Nutrition Action — November 2010
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Sandwich, Soup, & Salad Smarts
Jayne Hurley

<B>A GUIDE TO QUICK - CAFÉ MENUS</B><br /> <br /> Twenty years ago, a quick lunch meant a burger and fries or pizza or fried chicken or your own peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich. Today, just about every street corner has a café-style restaurant that offers what the industry calls “fast casual” food.<br /> <br /> There you’ll find a mix of soups, salads, and sandwiches (along with sweets, breads, and other bakery items) that have never seen the inside of a deep-fat fryer. But watch out: on many menus you’ll also find a minefield of white flour, saturated fat, and salt. (In fact, sodium was so hard to dodge that we gave up on trying to award any Best Bites.)<br /> <br /> Here’s how to sidestep the worst offenders at three “fast casuals”: Panera, Au Bon Pain, and Corner Bakery. Many of our tips will work at other restaurants, too.<br /> <br /> <b>Panera Bread</b>, a comfy café with free Wi-Fi, has 1,388 locations nationwide. Like most chains, its menu has winners and losers, but here’s one difference: <br /> <br /> Panera puts calories right on the menu board. Bravo! What’s more, the company’s online “Nutrition Calculator” tells you the calories, sodium, saturated fat, protein, and other nutrients in each item in your sandwich or salad, so you can see what happens if you, say, leave out the croutons or get the Whole Grain instead of the Tomato Basil bread.<br /> <br /> As at any “fast-casual” restaurant, most dishes on Panera’s menu need some work, especially in the salt department. That’s true whether you get a full sandwich, a soup, a salad, or a “You Pick Two,” which means any two of the following: a half-salad, a half-sandwich, or an 8 oz. Cup of soup.<br /> <br /> <b>Soups.</b> Panera’s low-fat soups (like Black Bean and Chicken Noodle) have a reasonable 100 to 200 calories per 12 oz. Bowl. Others (like Broccoli Cheddar and Baked Potato) hover around 300 calories, thanks to the cheese and cream, which also donate about half a day’s saturated fat to your arteries.<br /> <br /> (Note: The 12 oz. Bowl is larger than the 8 oz. Cup you get with a “You Pick Two” meal. Our chart lists only full-size soups, sandwiches, and salads.)<br /> <br /> What’s more, most of Panera’s soups range from high to really high in sodium (1,000 to 2,000 milligrams per bowl). And many people order their soup with a 200-calorie baguette (400 mg of sodium) or a 590-calorie breadbowl (1,210 mg of sodium). If you’re stuck on soup, at least stick to the “You Pick Two” (8 oz.) Cup.<br /> <br /> <b>Sandwiches.</b> A few sandwiches—like the Smoked Turkey Breast, Mediterranean Veggie, Tuna Salad, and Napa Almond Chicken Salad—are fairly low in saturated fat. But, like any Panera sandwich, they still will run you about 600 to 1,000 calories and 1,200 To 3,000 mg (one- to two-days’ worth) of sodium. The bread accounts for about half the calories and at least a third of the sodium. Sandwiches with ham or smoked turkey are likely to have more than 2,000 mg of sodium.<br /> <br /> Solution: get a salad. Second best: try a “You Pick Two” with half a salad (see below) and half a sandwich. For your half sandwich, try the Napa Almond Chicken Salad, Mediterranean Veggie, or Tuna Salad on a delicious fresh-baked (partly) Whole Grain Loaf bread. That will keep the half-sandwich’s sodium at a not-off-the-charts 700 mg or less. (Don’t even think about half a cheese-laden hot Panini.)<br /> <br /> <b>Salads.</b> Salads replace the sodium and calories in a sandwich’s white bread with vegetables that fill you up but not out.<br /> <br /> You can’t beat the Classic salad, a mix of field greens and Romaine lettuce with tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions. It’s a perfect “You Pick Two” partner, with just 80 calories and 140 mg of sodium per half-salad. And most of the sodium comes from the 1½ tablespoons of balsamic vinaigrette, so you might be able to get by with less.