Healthy and Not-so in Restaurants

I’ve been trying to find out which restaurants are the healthier ones. I already try to avoid most truly fast foods, but it is good to find that some are working harder to be healthier. Mod Market is new in Denver and they are one of the few who use organic foods.  This information is provided by The Healthy Back Institute  and Food Babe and not in particular order.  I wish some of the changes were coming sooner! And it sounds like we need a Burgerville here.   If I had the bucks, I have talked about opening a healthy drive thru restaurant chain!  Of course, as always it is better to cook your own food at home, buy organic ingredients, use less salt, sugar and oils.  Did you know that many baked goods (bakery in King Soopers contains propylene glycol).   You might consider watching this video on utube: 6 Ways the Food Industry Tricks You Into Eating Garbage – The Spit.  And please check out my list of resources as some really good books to read on eating healthier. We must also take action and let our elected officials know that we want healthier options, and not to subsidize poor food choices (schools and chains).

Healthiest Chain Restaurants


Panera is implementing a new food policy that will remove artificial ingredients, including colors, flavors, sweeteners and preservatives, from its menu by the end of 2016. They’ve already begun nixing preservatives and have added grass-fed sirloin steak to its menu in lieu of its former roast beef, which contained caramel color.[ii]

They also say they are committed to purchasing livestock and poultry that have been raised without the use of antibiotics and in reduced-stress environments, as well as wild-caught fish and other ingredients (eggs, romaine lettuce and wheat) that comes from North American farmers.[iii]

Update June 3, 2014: Panera Bread announces they will remove all artificial colors, sweeteners, preservatives and flavors by 2016. Thank you #FoodBabeArmy for sharing this post continuously since April 2012 when it was first released. We are changing the world one company at a time by spreading the truth!

Update June 5, 2014: CNBC interviewed me earlier today about Panera committing to remove all artificial ingredients, here’s what I said: “Panera’s announcement is another example that consumer awareness and action is changing the food industry. … I appreciate Panera’s commitment to remove artificial ingredients and hope other major restaurant chains take notice to do the same.” (McDonalds, Taco Bell, Wendy’s, Domino’s, etc. – listen up!!!) I investigated Panera Bread back in April 2012 because so many people (including my own parents) were under the impression it was healthy. Panera was even voted one of the healthiest fast food chains despite their overuse of artificial ingredients! I wanted people to know the truth and when people know the truth, these companies have no where to hide – they have to change to meet demand!


 Noodles and Company

Some may balk at the mention of pasta and healthy in the same sentence, and I would generally agree, but hear me out. In terms of chain restaurants, Noodles and Company is a cut above the rest, offering plenty of vegetarian and vegan options (including even organic tofu) and some gluten-free options (although they’re honest in saying that cross contamination likely does happen, so if you must avoid all gluten, this isn’t the best choice).

They also offer whole-grain linguine, don’t add MSG to anything, and have quite a few fresh vegetables on their menu, which is more than most chain restaurants can claim …


Sweetened coffee drinks aren’t exactly the measure of health, but still Starbucks deserves a mention because it sources only sustainably grown and processed coffee by evaluating the economic, social and environmental aspects of coffee production. They also say they’ve removed high fructose corn syrup, artificial trans fats, flavors and dyes from their food.[iv]

Starbucks also encourages their suppliers in North America to use animal welfare-friendly practices to provide ingredients such as cage-free eggs, gestation crate-free pork, and more humanely processed poultry.


This one isn’t national (it’s centered in the Pacific Northwest), but I had to mention it because it serves as an example of what could be if more burger chains believed in sustainability. Burgerville uses only pastured vegetarian-fed and antibiotic-free beef, as well as eggs from cage-free hens, wild-caught fish and hormone-free milk. They strive to use locally grown ingredients in season, to make creations like blackberry milkshakes, not to mention that they purchase wind power credits equal to 100 percent of their electricity use.[v] Yes, they’re still serving things like burgers and fries — and some of their menu items contain preservatives and even artificial colors — but they’re leaps and bounds ahead of most burger joints.


Chipotle touts “food with integrity,” which means they source organic and local produce (“when practical”) and use dairy from cows raised without the use of synthetic hormones. They also use meat from animals raised without the use of antibiotics or added hormones (“whenever possible”) as well as support family farmers who “respect the land and the animals in their care.”

Most of their menu items also contain refreshingly real ingredients with no hidden additives. This means their salsa, guacamole and meat contain just what you’d expect, nothing more, nothing less. For instance, their guacamole contains only avocado, red onion, jalapeno, cilantro, citrus juice and salt. Even their meat is surprisingly simple. The ingredients in their chicken include chicken, water, chipotle chili, rice brain oil, cumin, garlic, oregano, black pepper, salt and, sometimes, a drizzle of honey — not too much different than what you might make in your own kitchen.

Drum roll….now the rant about unhealthy restaurants…please reconsider eating at these!

You’ll be amazed at how many chemicals can be packed into a seemingly simple food like pizza cheese or a hamburger bun. And unless a vegetable is grown organically, you can bet that it contains toxic pesticides. And did I mention that virtually every menu item at fast-food restaurants contain genetically modified (GM) ingredients like Monsanto’s Roundup Ready soy and Bt corn?

