Jason’s Deli is one of the places my family loves to eat. When I would come home from college to visit, we would go there all the time. We’d have sandwiches, soup, salad, those little free mini corn and gingerbread muffins and free ice cream at the end of every visit. The prices were economical which suited my Dad’s frugality and the location was super convenient. But as soon as I started figuring out what was in restaurant food, my trips to Jason’s Deli stopped. I didn’t really have a specific reason other than the fact that home prepared meals tasted better and made me feel great – much better than the days I would go out to eat.
Jason’s Deli is a very popular choice for a lot of people out there, not just my family, so I thought it would be crucial to investigate their food. Besides, many of you have asked for this specific investigation on facebook for quite some time now… so with no further delay, here’s what I found out.
On paper Jason’s Deli appears to have your health in their best interest. Jason’s Deli was the first major restaurant chain to eliminate transfat and high fructose corn syrup. They recently claimed to have eliminated MSG too (we will address that later) and 1/5 of Jason’s Deli menu is organic – an absolutely staggering statistic considering the size of the menu. They also do not use any artificial colors – another amazing feat considering all the restaurants that still do.
So this begs the question – What other ingredients should you watch out for at Jason’s Deli? What should you still be concerned about? And what’s REAL FOOD and what’s not?
Trying not to be overly exhaustive, I requested the ingredients of a sampling of some of the most popular items on Jason’s Deli’s menu. Requesting the ingredients was easy compared to some of the investigations I have done in the past. There are a couple of ways you can get your hands on the ingredients. You can call the headquarters and request them, email them or ask in the store. If you ask for the ingredients in the store, it is a quite laborsome for the employees as they have to dig for the packages to show you the ingredients on actual boxes. Unfortunately, they do not have a list in a neatly organized binder. During the several requests I made using all of these methods, Jason’s Deli employees (in the stores and at the headquarters) were amazingly cooperative and made sure I got all the answers I was looking for – a huge win in my book. However, posting their ingredients online for everyone to see would be an even bigger win in transparency, especially considering their tag line “We are all about healthy food.” Until then, I’ve posted the ingredients that I inquired about below, so this can serve as your online guide until they do…. (please note: the ingredients highlighted in red are either potential genetically engineered or GMO ingredients, harmful additives or preservatives – in other words, things no one should willingly want to eat.)
***Update: After releasing this investigation, Jason’s Deli posted all ingredients online with an Interactive Nutrition Menu – a huge win in transparency!***
Jason’s Deli Ingredients(Sampling of Menu Items)
- Artesian 9-grain Bread – The first ingredient is refined white flour – (you can tell when you see that vitamins and minerals are added back into the flour and the word “whole” is missing from the front of the word “wheat”). Refined white flour is basically empty calories with zero nutrition, but thankfully they add in a bunch of other whole grains to round out the bread.
- Whole Grain Bread – Has several questionable ingredients added to it – GMOs in the form of soybean oil, soy lecithin, dextrose etc., caramel powder (which is just a powdered form of caramel color that is considered a carcinogen), and preservatives, along with questionable natural flavors that trick your brain into enjoying a processed product like this more than you should.
- Croissant – This bread definitely doesn’t come from France considering all the preservatives and dough conditioners it contains, especially the ingredient “azodicarbonamide” which is banned in Europe and if you get caught using it in Singapore you are fined $450,000 dollars – the substance is linked to asthma and allergies.
- Organic Wheat Wrap – Definitely the best choice on the bread menu.
- Wild Sockeye Salmon – Any restaurant serving wild salmon over farmed salmon deserves praise, but the additives used here are dreadful. Several ingredients are genetically engineered and “spice extractives” can be a hidden form of MSG.
- Ham – Carrageenan is the most concerning ingredient here, first of all what’s a seaweed by-product even doing in ham? I found out it is used as a “gelling agent” that mimics fat that you would normally find in meat. For low fat meat products, manufacturers add it to “improve texture.” Carrageenan when ingested can start to degrade in the gastrointestinal tract and in the liver and turn into a carcinogen, resulting in a serious inflammatory agent that also can cause intestinal abnormalities.
- All Natural Chicken Breast – One thing I would like to mention here is that just because a meat is labeled “natural” doesn’t mean it’s free from GMOs. By the looks of the ingredients here, this would be the best meat option to get, however you have to realize the chickens were likely fed GMO corn and soy – not the healthiest diet. Personally I would avoid meat all together and go vegetarian for this reason.
- Roast Beef, Chicken Salad – I would avoid both of these choices – there are GMOs, hidden MSG (hydrolyzed soy protein, hydrolyzed corn gluten, and/or autolyzed yeast extract) and caramel color. What’s so bad about caramel color, you ask? It’s not the type of caramel you make at home by cooking sugar. This caramel color is manufactured by heating ammonia and sulfites under high pressure, which creates carcinogenic compounds proven to cause liver tumors, lung tumors, and thyroid tumors in rats and mice.
