Caution: Food not as healthy as it appears

Eating healthy at a restaurant is a difficult task. Consumers want more for their money so portions are often gargantuan. Fat and salt add flavor to dishes, bringing consumers back. Health trends have restaurants scrambling to make healthy dishes or claiming their food is healthy, even if it isn’t.

The truth is, not many restaurants offer truly healthy choices. The public is becoming more health conscious, so restaurants try to project a healthy image in order to outsell the competitor.

Remember that the calculated value of calories on most restaurant lists is always with the least amount of extras.

Any nutritional fact from a restaurant is just an estimate.

Here’s a review of the healthy and not so healthy choices at three restaurants popular with students.

Practically everyone knows Jared Fogle’s story of Subway-induced weight loss. Choosing healthy at Subway is relatively easy since many of the subs are under 6 grams of fat, and nutritional information is even printed on the napkins and cups.

Because customers build their own sandwiches, what is chosen is important. Eating low fat, low calorie subs has a lot to do with the extras on the sandwich. Adding mayo and cheese packs fat on to even the slimmest of subs. Remember, Jared left off the mayo and cheese, even when it came with the sub.

Surprisingly, the Italian white bread was slightly lower in calories and sodium than the wheat option. The honey oat, which sounds like it would be healthy, is actually highest in calories and fat.

Panera Bread’s freshly baked breads and vegetarian entrees might cause most restaurant-goers to believe that all of the choices on the menu have low sodium and low fat. There are good and bad choices on every menu. Panera’s menu is no exception, though none of the choices are ultra healthy.

At Panera, the sandwiches already have condiments built into them, which are in the nutritional facts. Sandwiches and soups often come with extras (such as chips or a sourdough roll) so be sure to calculate for those extras.

Overall, soups were a good choice for a meal as far as calories and fat were concerned. Sodium range in the soups was 660-980 mgs. A good rule of thumb to follow at Panera is that if the soup has the words “vegetarian” or “low fat,” it’s a good call. Those looking for lower calories and fat would do best to avoid soups with a type of cheese in the title, the word “cream” or the word “potato.” It’s also good to remember that the sourdough roll that comes with soups adds 160 calories. Ordering soup in the sourdough bowl adds 500 calories.

The tomato fresh mozzarella salad comes in at 880 calories and contains the entire daily saturated fat allowance recommended by the FDA. Don’t always think that salads are low cal choices– ask for the nutritional facts. The rest of the salads were lower in saturated fat but the classic café salad had a whopping 36 grams of fat, which is more than half the daily allowance. The Asian sesame chicken salad did well in all categories except sodium, which was about 44 percent of the daily allowance.

The Italian combo sandwich was the most decadent sandwich at Panera. It weighed in at 1,040 calories, with a sodium count of 2,920mgs. The sodium counts for 122 percent of the daily recommended amount. The sandwich comes with chips, bringing the calories to a conservative estimate of 1,170 and the fat grams to 40. These totals don’t reflect soda or any other drink available.

The healthiest sandwich, overall, was the peanut butter and jelly. Though the PBJ contained a gram more in fat than the smoked turkey breast sandwich, the comparatively reasonable sodium count (580mgs) and the calorie amount (440) makes it the winning sandwich.

Gladstone’s Chicken has membership in Heart Smart International. This membership means that certain items on the menu meet the requirements that experts have determined are heart healthy. This means less fat, cholesterol and sodium.

Nutritional information for the whole menu was not available. Only information for the items that met the requirements for Heart Smart International was available. The chicken salad supreme (with non-fat Italian dressing) was the only one of the three entree salads that made the list. At a slender 288 calories and only 9 grams of fat, it’s a healthy choice.

The gold heart meal, which includes a skinless chicken breast, two side orders and pita bread, was also part of the Heart Smart Program. Nutritional info tended to vary depending on the choices of side meals. Choosing the garden salad (without dressing) and whipped potatoes in gravy as sides to the Gold Heart Meal adds up to only 450 calories, 9 grams of fat and only 31 percent of the FDA’s recommended sodium. Even those who choose two sides of potatoes (skewered and whipped in gravy) meet all the requirements.

Most combinations of side selections for the Gold Heart Meals meet the requirements, but macaroni and cheese and creamy cole slaw should likely be avoided.