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Panera Bread – The Healthiest Fast Food?!?

BREAKING UPDATE May 4, 2015: Panera Bread has agreed to remove 150 additives from their food. Starting this week, Panera Bread will only sell salad dressing made without artificial sweeteners, colors, flavors and preservatives. This is the direct result of the ongoing pressure you and the Food Babe Army have put on companies to serve safer and more healthful ingredients. Thank you! 

USA Today reported these additional details:

Some examples of artificial additive removal:

• Greek salad dressing — removed hydrogenated soy protein, maltodextrin, propylene glycol alginate, and the generic spice blend.

• Mozzarella on tomato mozzarella flatbread — removed titanium dioxide.

• Chicken noodle soup — removed hydrolyzed soy and corn protein, autolyzed yeast extract, and modified corn starch

• Poppyseed dressing —- removed cellulose gel and artificial flavors.

Please note: The action by Panera does not include the beverages it sells, though executives say they are working on that, too, particularly in bottled beverages.

The New York Times lists several other companies that are changing their ingredients (Hershey’s, Nestle, Chipotle, Nabisco, McDonalds and Tyson’s). This is all a result of our collective activism! Again, thank you for working for a better food system with me – we are winning!

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!

CNBC interviewed me 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! 


Original Investigation Published April 16, 2012:

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…

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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?

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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).

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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.

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What about the whole grain bread… It’s got to be whole grain, right? They are Panera BREAD for goodness sakes.

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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.

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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,

Food Babe

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661 responses to “Panera Bread – The Healthiest Fast Food?!?

  1. fantastic job Vani! thank you so much for the work you are doing, you are a true revolutionary. It’s truly amazing that we would need advocates for not having poison in our food, but hey, that’s the world we’re living in

  2. Just wanted you to know how much we appreciate the investigative work you do for us. We use a lot of your delicious recipes and paying much closer attention to what we eat….plus we are referring more and more friends to you. With love and blessings, Gordon and Sanda

  3. Hi: So satisfied to note that Panera is being questioned. On a few occasions I have requested gluten free bread only to get the response that there is not a demand for it. What a disappointment. Hopefully, that will change also in the near future.

    1. For any place to serve or make “True” gluten |FREE) products, they would have to have separate locations fo production from the regular facilities, that would be extremely costly for any company to do. Anyone like me with celiac, should know by now that eating anything not cooked and prepared by yourself at home is dangerous and simply a bad idea. Just a heads up, since on that note, Any product that claims to be gluten free that is in a box at a store, may still contain gluten. All of these manufacturer aree aloud a small amount in all of the products and still be able to claim they are gluten free.

  4. Thank you so much Vani! The information that you provide to the public is truly amazing and extremely interesting, and I’ve been sharing it with my friends who also enjoy this knowledge. (We have a laugh every now and then on the topic of the beaver’s anal gland, aka vanilla flavoring.) Anyways, I have a friend with acne who has been trying to “clean up his diet to clean up his face”, and this has opened his eyes to the many chemicals and unnecessary additives in our food. I immediately told him about your website so that he can learn even more.:)

  5. Dear Food Babe:

    I have recently lost 86 pounds. I did a great deal of research on how to stop those terrible cravings. I will add your website to my list of resources!

    I wish you the best of luck and continued success.

    Warm Regards,

    Adrienne

  6. We have stopped eating out…lets face it , we simply did not know what went into the food we were eating when we were eating out until we started reading the results of your investigations. It is so much healthier to take any recipe and make it at home using all organic ingredients!! You have really opened our eyes and made a huge difference our food choices. Thank you so very much Food Babe and keep up the good work. Gordon Bell

  7. I’ve been concerned about Panera fooling us for years. It’s unfortunate that a company can claim to be healthy, while loading their food with artificial ingredients and GMOs. Thank you for working to get Panera to change! In addition to not using artificial ingredients will they be using non-GMO ingredients? How humane are their practices regarding meat? Do they or will they be using meats that are cage-free, fed non-GMO vegetarian diets, and free of antibiotics?

    Thanks!

  8. We really need to thank you Vani, and your team, for the great work you are doing to protect OUR health! It is unbelievable that all those additives, banned in Europe, are still used in USA. Shame on our politics who are allowing these companies to kill us, slowly but surely.
    I refuse to eat in those places, I refuse to put lotions on my body when we know that the chemicals are linked to cancer and hormones imbalance. And when yesterday I heard that heart attacks doubled for people 40 and under, I’m wondering if people realized that is is directly linked to what we eat and our environment.
    Keep fighting Vani, you have all our support!
    Marielle

  9. I just want to point out that as of the last announcement that they will be removing artificial ingredients, they also have removed the ingredient list. If anyone can find it let me know maybe I just am having a hard time. But one step forward, 3 steps back in my opinion. At this rate, without posting the ingredients they are supposedly “updating” who knows if they are lying or not.

    1. Thanks for the comment Stephanie! I just checked Panera’s website and I do see the ingredients still listed. I just clicked on a menu item description and scrolled down to the “nutrition” section, and found the ingredient list there.

