Friday, March 18, 2011

Kudos to Panera! Sort Of...

According to Wikipedia, the quickish, cafe-style eatery Panera Bread has 1362 stores in 40 states.  That means it's highly likely most of you have access...a word I use loosely; after all, I drive over an hour to the nearest one.

Anyway, for me, Panera Bread is the consummate love-hate relationship.  It is the home of the Cinnamon Crunch Bagel - a baked good SO PERFECT that I might commit violent crimes just to possess it.  However, calorie- and nutrition-wise, it's the AntiChrist (4.5 oz, 430 calories, 8g fat, 2g fiber, 29g sugar...but so, so, so delish).

You see my dilemma, no doubt.  If I lived closer to a Panera, I would purchase a CCB more often...but if I purchased a CCB more often, my waistline would hate me.  And I don't want that.  Thus, I am very grateful to live a significant distance from a PB, where a CCB is not such a devilish temptation.  I suppose I should just develop stronger willpower...ASAP.

Acroynms aside, my husband and I had lunch there recently and I was so, so, so happy to see:  calorie counts immediately next to menu items on the reader board.  Finally!  An eating establishment willing to openly broadcast nutritional information!  As if it had nothing to hide.  Furthermore, it also lists calorie amounts for full- and half-portions.  But...it does not include the calorie counts for the bag of potato chips Brent got with his turkey artichoke panini or the roll that came with my salad.  You take the good, you take the bad...

I opted for a full-size Thai Chopped Chicken Salad (390 calories).  As I chewed my greens and roasted edamame, I contemplated how other restaurants should follow Panera's example, because only recently have many chain restaurants been forthcoming about their nutritional data.  In states like New York and California, government has had to put the smackdown on fast-food secrecy, forcing them to spill the saturated fat beans.  Some restaurants still have managed to elude legislation - like Fuddrucker's, a burger place I absolutely love.

The beauty, though, of the Internet, is that somebody, somewhere has done their own independent research and managed to find out this information anyway.  My recommendation for websites that provide nutritional data for many of America's chain eateries?  Dotti's Weight Loss Zone.  At least now I have the information to make a somewhat educated choice...and there's no delusion about the fat, salt, and insane calorie count behind something like Outback Steakhouse's Aussie Cheese Fries (30g, 524mg, 404 calories - that's just 1/3 of a small portion!)

But, back to Panera...while knowing the calorie amount is good, it's not the whole nutritional picture.  My Thai chicken salad?  390 calories seemed pretty good for a decent-sized bowl of spicy goodness...until I looked it up online later and saw: 15g of fat, 5g of fiber, 13g of sugar, 34 g of protein.

Here's what those numbers mean:  for this type of salad, the numbers for fiber and protein are par for the course (cashews, chicken, romaine lettuce).  The 15g of fat might be a little startling (for a salad), but much of that is due to the crispy wonton strip topping and cashews and edamame.  My advice?  Leave off the strips, but keep the cashews and edamame; they may be a little high in fat, but they provide some other good stuff too.  By far, the most alarming factoid here is the 13g of sugar.  We don't normally equate salads with the sugar equivalency of certain brands of cereal, yogurt, and granola bars.  The kicker?  Seven grams of the 13 came from the Thai Chili Vinaigrette - over half!  To the best of my culinary knowledge, vinaigrette SHOULD only consist of oil, vinegar, and spices.  Where does sugar even enter the vinaigrette picture?  If I knew then what I know now, I'd have asked for the dressing on the side. 

While the restaurant industry is coming a long ways in informing their consumers, there is still a long way to go.

Hmmm...this puts me in mind to conduct a little experiment....more to come later.

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