In the fast food breakfast space, having a made-to-order egg is actually a novelty, but does having a fresh egg on your breakfast sandwich actually make it healthier?

Photo: Panera

As a dietitian, I get a lot of questions about which new food products and trends to try, and which to skip. Lately, my clients have been super-curious about Panera's new Over Easy Egg sandwich. You've probably seen the commercials touting the "real" fresh-cracked egg that's made to order for every customer. And while a breakfast sandwich is no one's idea of a new food trend, this concept of fresh eggs versus a microwaved egg "patty" is getting a lot of attention.

In fact, Panera is actually petitioning the FDA to more clearly define what counts as an "egg." Yep, apparently, the chain is taking the gripe with competitors' processed egg sammies to the feds. If you're, like, "wait-I thought an egg was egg," you're not alone. The truth, though, is that when it comes to fast food, most "eggs" can actually have as many as five ingredients (such as butter flavorings, texturizing agents, and other additives). This move is the brand's most recent step in emphasizing clean, fresh food and in supporting transparency.

So, I tried Panera's new sandwich myself, and I have some thoughts.

The café has been offering hard-fried eggs made in a circular grill-top form for a while. They say they spent more than a year perfecting the technique to crack (pasteurized) eggs onto the flattop and serve them over easy with a satisfyingly runny yolks. As a sucker for #yolkporn and a real-food enthusiast, I'm into it. That said, there are some other factors to consider.

First, the good things.

Bring on the accessible, fresh, real food. I definitely think using whole foods and nothing else is a step in the right direction, and I hope more fast-food companies start doing the same. As a registered dietitian, my response to simple ingredients is a combination of "yes!" and "what took so long?" People with food sensitivities and allergies, for example, won't have to worry about potential issues with a food that should be straightforward, which is great. And, in general, I strongly support the push for improved transparency about what you're eating.

I also appreciate that the Over Easy Egg sandwich is customizable-you can simply do an egg and cheese on a brioche bun (or add bacon or sausage if that's your thing). When I tried the sandwich, I was able to add spinach and sliced avocado. You can also swap out the bread for the other varieties Panera offers.

Now, the not-so-healthy #realtalk.

The health halo effect is out in full force here. A bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich that uses a freshly cracked egg is still a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich on a big brioche bun. Panera's breakfast sandwich, which features applewood-smoked bacon, an over-easy egg, Vermont white cheddar, and salt and pepper on brioche, comes in at 460 calories, 25g of fat, 790mg of sodium, 24g of protein, and only 1g of fiber. I'd usually encourage my clients to choose a slightly lower-calorie breakfast (around 300 to 400 calories depending on your dietary needs) that's higher in fiber, which will help to keep you full and energized throughout the morning. Ideally, you'd also have processed meats like bacon and sausage as an occasional indulgence because of the high sodium content, which can cause bloating in the short term and hypertension if in the long term if you make these kinds of foods a habit.

And here are some healthy ways to enjoy a breakfast sandwich.

I know that "in moderation" is basically the least sexy phrase, but it's a cliché for a reason. If your food mentality tends to be "go big or go home," choose big breakfast sandwiches like this as a weekend indulgence instead of as a daily meal. Want to enjoy that runny yolk more regularly? Swap out the large brioche roll, a refined-grain option that will make your stomach growl before lunch, for a more sensible and satisfying whole-grain bread. And choose bacon or cheese instead of both, which will cut back on the total fat and sodium. While you're at it, add some spinach and avocado to up the fiber, flavor, and nutrients. A general formula you can follow when crafting a healthy breakfast sandwich: whole-grain bread + egg + veggies + one "extra" (cheese, bacon, sausage, sauce, avocado).