In general, fast food is not healthy precisely because it’s fast. Fast means food can be prepackaged (meaning lots of preservatives and probably lots of chemicals,) and can therefore be ordered in bulk and stored for a long time. Obviously the burger-and-french-fries joints are poor choices, but are there any that are good for you?

🙁 Subway: Despite their slogan, “Eat Fresh,” their food is anything but.  Even on their “6 grams of fat or less” menu, most of their ingredients contain:

  • Refined bleached flour. This is bad for you for two reasons: first, all of the nutrients and fiber in the grain have been stripped away, leaving only the gluten and the carbohydrates. Second, refined carbohydrates act turn into glucose as soon as they hit your saliva, so eating these is just like eating sugar. 
  • Refined sugar. This is bad for the same reason (read this).
  • Artificial colors. Just as a breakdown on artificial colors in general and why they’re problematic, blue #2 is found in soda and has been associated with brain cancer.  Green #3, found in lime drinks and popsicles, has been associated with thyroid cancer.  Yellow #6, in soda and candy, has been associated with kidney cancer.  Yellow #5 (also called tartrazine) is associated with allergies and ADD, and sensitivity is very common.  It is found in orange drinks, cake mixes and icings, seasoning salt, macaroni and cheese, gelatin desserts, and Italian dressings.
  • MSG (Monosodium glutamate). This is added to increase the salty flavor of protein.  It is a common cause of allergic reactions including chest tightness, diarrhea, headaches, and flushing.  For those who are not allergic it’s not really a problem, other than the fact that foods with additives are probably not the healthiest options.
  • GMOs. The jury’s out on the potential health hazards of genetically modified organisms, but I think it’s a good idea to avoid them whenever possible. Here’s why.
  • Nitrates: these preservatives are specific to processed meat products, and are linked with stomach cancer, colon cancer, and pancreatic cancer. Read here for more info.
  • Chemicals we don’t recognize. For instance, the ostensibly healthy 9 grain wheat bread from Subway contains 50 ingredients. As a rule of thumb, if the list is longer than 10 (and/or if you don’t recognize all of them), forget it.
  • Preservatives: common in processed foods to increase shelf life, these have been associated with allergic reactions and are stored in body fat (which means it’s hard to get rid of them).  They include:
    • BHA (Butylated hydroxyanisole) and BHT (Butylated hydroxytoluene).  These are found in prepared and packaged foods.
    • Sulfites: these are sprayed on fruit, veggies, and shrimp, and are associated with asthma.

🙁 Panera: Unfortunately, Panera is only somewhat healthier than Subway. Ingredients are all listed on their website for all of their menu options. Here’s a sampling of those listed:

  • GMOs.
  • Nitrates.
  • Enriched wheat flour—even in so-called whole grain breads. (There is a difference between bread that contains whole grain and bread that is 100% whole grain.)
  • MSG (Monosodium glutamate).

🙂 Chipotle: Chipotle uses hormone and antibiotic free meat and dairy, avoids MSG, avoids artificial colors, and does not use microwaves to reheat food. These facts make it a better choice than most fast food options. They do, however, incorporate the following:

  • GMO oil. Again, here’s why this is concerning. If you want to avoid GMOs at Chipotle, choose the pork carnitas, although they still cook the rest of their ingredients with it.
  • Refined bleached flour in the tortillas. If you want to avoid this, skip the tortilla and opt for a brown rice bowl instead.

🙂 Beyond Bread: I am impressed by the ingredient lists in the breads at Beyond Bread; I recognize every one of them, and they include no refined flours or sugars. I was unable to locate ingredient lists for their other offerings, but if their bread is any indication, this is probably one of the better choices.

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