When it comes to chain restaurants, Panera Bread is often considered one of the healthiest. It’s got that wholesome, fresh bakery look, with images of wheat and fresh salads all over the walls. And Panera delivers its promise—sometimes.
Menu items at Panera fall on a spectrum, so if you’re looking for healthy meals, you can definitely find it. After all, they have a wide range of salads, and you can opt for an apple as a side. However, don’t assume *everything* on the menu is healthy just because it contains words like “fresh” or “natural” or “whole wheat.”
If You’re Looking for a Sweet Breakfast…
Try the Steel Cut Oatmeal with Almonds, Quinoa & Honey. The full bowl is just 320 calories, and only 1 gram of saturated fat. It also only has 7 grams of sugar, which is pretty good for a sweet brekkie. It’s also low in sodium and has an astounding 8 grams of fiber—both of which are rare feats for a restaurant.
If You’re Looking for a Savory Breakfast…
Try the Mediterranean Egg White Wrap. FYI, there's nothing wrong with egg yolks, but this wrap benefits from the added spinach and white bean puree, and it uses high-flavor cheeses like feta and parmesan. That means you don't need as much cheese to get the pow of flavor you're looking for, so you save on saturated fat. (Here are more heart-healthy ways to get your cheese fix.)
The wrap has only 260 calories, 2 grams of saturated fat, and 3 grams of sugar. It’s also lower in sodium than the other savory breakfast sandwiches.
The Breakfast to Skip:
Avoid the Sausage, Egg & Cheese on Brioche. This sandwich is one of the most caloric breakfast options, clocking in at 540 calories. That’s not so bad, though. The real issue is the 33 grams of fat (15 of which are saturated fat), and the 0.5 grams of trans fat. The trans fat comes from the brioche, so as a rule of thumb, avoid the brioche altogether.
If You’re Looking for a Salad…
Try the Strawberry Poppyseed Salad. To be fair, all the salads will offer you fresh veggies and other healthy items. The main concerns with the salads are avoiding high-fat salad dressings and toppings high in sodium or sugar.
The Strawberry Poppyseed Salad contains mostly whole-foods ingredients: romaine lettuce, fruit, and pecans. It’s lower in calories, fat, and sodium than the other salads. It is high in sugar, but those are naturally occurring sugars from all the berries.
The Salads to Skip:
Avoid the Spicy Thai Chicken Salad and Greek Salad. They may be under 500 calories, but both are sky-high in fat and sodium. To be exact, the Thai Chicken Salad contains 970 milligrams of sodium, and the Greek Salad has an astounding 1,180 milligrams of sodium.
If You’re Looking for a Sandwich…
Try the Mediterranean Veggie on Tomato Basil Bread. Fair warning: This sandwich is still high in sodium, but with 1,120 milligrams, it’s actually one of the least salty sammies on the menu. This is not so surprising, considering the American Heart Association cites sandwiches as one of the "Salty Six," or the six biggest sources of sodium in the average American's diet. This veggie sandwich is also one of the only sandwiches with under 500 calories, and is lower in fat and higher in fiber than the others.
The Sandwich to Skip:
Avoid the Chipotle Chicken Avocado Melt on Black Pepper Focaccia. Anything with avocado in the name sounds healthy, but don’t be fooled: This sandwich contains 760 calories, 42 grams of fat (!!), and 1,750 milligrams of sodium. Yikes!
If You’re Looking for a Bagel…
Try a Sprouted Grain Flat Bagel. “Flat” refers to the fact that it’s not as thick, so it’s a lighter bagel with fewer carbs, fat, and sodium (but it can still hold your cream cheese or filling of choice). Because it’s a sprouted grain bagel, it actually has more fiber than most of the other bagels, despite being smaller in volume.
The Bagel to Skip:
Avoid the Cinnamon Crunch Bagel. It has more calories, saturated fat, and sugar than any other bagel—and by a long shot. To be exact, it has 33 grams of sugar (what?!), which easily beats the 14 grams in the Chocolate Chip Bagel.
One caveat: The best thing about Panera is the ability to order half portions of many of the items. If you love the Chipotle Chicken Avocado Melt, consider ordering a half sandwich, half salad combo, and choose an apple as your side dish instead of bread or chips.
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