Even if you order a 100-percent beef burger, you’ll be getting meat that comes from cows raised in factory farms, where they’re fed grains (instead of the grass they’re designed to eat). Many of these cows suffer from severe digestive issues and other health problems as a result, and are pumped full of antibiotics and other chemicals, like growth hormones, to make them gain weight faster.

In short, virtually every ingredient at these restaurants is the product of industrial farming, which values profits over human health, animal welfare and the environment. Eggs come from massive poultry farms where each hen spends years in a battery cage that measures smaller at the base than a standard sheet of paper (with not even enough space to outstretch its wings). Dairy products, including milk and cheese, come from dairy cows also raised in intensive confinement and given synthetic growth hormones, which often lead to a painful udder infection known as mastitis (and more drugs to treat it) … but I digress.

The point to remember is that when you buy food from restaurants that support this broken and inhumane industrial agricultural system, you are, indirectly, supporting it. To break free of this system, and also protect your health, choose organic foods as much as possible, as well as those raised on small farms that respect the laws of nature. You’ll want to look for organic, grass-fed beef, free-range soy-free organic eggs, grass-fed hormone-free dairy and organic produce. If you try, you’ll probably be able to find sources for some of these foods closer to your home than you might think by working with a farmer, farmer’s market or food co-op directly.

Toward that end, below I’ve compiled a list of some of the worst chain restaurants for your health. Eat at these at your own peril, and be aware that even simple foods are not what they appear …

5 Unhealthiest Chain Restaurants

 CiCi’s Pizza

A slice of pizza is a reasonable food for a treat, especially if you make your own at home. But at CiCi’s pizza most of the ‘flavor’ is coming from monosodium glutamate (MSG), which is added to at least 10 menu items (including their zesty pizza sauce, ranch dressing, and sausage and beef toppings). (MSG has all kinds of ill health effects… including being one of the top foods that cause anxiety and anger.) Even the cheese in CiCi’s Pizza is shocking, with added ingredients like partially hydrogenated soybean oil (i.e. synthetic trans fats), modified food starch, sodium aluminum phosphate and artificial color (in mozzarella cheese?).[i]


There are worse foods you can eat than frozen yogurt, but I included TCBY (“The Country’s Best Yogurt”) on this list because they give off an air of healthiness that is just plain misleading. Yes, their yogurt contains live active probiotic cultures that are theoretically good for your gut. But if it’s gut health you’re after, you’ll want to avoid the many other not-so-good additives on TCBY’s menu, like corn syrup, cream “flavor” and artificial flavors, artificial colors and artificial sweeteners (in their sugar-free varieties). Perhaps worst of all, most also contain propylene glycol, a solvent used in the paint and plastics industries. By the way, this isn’t unique to TCBY … many of the ‘healthy’ frozen yogurt shops use some questionable ingredients.

 Taco Bell

Again, leave it to a fast-food chain to turn an incredibly simple meal like a bean burrito into something with ingredients you can’t even pronounce. Preservatives like TBHQ, dough conditioners, and numerous ‘hidden’ forms of MSG are par for the course in Taco Bell burritos. Actually, they’re par for the course for virtually all menu items.

The beef at Taco Bell contains 12 percent “other” ingredients like modified corn starch (a cheap texturizing agent), caramel coloring IV (which is far worse than it sounds, as it’s been linked to cancer), and torula yeast (i.e. hidden MSG).[ii] The meat itself comes from factory farms, which are known for animal abuse and poor-quality food, plus are among the worst polluters in the country. If you’re looking for a healthier chain restaurant for Mexican food, try Chipotle.


Fried chicken is well known as a diet offender, but if you must eat it, make it at home, as KFC’s fried chicken makes homemade varieties seem like health food. In an ingredient list for KFC chicken, MSG is listed four times as part of the marinade, secret seasoning, pre-dusting and batter. [iii] Even their mashed potatoes are loaded with partially hydrogenated oil, artificial color and flavor, preservatives, corn syrup solids, and an anti-foaming agent.

And don’t let the grilled chicken fool you; it, too, is made with MSG as well as partially hydrogenated oils (trans fats), and there are reports that it isn’t even grilled at all, just baked in an oven on a grill rack to simulate the lines. As The Health Wyze Report put it:[iv]

“We would not be surprised if KFC eventually just drew these grill lines upon their “grilled” chicken with a permanent marker, in order to cut costs. The petroleum-based ink would be less toxic than their current ingredients lists.”


McDonald’s recently earned the title of the lowest ranked for customer service satisfaction,[v] but that’s only one reason to reconsider eating there. As the epitome of fast food, and everything that it entails, McDonald’s embodies the term fake food. Despite recent attempts to clean up their image, their ingredients remain a shameful conglomeration of corn syrup, artificial flavors, preservatives, propylene glycol, partially hydrogenated oil, dough conditioners and more.

And although the beef patty in their Quarter Pounder is reportedly made from 100% beef, you can be sure it’s beef from a factory farm (and all the hormones and antibiotics that come with it).


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