  10. I knew that something was wrong with Panera. Whenever I eat there, almost always I get a blood blister on my tongue. Then, while I was doing a search, I encountered your website. I have not been to Panera for almost a year, because I am scared to have nother blood blister, and now I know why. At least I should not go back at least until 2016.

  11. The making of Panera Bread is said to be all natural, non bleach flour. My question is natural does not mean non GMO. Therefore, if it is not stated, it must be so. They have found a way to peddle the poison and through propaganda and they have made it appear to look good to the public….they even give the left over poison to the hungry…wow effective genocide. They can feasibly demolish the undesirable citizens. It is the tantamount to Hitlers concept of producing the perfect society and his mass extermination……the technical genocide that makes people wealthy as they control the population. Have them label the source of wheat….GMO or not. That will make them or break them!

    1. Eugene wow finally someone I can really relate with. You Def have the picture correct. There are some so slow to catch on. its amazing the cam survive. Lol and thank you Pam for all you do. .

  12. 2 days back when I had lunch at Panera …. was disgusted to see that the soup was being refilled in the holding container from a heated (may be microwaved) plastic bag!!!! Can you investigate these fast food restaurant processes (preparation steps) as well …. thx much.

    1. Coming from an ex-Panera employee, here is how we make the soups:

      The soup comes from the trucks frozen in big bags that we pre-heat in a thermalizer–a fancy word for a giant container of super hot water–until it’s 170 degrees F, then we pour it from the bags into whatever container on the line that the specific store uses. When there are any leftover soups by the end of the night, we put them in our own plastic soup bags into an ice bath to lower the temperature, and then we put them on a cart in the cooler (not the freezer this time) and reuse them the next day using the same thermalizer-170 degrees procedure. None of the soups are microwaved. Keep in mind that the vast majority of their soups are used up that same day, and any soups left over are gone by the second day.

      (What, did you seriously think that they cook all the soups from scratch? Or make the pastas from scratch? Only restaurants with real chefs do that.)

      The only problem with this, in my opinion, is that if the plastic bags contain BPA–which they most likely do–then the heat from the soup can make the BPA leech from the plastic into the soup itself. While this isn’t bad every so often, our bodies have been exposed to BPA so much throughout our lives that the health effects of this constant exposure aren’t really clear. So just beware.

      1. Hey sarah C.. I know panera gets their soup base from sysco. Do you guys add anything to it once it comes in from sysco or just serve as is? specifically speaking of the broccoli cheddar soup? trying to recreate it at home and just curious. a lot of copy cat recipes call for nutmeg, but i see its more paprika, mustard powder, hot sauce. Anything you could add would be awesome.
        Thanks
        Josh B.

      2. Nope, we literally just get the bag of soup/pasta, heat it up, and serve. I have no idea how to make any of it from scratch. Sorry…

  13. This blog is only helpful,to me if it offers a better place. I assume Panera does a better job than Burger King?? Coking at home is not always an option for me. Dont just criticize and leave me no alternatives. Tell me what they are doing right or tell me someone who is or leave me alone to eat my dinner in peace. Because you haven’t helped me at all.

  14. So I’ve been trying to cut out as much processed food as possible but there are just some times that I will have to eat fast food (I keep snacks with me as much as possible). Do you have any recommendations for a place that I would feel the least amount of guilt eating at? Love your website!

  15. When I go to Panera Bread, I always feel stomach distress or nausea afterward. I can’t eat/tolerate soy products, so I asked to see their ingredients lists when I visited the last time. Not one item on their menu is made without soybean oil or soy products – not one! I’m assuming that the soybean oil used is GMO too. How can any item on the menu of Panera Bread be healthy? Certainly not for me.

  16. I eat out very rarely…..wife cooks too good. First time in maybe pushing four months I went to Panera’s to get something better than garbage right..I am fairly sensitive to msg and the Asiago beef sandwich got me….I always get a certain headache in my left eye when exposed to this chemical ….have for years. Maybe I’ll come back in 2016…. They had a neato new way of ordering though.

  17. Adding insult to injury, the manufacturer of Panera’s soups claims to NOT use MSG in their soups. So even if you dig a little to get the real story…you still can’t get the real story. Yet that website is all about how healthy their products are. Sad comment about marketing tactics inflicted on the public. Glad I found Food Babe.
    http://www.blountfinefoods.com/faqs

  18. Just recently read this post (thanks FB!) & tried to find the ingredients for several items on their mobile site. I can find the “nutrition facts” but not ingredients. Any suggestions?

  19. bacon in Greek salad at Panera. I do not eat bacon and ask for Greek salad no meat and guess what they always add few small part of bacon into the salad. It is most likely due to not paying attention by the salad bar worker. It is management responsibility to train them so this would not happen. I am done with them. I cannot eat port products.

  20. It’s 2019 and there is still nothing remotely healthy about Panera Bread “food”. The fact of the matter is that 99.9% of ALL restaurants use artifical non-food products that toxify the blood – most supplied by companies like Sysco, Sodexo and Aramek…who produce chemicals. This is not limited to fast food chains but ALL restaurants, including that which we call “five star:.

    People need to be aware of the games that are played by these companies and the Federal government who is in league with them – and have a host of bloggers, writers, “journalist” and others who flood the public consensus with disinformation and nonsense.

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