Is Subway Healthy? A Nutritionist Settles the Debate

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You’ve seen the commercials with Michael Phelps. You’ve seen contestants on The Biggest Loser eating the sandwiches while on their journey to peak health. But the last time you popped in and saw the foot-long rolls, bacon and deli meats, you may have wondered, Is Subway actually healthy? The answer might surprise you.

Thanks to a commitment to quality and transparency, Subway absolutely can be healthy—especially if you’re conscious about how you order and your portion sizes, says nutritionist Lisa Young, Ph.D., author of Finally Full, Finally Slim. Subway lists on the nutrition section of its site that its sandwich ingredients don’t include any caramel coloring or partially hydrogenated oils and that it has partnered with Compassion in World Farming—“a widely recognized global leader in animal welfare”—to source its animal products and with local farmers who care about sustainability instead of pesticide use for its fruit and vegetables.

But this doesn’t mean your diet can’t go off the rails at the sandwich joint. Below, Young is helping us make the right choices the next time we’re craving Subway.

1. What should I skip at subway if I’m trying to eat healthy?

Ingredients to avoid: white bread, pepperoni, salami, roast beef, ham, American cheese, ranch dressing, mayonnaise, barbecue sauce, garlic aioli, bacon, wraps

Luckily, Subway is a chain with tons of options. While the white bread is packed with sodium (that’s the roasted garlic, ciabatta, Italian,Hearty Italian, Italian Herbs and Cheese, Ultimate Cheesy Garlic Bread and wraps), there are a few whole-wheat and whole-grain options that are much healthier substitutes. (Remember, though, that all the breads are high in carbs and you can forego them entirely if you want—we’ll get to that soon.)

Save the sodium and calories of the cured and red meats like pepperoni, salami, ham and bacon, Young suggests. If you want to cut back further, nix American cheese from your order—it contains 200 milligrams of sodium per serving.

Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do to make many of the sandwiches on the menu healthy—RIP, Ultimate Spicy Italian (730 calories, 52 grams of fat, 1,720 milligrams of sodium), Turkey and Bacon Guacamole (800 calories, 30 grams of fat, 2,070 milligrams of sodium) and Ultimate Meatball Marinara (730 calories, 52 grams of fat, 1,530 milligrams of sodium). Oh, and just to be clear, we’re talking about six-inch subs, meaning these calorie-bomb totals are at least doubled for foot-longs. Whoa.

There are some sugary and calorie-packed sauces and dressings to avoid at Subway too. Skip the ranch, mayo and sweet onion sauce (it packs in a surprising 7 grams of sugar per serving).

Wraps that are cleverly named “tomato basil” or “spinach” might trick you into thinking they’re healthy, but when you take a closer look, some of them are actually worse than the sandwiches, regardless of which vegetable-adjacent wrap you choose to swap in. The Chicken and Bacon Ranch Melt (the name of this guy doesn’t help its case) with the tomato basil wrap, for example? It contains a completely absurd 1,590 calories, 78 grams of fat (30 of which are saturated) and 3,930 milligrams of sodium. To put this into context, the American Heart Association recommends the average adult stay under 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day, with the ideal target falling around 1,500 milligrams.

2. What should I get if I’m trying to eat healthy at subway?

Ingredients to order: salads (well, some of them), chicken, turkey, vegetables, multi- and whole-grain breads, artisan breads, red wine vinegar, Subway vinaigrette, honey mustard, chipotle Southwest sauce, guacamole, Swiss cheese

Sure, all of the breads are going to be carb-y, but some, like the 9-Grain Honey Oat (190 calories), 9-Grain Wheat (180 calories) and Artisan Flatbread (220 calories), and their adorable miniature versions, have 330 milligrams of sodium or less per loaf. Aside from the minis, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a six-inch roll with less than 34 grams of carbs—and don’t even get us started on the foot-longs. But if you’re ordering a sandwich and making all the smart choices but you can’t just not have cheese, we hear you. Choose Swiss—the least salty option on the menu.

To avoid the carbs of a sandwich (at least for the most part), skip down the menu to the salad section. The salads at Subway (yes, even the tuna with its mayo) are going to be your healthiest bet, Young says. But beware, a lot of the same rules for the sandwiches apply to the salads. The Spicy Italian Salad is loaded with meat and contains 23 grams of fat and 1,000 milligrams of sodium. The Southwest Chipotle Chicken Club has a whopping 860 calories (this is a salad), 56 grams of fat and 1,750 milligrams of sodium. The Steak Club Salad has 26 grams of fat and 1,970 milligrams of sodium (the meal highest in sodium on the whole menu besides some of the wraps and the Turkey and Bacon Guacamole Sandwich). Instead, opt for the 130-calorie Oven Roasted Chicken Salad, the 310-calorie tuna salad, 60-calorie Veggie Delight or the 110-calorie turkey breast salad. Choose a lighter dressing, too, like the 35-calorie Subway Vinaigrette.

Guac contains extra fat, but the fat from avocados is healthy, essential fat, so go ahead and order it if you’d like, Young adds. There’s an entire list of veggies to add to your sandwich or salad at Subway too, like banana peppers, black olives, pickles, bell peppers, tomatoes, red onions and cucumbers. Load up on the veggie menu and you won’t miss the salt-, fat- and calorie-heavy meat and bread you so wisely passed on.

3. When in doubt, order from Subway’s healthier menu

Subway tried to help us out by creating a Fresh Fit menu full of sandwiches it says are its healthiest options. This is pretty much true, but there’s no reason to have a white roll when you can sub it for a nine-grain, ham when you can have chicken, or roast beef when you can go veggie. Eat fresh out there, friends.

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From 2019-2020 Ariel Scotti held the role of Editor at PureWow covering trends, wellness and more.