Update June 3, 2014: Panera Bread announces they will remove all artificial colors, sweeteners, preservatives and flavors by 2016. Thank you #FoodBabeArmy for sharing this post continuously since April 2012 when it was first released. We are changing the world one company at a time by spreading the truth!
Update June 5, 2014: CNBC interviewed me earlier today about Panera committing to remove all artificial ingredients, here’s what I said: “Panera’s announcement is another example that consumer awareness and action is changing the food industry. … I appreciate Panera’s commitment to remove artificial ingredients and hope other major restaurant chains take notice to do the same.” (McDonalds, Taco Bell, Wendy’s, Domino’s, etc. – listen up!!!) I investigated Panera Bread back in April 2012 because so many people (including my own parents) were under the impression it was healthy. Panera was even voted one of the healthiest fast food chains despite their overuse of artificial ingredients! I wanted people to know the truth and when people know the truth, these companies have no where to hide – they have to change to meet demand!
My lovely mother sent me home with a bag full of home cooked food last week on Easter. It included her famous Indian flat bread stuffed with radishes, lentil soup and stir fried cauliflower. While everything was super delicious as usual, something caught me a little off guard… the Panera Bread bag she reused for me to carry home all those goodies.
Panera Bread is popping up all over the place…I see one outside my office window at work. I drove past three on my way to the park last Sunday…
And then while my friend Amy was traveling through a small town in South Carolina that I frequently visit, which is also a food desert (a place that shall remain nameless or my better half would kill me) … She texted with an urgent “Where do I stop to eat?” I didn’t have a good answer for her and I certainly didn’t suggest Panera Bread.
So given these signs, I had to feed my inner curiosity of why I just cringe at the thought of eating there. What I found was some startling ingredients this oh so fresh and so clean looking bakery style deli uses in their famous salads, sandwiches, soups and breads. With industrialized food sourcing over 90% of what Americans eat – It’s easy to get fooled, even with the simplest and freshest sounding menu items.
Luckily, Panera (like all companies should) provides you with all the information you need at your finger tips via their website where they list all the nutrition facts including the ingredients for all of their dishes. Here’s just a sampling of some of the ingredients that might make you think twice before stopping off for a bite…
First up - The Fuji Apple Salad. Looks pretty healthy doesn’t?
But nope… This salad is heavily processed. Those apple chips on top are made with canola oil and corn syrup which is highly likely to be genetically modified. The greek dressing has an ingredient most people use in their car engines as anti freeze aka propylene glycol… (If you want to know more about this substance – I go into detail about it in a Supermarket Birthday Cake Exposé.) Oh and look at all those tasty “natural” flavors (probably from Givaudan, a chemical food manufacturer).
And then if you are brave enough to order something as simple as a ham & swiss on rye… you’ll get a dosage of nitrates. Nitrates are dangerous for your health and are toxic to the brain. They are linked to Alzheimer’s and many forms of cancer. No one should be eating them. There’s really no reason to eat chemically preserved cured and smoked meat. Get it fresh, get it organic, and or don’t eat it at all. It’s that simple.
What about the whole grain bread… It’s got to be whole grain, right? They are Panera BREAD for goodness sakes.
Nope… Don’t get excited, it’s not 100% whole grain, just half. Like the rye bread that is used for the ham and swiss, the first ingredient after water, is enriched flour. There is nothing whole grain about enriched flour – this bread should actually be called half white bread if they were really going to name this correctly and were telling us the whole picture.
The most upsetting menu items were in the soup department… check out the hidden MSG in this Broccoli and Cheese Soup & Low Fat Black Bean Soup under disguise names “hydrolyzed corn and soy protein, autolyzed yeast extract and yeast extract” This is food industry trickery at it’s best! A little off topic, but relevant, the food company that makes Pop Chips is using this same trick too….I avoid this additive at all costs because MSG is an ingredient that literally excites your brain cells to death.
Now comes the worst part of this whole story. Health Magazine rated Panera Bread as the #1 Healthiest Fast Food Restaurant in America.
REALLLLLLY?! Is this the best fast food we can get? Does fast have to automatically assume processed? Salad dressing with propylene glycol? Meats with nitrates? Enriched bleached flour bread? Soup filled with MSG?! A whole menu full of GMOs?
Health Magazine looked at the use of healthy fats, sodium content and the use of organic produce to determine their top 10 restaurants. Panera Bread got the #1 spot because they offer organic yogurt, organic milk, and organic cheese on their award winning kids menu, which I have to admit is a step above places like McDonalds but they are still using the same cheap ingredients that other fast food restaurants use to make money and to get you hooked.
If you don’t go into Panera knowing all the facts, you can get duped pretty easily. Take for instance that acclaimed kid’s menu….if you end up ordering the kid’s ham sandwich instead of the grilled cheese for your little one, you end up feeding them nitrates, but it’s still considered the “healthiest” because your child has the option to wash it all down with organic milk.
Until fast food companies make some serious and bold decisions to be consistent in their messages about the quality of their food, what additives are in and not in their foods and use a measurable trusty worth standard – I won’t be buying it or supporting them. It’s far too confusing to keep up with all these ingredients for the typical consumer, so the food industry continues to win.
Luckily for us, in this case, we don’t have to work that hard to find the ingredient list. Let’s applaud Panera Bread for providing us the information to make good decisions about what we eat and what we feed our families.
Unfortunately for them, I’ll be looking elsewhere to spend my dollars. Where are you going to spend yours? And how do you get your food fast?
If you know someone who could benefit from hearing this information about Panera – please share this article with them.
In the Best of Health,