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9 Chain Restaurants with New Healthy Fast Food Options

The fast food industry, infamously known for greasy hamburgers and fructose-laden milkshakes, has fallen victim (in a great way!) to the rapidly expanding health-conscious movement. In 2011, a survey by the Calorie Control Council found that eight out of 10 people 18 and older are “weight conscious,” so heading to McDonalds for a Big Mac may be a thing of the past for most people. But fast food chains won’t go down without a fight. To attract a declining customer base, they're cleaning up their acts—and their menus. (And remember, you can make healthy choices at any restaurant by sticking to 15 Off-Menu Healthy Meals.)

Panera Bread
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Back in May, the fast-casual brand announced that it would be removing more than 150 artificial preservatives, sweeteners, colors, and flavors from its foods by the end of 2016.

Deemed the “No No List,” this group of ingredients is currently being removed from foods in the store, says Panera's head chef Dan Kish. Look out for Greek and Caesar dressings sans emulsifying agents, along with many other healthy changes. These changes follow the company’s 2005 decision to free their menu of trans fats.

Subway
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The sandwich giant known for its $5 footlongs made headlines last year for taking the “yoga mat chemical,” otherwise known as azodicarbonamide, out of its bread. This month, the chain took its cleansing efforts one step further and announced it would be removing all artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives from its North American stores over the next 18 months.

Subway has already begun to roll out changes. In 2015, the chain began roasting their beef with more garlic and pepper instead of artificial flavors, colors, and preservatives. In 2014, they removed coloring from their 9-Grain Wheat bread and took all high fructose corn syrup out of their sandwiches and salads. The chain has featured a trans fat-free menu since 2008, following in Panera’s footsteps. (Learn more about Mystery Food Additives and Ingredients from A to Z.)

McDonalds
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McDonalds has made a gradual effort to clean up their menu in response to declining sales. Earlier this year, the golden-arched fast food company unveiled a plan to only use chicken raised without human antibiotics, around the same time rumors surfaced that KFC bred a six-winged, eight-legged mutant chicken. (Oh.My.God.) To attract more customers, McDonalds will also be offering milk from cows that are not treated with rbST, an artificial growth hormone.

Taco Bell
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Most people don’t use “healthy” and “Taco Bell” in the same sentence unless they’re being sarcastic. However, Taco Bell has unveiled a plan to provide “food for all” by “providing more choices with simpler ingredient and fewer additives,” according to a press release from its parent company, Yum Brand Inc.

By the end of this year, the Mexican restaurant will eliminate all artificial flavors and colors from the menu. By 2017, the menu will also be free of artificial preservatives and additives “where possible.” Many critics are happy to see that the company will be taking yellow dye number 6—which has been linked to cancer in lab animals—out of their nacho cheese. These changes will follow a 15 percent reduction in sodium in all foods and the removal of other additives including BH/BHT and azodicarbonamide.

Pizza Hut
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Pizza Hut, another Yum Brand Inc. restaurant chain, also announced this year its decision to remove artificial colors and flavors from their American menu this summer. This decision follows mass critique about Pizza Hut’s ingredients, including soybean oil, MSG, and sucralose.

Chipotle
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“When it comes to our food, genetically modified ingredients don’t make the cut.” If you’ve ever walked by a Chipotle, chances are you’ve seen this scrawled across the window, declaring Chiptole’s commitment to non-GMO foods.

While scientists still can’t agree whether GMOs are safe, Chipotle decided to remove GMOs from their food until evidence is conclusive. (Previously, Chipotle used genetically-modified corn and soy in their foods.) And Chipotle is constantly revamping their menu through their “Food With Integrity” program. In a continued effort to clean their food, the chain is also looking into creating a tortilla recipe free of additives.

Dunkin Donuts
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In response to complaints from As You Sow, a non-profit organization that promotes environment and social corporate responsibility, Dunkin Donuts revisited their recipe for the powdered sugar used on its donuts and removed titanium dioxide, an artificial whitener. Although titanium dioxide has not been proven harmful, the ingredient can also be found in sunscreen and some cosmetic products. Hmmm. (Learn more about the chemical by reading up on 7 Crazy Food Additives You Probably Missed on the Nutrition Label.)

Chick-fil-A
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Like McDonalds, Chick-fil-A announced in 2014 a plan to only serve antibiotic-free chicken. Although approximately 20 percent of Chick-fil-A’s supply to date is antibiotic-free, all of their poultry won’t be converted until 2019.

This poultry cleanse follows in the footsteps of the company’s decision in 2013 to remove yellow dye from the chicken soup. The company has also removed high fructose corn syrup from its dressing and sauces, artificial ingredients from its bun, and TBHQ from its peanut oil. Chick-fil-A has been serving trans fat-free food since 2008.

Papa John’s
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Papa John’s is determined to create the best pizza—so determined, in fact, that they’re spending $100 million a year to purge their menu of artificial ingredients and additives, according to Bloomberg.

The pizza chain had already removed trans fats and MSG from its menu, and, now, has created a list of 14 ingredients including corn syrup, artificial colors, and artificial flavors, pledging to banish them from the menu by 2016. Ten of the 14 ingredients on the list will be gone as early as the end of this year, according to the restaurant. The chain also recently launched a site that lists itself as a "leading clean ingredient brand."

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