Propylene glycol, an active ingredient in many products including car wash soap, is one of the many ingredients you ingest when you eat a Fuji Apple Chicken salad at Panera Bread.

The phrase, don’t judge a book by its cover, has never been truer than it is in the 21st century restaurant food industry. Industrialized food is responsible for 90% of the food American’s eat, according to So, before you take one more bite of that steaming pile of food at your favorite restaurant, think about this.

Top Offenders

restaurant eatingEating out is a luxury: you’re often with friends and maybe having a drink or two. Better yet, you don’t have to cook dinner for yourself. Unfortunately, indulging in a meal out may set you back more than just a few bucks.

“… Food scientists and industrial food based restaurant chains have tantalized us with addictive, salty, sugary, high calorie, nutrient poor foods that negatively affect our health,” according to Dr. Mark Hyman of The Blood Sugar Solution.

The average restaurant entrée contains most of the calories, fat and salt you need for an entire day! This not only adds to the obesity epidemic, but also increases diners’ risk for heart disease, among many other health problems.

The problem begins with what restaurants put in these foods to make them addicting and delicious. Some of these top offenders include:

BHT (Butylated Hydroxytoluene)

Often used to prevent oxidation, this dangerous, toxic ingredient is used in rubber petroleum products and jet fuels. Not to mention, the National Toxicology Program says this toxin can be “reasonably anticipated as a human carcinogen.” Common foods with BHT, and its often close-by partner BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole), include bread and cereals.

Propylene glycol alginate

This toxin is used as an emulsifier and thickener for a variety of foods. However, it’s also found in herbicides, fungicides and paint remover. While a small amount of testing has kept this toxin on the Generally Recognized as Safe list (GRAS), something that’s used in herbicides should not be put in your body. Common foods with this toxin include dressings, condiments, and yogurt.

MSG (Monosodium Glutamate)

This well-known offender has been taking on more and more names, making it difficult to determine what’s what. Other common names for this preservative include textured soy protein and disodium guanylate, all of which have been linked to skin rashes, nausea and heart irregularities. This ingredient is commonly found in veggie burgers, ice cream, chips, seasonings and even ketchup.

Sodium Nitrate/Nitrates

Known to increase the risk of rectal, gastric and esophageal cancers, this preservative is also linked to Parkinson’s Disease and Alzheimer’s Disease. It’s found in many of the foods you and your children may eat on a weekly, if not daily, basis. The most common offenders include deli ham, smoked fish, bacon and hot dogs.

restaurant offenders 2Unfortunately, those aren’t the only toxic restaurant additives out there. However, instead of memorizing a list of the foods and ingredients to avoid, consider what you should eat. And no, this doesn’t mean you have to stop going out to eat.

Think Before You Order

The best way to avoid the dangers of these restaurant foods is to take a step back and look at what you want to order. While eating out is a treat, and it should be, consider how you can indulge while minimizing the amount of harmful toxins you put into your body.

Look at the Whole Picture

“Any salad is healthy,” is the wrong way to think. Before you order a “guilt-free” salad, sandwich or stir-fry, look at the toppings and the dressing, which is where you’re most likely to find these preservatives and toxin. When looking at the menu, remember:

  • Toppings to avoid include:
    • Dried fruit
    • Fried noodles
    • Croutons
    • Bacon
    • Cold cuts
    • Cheese
    • Glazed nuts
    • Tortilla chips
    • Fried meat
    • Any pre-made dressing (Ask if it’s made in-house, which often is healthier than bottled.)
  • Toppings to welcome include:
    • Hardboiled eggs
    • Any raw or house-roasted veggies
    • Whole, grilled meat, as opposed to cold cuts
    • Bans
    • Avocado
    • Raw nuts
    • Olives
    • Oil and vinegar
    • Raw fruit

Check Online

Restaurants like Panera Bread offer their ingredient information online. Before ordering, take a look at what meals restaurant offers and make your decision to eat what is best for you based on the ingredients listed.  If you can’t pronounce it, or don’t know what it is, then move on to the next menu item.

Don’t be Afraid to Ask

Most people are afraid to ruffle someone’s feathers by asking about the meal they’re ordering. Don’t be afraid to ask:

  • What’s in this?
  • Can I have the sauce/dressing on the side?
  • Is this made in-house?
  • Are these vegetables organic?
  • Is the bread made locally?

Don’t be afraid to investigate your food because when you don’t, you risk ingesting toxic ingredients that can be harmful to your health. Most importantly, don’t miss a night out with your friends or family simply to avoid BHT or MSG; instead, be the detective. Don’t trust that every salad is healthy, for example, and examine your choices to determine the healthiest option for you.