The Alarming Truth about Your 'Fresh and Healthy' Pret A Manger Lunch

Daily Mail (London), April 11, 2011 | Go to article overview

The Alarming Truth about Your 'Fresh and Healthy' Pret A Manger Lunch


Byline: by Anne Shooter

WALK into any of the 200 or so branches of Pret A Manger across the country and you're bombarded with messages about the chain's commitment to providing fresh, natural food.

'Pioneering natural foods since 1986,' screams one sign on the sandwich shelves.

'Just made in this shop's kitchen, never from a factory,' says another.

The Pret hot wraps are 'fresh from the oven, naturally', while the crisps, popcorn and cakes are '100 per cent natural'.

It's a great sell to the metropolitan, middleclass, professional crowd that cram into Pret each day for the irrefutably delicious sandwiches, salads and snacks that have helped the chain's profits soar by 37 per cent this year to a massive [pounds sterling]46million.

This is because we care about how our food is made, where it comes from and what's in it, don't we? And Pret has got it just right -- hasn't it? On the Pret website it talks of kitchens in every shop where the food is freshly made daily using preservative-free, natural ingredients and avoiding 'obscure chemicals'.

Pret might not actually use the word 'healthy' in any of its marketing material -- it's all worded very, very carefully -- but for most people, words such as 'fresh', 'natural' and 'preservative-free' go handin-hand with healthy eating.

So you'd be forgiven, perhaps, for thinking two things. First, that the food is made from quality, constituent ingredients on site, rather than from pre-prepared fillings in tubs or soups in cartons, for instance. And, secondly, that the food is all healthy and you can eat it guilt-free.

Sadly, you'd be wrong on both counts. Last month the Mail revealed that Pret's tomato soup contains, in one small pot, 4.5g of salt. That's the same as the amount in nine packets of crisps. And when you consider that the recommended daily allowance for salt is 6g a day, you can see that 4.5g is a frighteningly high figure.

Although there are many healthy options on the menu, the soup is not the only Pret product with worrying credentials on the healthy-eating front.

Take the Posh Cheddar & Pickle Baguette. It contains almost 800 calories and 15.6g of saturated fat -- that's about the same as a Pizza Express American Pizza (the individual-sized one from a supermarket) and not dissimilar to a Big Mac and medium fries.

Then there's the Hoisin Duck Wrap, which contains the equivalent of three teaspoons of sugar -- making it higher in sugar than one of Pret's own milk chocolate bars. And take a look at the Ham, Cheese & Mustard Toastie. It has 696 calories and 18g of saturated fat -- almost the full 20g amount a woman is advised to eat in a day --and 4.25g of salt. Eek!

There seems to be mayonnaise in almost every single sandwich, even the Hoisin Duck Wrap (er, why?), the Posh Cheddar & Pickle Baguette, and the Wiltshire-cured Ham & Pickle sandwich. Is that dollop of extra fat and calories really necessary? As nutritionist Angela Dowden says: 'Freshly-made and with no additives is to be applauded, and Pret is undoubtedly good at that. But "fresh" and "natural" isn't synonymous with "good for you".

'When you're eating something that has as many calories and as much saturated fat as a burger and chips, the fact that it may have a few more vitamins doesn't make it any less fattening and arteryclogging than the fast food.' Pret's spokesman told us: 'While Pret is, of course, compliant with current Food Standards Agency guidelines, we are aware of public concern about salt.

'We continue to explore with our chefs how we can reduce salt levels without sacrificing taste. Pret is one of the few High Street retailers that gives customers calorie and fat information on the shelves and through its website so they can make an informed choice.' It hardly sounds like the chain is desperate to change things.

Meanwhile, its response to public criticism on its website seems arrogant at the very least, and perhaps closer, even, to irresponsible. …

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