<br /> <br /> If all you want for lunch is a salad, a full-size Classic (with just 2 grams of protein and 170 calories) probably isn’t enough, even with a hunk of (partly) whole grain baguette. Instead, try customizing a salad like the Fuji Apple Chicken. It’s a mix of field greens and Romaine with pecans, Gorgonzola, chicken, tomatoes, onions, and apple chips with a white balsamic vinaigrette.<br /> <br /> You can cut about a quarter of its 830 mg of sodium by holding either the Gorgonzola or the chicken and another 70 mg by switching from white to regular balsamic vinaigrette. That trims the sodium down to the mid-500s.<br /> <br /> And you can bring the sodium in a fullsize Grilled Chicken Caesar from 820 mg to 500 mg by cutting the croutons.<br /> <br /> Panera’s full salads typically stay around 500 calories or less with dressing. As with any dressing on any salad, order it on the side and try using half or less.<br /> <br /> Keep in mind that these numbers apply to full-size soups, sandwiches, and salads, not the smaller “You Pick Two” sizes. Within each section, foods are ranked from least to most calories, then saturated fat, then sodium.<br /> <br /> <b>Au Bon Pain</b><br /> <br /> With 234 outlets nationwide, Au Bon Pain seems to specialize in quick lunches in downtown areas, airports, and other places with crowds of people in a hurry. Locations in some cities are required to post calories on their menu boards, and most outlets have a kiosk where you can look up Nutrition Facts.<br /> <br /> <b>Soups.</b> You’ve got to give Au Bon Pain credit. The chain has three soups—Southwest Vegetable, Tomato Basil Bisque, and Mediterranean Pepper—with roughly 400 to 600 milligrams of sodium in a medium (12 oz.) Serving.<br /> <br /> The only catch (other than the 5 grams of saturated fat in the bisque): the chain rotates its soups, so the menu may not have the lower- sodium soup you want when you want it.<br /> <br /> <b>Sandwiches.</b> Like Panera, Au Bon Pain offers several sandwiches—like the Chicken Salad, Chipotle Chicken, and Spicy Tuna—that put a lid on saturated fat. So do wraps like Thai Peanut Chicken and Mayan Chicken. That’s because they’re the only sandwiches or wraps with no cheese. Since when does Every sandwich—from turkey and chicken to roast beef and steak—need cheese?<br /> <br /> But even if you minimize the sat fat, your arteries and waist will have to handle 1,000 to 2,000 mg of sodium and 500 to 800 calories. And that includes the healthy-sounding Mediterranean and Southwest Tuna Wraps, which come in white-flour lavash wrappers.<br /> <br /> You’re better off with a 560-calorie Au Bon Pain spicy Black Bean Burger than a 540-calorie Big Mac from the Golden Arches, which has double the sat fat. But Au Bon Pain’s 560-calorie Roast Beef with Brie is essentially a Big Mac with an extra 350 mg of sodium.<br /> <br /> Our advice: If a salad won’t do, order a sandwich with little or no cheese on (whole wheat) multigrain bread. Better yet, get half a sandwich (or save half of your whole sandwich for tomorrow). You can dodge the saltiest sandwiches by skipping ham, pastrami, bacon, or other processed meats. But the only way to really take down the sodium is to eat less sandwich.<br /> <br /> Our chart shows numbers for medium-sized soups and whole sandwiches, though half-sandwiches are also available. Within each section, foods are ranked from least to most calories, then saturated fat, then sodium.<br /> <br /> <b>Salads.</b> Salads beat sandwiches because they’re built around a bowl of greens instead of 300+ calories’ worth of bread. But you’ll end up with 500 to 600 calories if you pour a full packet of dressing on a Grilled Chicken Caesar Asiago or Turkey Cobb Salad. And dressing plus salted chicken or turkey, cheese, croutons, and bacon can catapult the sodium in any salad into the 1,000 to 1,500 mg range.