Why Panera Bread Is Not as Healthy as You Think

Restaurant chain publishes list of artificial ingredients it pledges to remove from menu by 2016
May 5, 2015 Updated: October 8, 2018

Hopping on the recent trend of major U.S. food and restaurant companies turning healthy, the restaurant chain Panera Bread announced that it will eliminate a long list of artificial ingredients and preservatives from its menu by the end of next year.

The fast-casual chain prides itself on offering fresh, all-natural ingredients. On the company’s website, it describes its food policy like this: “We’re committed to sourcing and serving high-quality ingredients without artificial additives including added MSG, artificial trans fats, and ingredients we don’t believe need to be in your food.”

But judging from the newly published list of 81 types of food additives, food coloring, and preservatives it’s pledging to remove from its menu, it seems like Panera couldn’t completely steer clear of artificial ingredients commonly found in food products.

Granted, some of the ingredients on its “no no list”—as Panera calls it—have already been abolished, such as the artificial sweetener aspartame and MSG, the flavor enhancer.

But other artificial additives, such as disodium guanylate, a flavor enhancer commonly found in dried pasta products and seaweed products, and acesulfame K, an artificial sweetener, are still in the process of being phased out.

Many of the other banned ingredients are similarly mysterious and indecipherable: butylated hydroxyanisole, an antioxidant used to keep products like butter oil, sauces, chocolate products, and cereal from going bad; DATEM (diacetyl tartaric acid), an emulsifier used in bread, coffee, tea, whipped cream, dried pasta, and processed cheese; benzoyl peroxide, used as a bleaching agent in flour and dried whey products, and the list goes on.

Some are more immediately recognizable as unhealthy ingredients, though it may surprise some consumers that Panera was using them in the first place, like high fructose corn syrup, commonly found in sugary drinks, and partially hydrogenated oils, which gives us artificial trans fats.

The above-mentioned food additives are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) substances, but a recent report by the Center for Public Integrity revealed that a loophole in federal law allows food companies to declare their own artificially developed ingredients as “GRAS” and add them to food, without ever having to inform the FDA or get its approval for such use.

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