The Real Reason Panera Is Healthier Than Other Fast Food Chains

Fast food, on the whole, doesn't tend to be the healthiest eating option out there. Although you can make some not-so-awful choices at most chains if you do your homework (or just exercise a little common sense), for the most part, they make their money by tempting you into supersizing and adding extra cheese and bacon to everything. It's not some sort of plot to undermine society by forcing us into unhealthy behavior, but rather a business decision – McDonald's can stay in business by selling what people want (burgers, fries, and shakes), but they'd go under in a heartbeat if they switched to offering nothing but kale and quinoa. (Even the McSalad Shaker was a mega McFlop.)

One chain, however, has staked out a kind of middle ground where they offer popular foods that can be at least partially prepped ahead of time so they can be served up in a jiffy, but they make sure that the menu features a variety of healthy choices. No, we're not talking about Subway here, despite the famous Subway diet that actually proved effective for now-notorious former pitchman Jared Fogle. Instead, the restaurant that a 2009 Health Magazine survey cited in the Riverfront Times dubbed the nation's healthiest fast-food chain was Panera Bread.

Why eating at Panera may be better for your health

Health praised not only the chain's variety of healthy options available for customizing your meal (not just one but two types of whole-grain bread for your sandwich; fruit in place of chips), but also the fact that Panera offers half-sized servings of soups, salads, and sandwiches. As portion control is a crucial component of weight loss – it's not just what you eat, but how much you eat, that packs on the pounds – this makes it much easier for the customer to downsize rather than supersize.

They did note, however, that just because you're eating at Panera doesn't mean it's all good. The entire entry on Panera, re-published on the CBS News website as the original has long vanished into that digital graveyard, makes mention of the yummy-looking baked goods like sticky buns and cheese danishes that are prominently displayed at the store's counter. The Travel also notes that heavy, cream-based soups and salads loaded with fatty bacon, cheese, and dressings may not be your best bet if you're looking to count calories. Still, Panera does offer a wider selection of tasty, yet healthy, options for both breakfast and lunch, and you can also order a smaller-sized entrée without it coming in a carton adorned with a cartoon clown.