.
Again, you need to take a closer look.
The Roasted Turkey, Apple, and Cheddar sandwich clocks in at 710 calories and 32g of fat.
That’s MORE than the cheeseburger that was referenced above, and is close to being the one of the highest levels on the entire menu.
Once again it’s the sauces and dressings Panera uses on its sandwiches that are the problem. Ingredients like canola oil and soybean oil are again, high in saturated fat and are very processed when refined, and are found in both the dressing used, as well as the turkey meat in the sandwich. What may surprise you is the Classic Grilled Cheese sandwich.
It contains 26g of fat, and a whopping 1580mg of sodium.
You’re asking yourself ‘why?’ right now, and that’s a very good question. In this case, the pasteurized processed American cheese is the problem.
This ‘plastic cheese’ is devoid of almost all of the healthy things about cheese, and adds in preservatives like Sorbitan Monostearate and a whole lot of fat and salt to make it taste good.
These sauces definitely add a level of flavor to your sandwich that you wouldn’t get at home, but is it worth the extra pounds?
So what can you eat at Panera bread that will be a healthy choice?
That’s a very good question. If you’re in the mood for a sandwich, swap out the sauces and dressings, and chose something like the Roasted Turkey Cranberry that has less than 400 calories and 12 g of fat, plus an added serving of spinach for some extra protein and fiber.
For soups, there are really no great options.
Skip the soups at Panera all together.
Salads are much easier to modify in a healthy way.
Ask for the dressing on the side and have a tablespoon or two instead of drowning the bowl with it.
Even the Cesar salad with Chicken isn’t a terrible option if you leave off most of the dressing.
At the end of the day, Panera is a chain restaurant like any other, and they make menu choices based on maximum flavor and visual appeal.
While their commitment to using clean ingredients is admirable, they lose major points for the hidden ingredients they still use, and the high sodium and fat in many of their dishes.
If you make good, informed choices about the food you put into your bodies, both at home and when eating out, you will achieve your health goals in no time at all.
About the Author:
Emma Deangela is the best selling author of The Alkaline Diet Program and 80/20 Fat Loss. She has helped over tens of thousands of men and women to lose weight and transform their health with sound nutrition advice. Learn how you can lose weight fast – How to lose weight by adding these alkaline foods.
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