- Chili, Southwest Chicken Chili, Organic Vegetable Soup – This is where Jason’s Deli really messes up. And it wouldn’t be a stretch to say their “No MSG” message in their marketing is a total lie if you read between the lines. As you have noticed above, there is hidden MSG in several different meat products, as well as all of their soups – including the organic vegetable soup in the form of “autolyzed yeast paste.” The amount of MSG that restaurants can put in your food is not regulated and having a “No MSG” label is extremely misleading if they replace MSG with other forms that cause the same health issues. MSG is an excitotoxin that “if given in large enough doses” can excite brain cells to death. MSG can cause adverse reactions in some people including “skin rashes, itching, hives, nausea, vomiting, migraine headaches, asthma, heart irregularities, depression and even seizures.” Additionally, MSG is an ingredient added to different recipes so your brain remembers a taste combined with the smell of a food. Food scientists use it to create addiction. Bottom line, it doesn’t belong in food considering the obesity crisis in this country.
- “Homemade Ranch” – Looking at the ingredients above, you can see that calling this dressing homemade is a complete joke. I don’t have maltodextrin or carrageenan sitting around in my pantry, do you?
- Organic Balsamic – The best option for dressing
- Organic French Dressing – Another good option, but not a fan of natural flavoring as mentioned above.
- Mac & Cheese – Light years ahead of Kraft Mac & Cheese, but still concerning since the cheese used is not guaranteed to be hormone and antibiotic free.
- Guacamole – Clean of additives. I would use this as a salad dressing.
- Organic Corn Chips – I found out they use Garden of Eatin’ brand chips, which are GMO free. The only issue I have with these is that they use canola oil, which is not a healthy oil. Over-consumption of oils like canola are causing an abundance of Omega 6 fatty acids in our diets. The imbalance of Omega 6 fatty acids increases the risk of inflammation, heart disease, obesity, and prostate and bone cancer.
- Pickle – This was a huge bummer. I was excited there were no artificial colors but bummed that the pickles contain sodium benzoate, one of the absolute worst preservatives out there. The Mayo Clinic reported that this preservative increases hyperactivity in children. Also, when sodium benzoate combines with ascorbic acid (vitamin C), it can form benzene, a carcinogen that damages DNA in cells and accelerates aging.
- Chocolate Chip Cookie & Fudge Brownie (see picture below) – Both of these baked sweets have propylene glycol, the same ingredient that you winterize cars with – antifreeze, and the same ingredient that lubricates condoms. This is definitely not an ingredient I want to end my meal with!
- Ice Cream – Besides the carrageenan already discussed above, artificial vanilla flavor is manufactured in a factory without using any real vanilla beans, instead it is a by-product of the wood pulp industry. Polysorbate 80, which is in both flavors, is linked to infertility in mice, an increased risk of blood clots, stroke, heart attack, heart failure, and tumor growth or recurrence in patients with certain types of cancer. An article published about polysorbate 80 found that the agent could cause pregnant woman to go into anaphylactic shock and is harmful to patients with Crohn’s disease. Lastly, the milk products used are not hormone or antibiotic free, this should be enough reason to leave Jason’s Deli without eating the free ice cream.
Given all this information, the obvious question now is…
WHAT WOULD I GET AT JASON’S DELI?
Straight off the menu, I would feel pretty good about ordering the Nutty Mixed Up Salad (likely without the chicken) and Spinach Veggie Wrap. Also I would excitingly order all the organic vegetables currently available (which are: spinach, mixed greens, apples, carrots and peas) at the salad bar and top it off with a huge side of guacamole and hummus. I’d also get the steamed veggies if I were feeling like I wanted something warm to eat. (Note the zucchini that is offered in the steamed veggies may be GMO since it is not organic.)
For the kids in your life (if ordering off the kid’s menu), I’d go with the Organic Peanut Butter & Jelly or the Organic Grilled Cheese but with organic whole wheat wrap or 9 grain artisanal wheat bread vs. the whole wheat bread that has additives (as discussed above). Organic carrots and organic apples on the side are a wonderful accompaniment too!
I know I stopped going to Jason’s Deli a while back but given the opportunity to dine there again, I wouldn’t think twice. It’s a no brainer – Jason’s Deli blows away the competition when it comes to quick, easy and organic meals without having to visit a grocery store.
If you think this post can help someone make the right decision the next time they visit Jason’s Deli – please share it with them. I want this information to be out there helping as many people as possible who would not otherwise know or understand the ingredients they are eating.
Thank you in advance for spreading the word.
5/1 Update: Just received the ingredients in the famous “free” mini muffins at the salad bar…I would stay far, far away!