<br /> <br /> Solution: use just half the dressing. You’ll still get about two tablespoons’ worth. But you’ll knock the Thai Peanut Chicken and the Mandarin Sesame Chicken Salad down from over 1,000 mg of sodium to the 700s. And half the dressing trims the Tuna Garden or Caesar Asiago Salad from around 850 mg to around 700 mg. You might even be able to get away with less than half the dressing.<br /> <br /> <b>Au Bon Portions.</b> For people who want a mini-lunch or a smart snack, Au Bon Pain offers seven different (modest-sized) “Au Bon Portions” in the Grab n Go refrigerator case.<br /> <br /> The Apples, Blue Cheese, & Cranberries, for example, has just 200 calories and 270 milligrams of sodium. Not too shabby. Cheese with fruit and (white-fl our) crackers is less interesting (and uses up more than a quarter of your day’s saturated fat limit). And the lick-your-lips Mozzarella & Tomato (with pesto) has just 240 mg of sodium and 180 calories, but delivers 7 grams of sat fat (a third of a day’s worth) in just half a cup of food.<br /> <br /> <b>At Corner Bakery Cafe,</b> which has 119 locations, you can grab a quick bite to go or sit down and be served. While the chain posts calories on its menu boards only where required to by local law, you can find full Nutrition Facts on the company’s Web site.<br /> <br /> <b>Soups.</b> The Three Lentil Vegetable has less sodium than most of Corner Bakery’s other soups, but 930 milligrams in a (10 oz.) Cup is still too high. It’s a shame because the soup is rich in plant protein, fiber, and flavor and low in calories and saturated fat.<br /> <br /> Blubber alert: The Loaded Baked Potato and Cheddar Broccoli soups will send their more than three-quarters of a day’s sat fat directly to your arteries and their 400 calories right to your waistline. Get either soup in a 15 oz. Bowl and the sat fat jumps to more than a day’s worth.<br /> <br /> <b>Sandwiches.</b> You won’t find a sandwich on the menu with less than 1,000 mg of sodium. Several top 2,500 mg. (And that’s not counting the 300 mg in the pickle spear.)<br /> <br /> But at least most of the Mom’s (cheeseless) Sandwiches keep the calories at around 500. And two of them—the Roasted Chicken and Smoked Turkey—minimize the sat fat (and come on partly whole grain Harvest Bread).<br /> <br /> In contrast, most Grilled Panini (and several Signature Sandwiches) hit 700 to 800 calories and 10 to 15 grams of sat fat. Hello? That’s like eating two Quarter Pounders without cheese.<br /> <br /> You can cut the salt—and boost the vegetables— with a Corner Sandwich Combo, which pairs half a sandwich or panini with a Mixed Greens salad (or with a guaranteed salty cup of soup or Caesar Salad). A Combo of half a Mom’s Roasted Chicken sandwich and Mixed Greens, for example, has just 330 calories—a bargain, even though the sodium (730 mg) is still half a day’s worth.<br /> <br /> <b>Salads.</b> With their 4 to 6 tablespoons of dressing, most Entree salads have roughly 700 to 900 calories, not counting the 110-calorie Focaccia roll that’s on the side. Only the Asian Wonton and The Greek salads keep the calories closer to 500. But The Greek is drenched in sodium (over 2,000 mg) even without dressing. With any salad, you can curb the salt and calories by curbing the dressing.<br /> <br /> Other options: get a smaller Cafe salad, which shaves all the numbers in our chart by about half. Or try The Trio salad, which lets you choose three mini-salads plus a 30-calorie field greens garnish (and a 110-calorie Focaccia roll). If you pick, say, the Asian Edamame Salad or the D.C. Chicken Salad plus two Seasonal Fruit Medleys (to keep the sodium down), you can get away with around 300 to 400 calories and 600 to 700 mg of sodium (without the roll). Now you’re talkin’.