Ever since "Super Size Me" came out in 2004 and really before that, food critics, parents, and friends (literally everyone) has stressed that McDonald's is the spawn of Satan. If you're hungry and away from home, avoid McDonald's and their golden arches at all costs. It's been drilled into our heads for a long time. However, that doesn't mean people listen. Last year, in a Reuters article, the author cited numbers presented by the National Center for Health Statistics that show that more Americans (34%) are obese than simply overweight (32.7%). As you know, fast food restaurants like McDonald's significantly contribute to these numbers.
So, comparing McDonald's and Panera Bread has to be stupid, right? Panera, labeled as a 'Fast Causal' restaurant, has got to be better for you with its health deli sandwiches, fresh salads, and soups, no? Even the critics agree: Health Magazine voted Panera #1 Healthiest for Eating on the Go; Zagat, one of the most trusted restaurant rated services, rated Panera #1 for Best Healthy Option.
Here's where it gets interesting. Panera is not better for you than McDonald's. OKAY, so maybe on the whole, Panera is a better option than McDonald's; however, there are certain Panera Menu items that blow even the Big Mac off of its 'Most Unhealthy' Perch. Before you write me off, listen. And let's forget about the Big Mac's 540 Calories and 29 grams of fat. That's minor league; we need to upgrade to the 790 calories and 39 grams of fat in the Angus Bacon and Cheese Burger (including 145 mg of cholesterol and 2070 mg of sodium). Have you thrown up a little in the back of your mouth yet? Well, I didn't until I read this: Panera's Italian Combo on Ciabatta has 1040 calories, 45 grams of fat, 165 mg of cholesterol, and 3020 mg of sodium.
That is absolutely absurd. And no, to answer your question, the Italian Combo is not an outlier on Panera's menu. There are at least four items (the Chipotle Chicken, the Sierra Turkey, the Salmon Club Croissant, and the large Mac & Cheese) with more than the Italian Combo's 45 grams of fat. The Mac & Cheese has 61 grams of fat and 26 grams of saturated fat. That's only three less grams of saturated fat than the Big Mac has grams of total fat.
When the Panera opened on the corner of North University and Thayer in Ann Arbor, I was excited at first because I used to love Panera. However, I soon realized that it could directly syphon business away from a favorite sandwich spot of mine, Amer's, which is right down the block on State Street. Luckily Amer's has survived and seems to be thriving with its new menu of frozen yogurts. So if you're looking for something healthier, new, and with less of a chain-restaurant feel to it and you haven't been already, you need to get to Amer's.