Subway’s Dubious Nutrition Claims

Think of a healthy fast food chain. Which one comes to mind?

If you chose Subway, you’re not alone. According to a recent survey by market research firm Decision Analyst, Subway is the fast food franchise consumers trust the most for nutrition information.

Subway is the leader in consumer trust with almost one-quarter (24.2%) of consumers saying they “completely trust” its nutritional claims…42% of Subway customers choose this restaurant because it “has a good selection of healthy items,” compared with only 3% of Taco Bell consumers who select this restaurant for its healthy menu.

“Subway owns the nutritional claim relative to its competition, as there is a significant gap between Subway and these other popular fast food/quick-service restaurants.” read more…

Sorry to rain on this parade folks. Subway has taken pains to portray itself as a healthy fast food, and if you look at the nutrition information on their menus and website, it is quite impressive.

Until you read the fine print.

What you need to know:

At the bottom of the nutrition facts webpage – requires lots of scrolling – you’ll see the following “disclaimers” in small print:

Subs with 6 grams of fat or less include 9-Grain Wheat bread, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and green peppers. All other sandwich values include cheese unless otherwise noted.Salads contain meat/poultry, standard vegetables and do not include salad-dressing or croutons.Addition of other condiments and fixings will alter nutrition values.

Any restaurant that presents their nutrition data this way will look better than those that don’t. But who has a sub without a schmear of mayo or other condiment? Or a salad without any dressing? You actually need a bit of oil, not just to make the salad go down easier, but to increase absorption of some of the vitamins and minerals in the veggies.

There are eight “6 grams of fat or less” sandwich options, and you can’t have a slice of cheese with them, nor condiment. Yes, they are under 300 calories (for a six inch sub), but who eats such an unflavored option.

And even if you swallowed down the sub without adding cheese or a spread, the sodium levels are atrocious! four of the eight choices mentioned above provide over 1000 milligrams of sodium. That’s almost half a day’s worth for healthy adults.

In California, the nutrition info provided by restaurants must be for all menu items AS SERVED, not a stripped down version of just the healthiest options. So how does Subway get away with it? Who knows…

In conclusion:

At best, Subway is the least un-healthy option out there.

But let’s not let their marketing hype confuse us to into thinking that a Subway sandwich is a healthy meal choice.

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  • Bill

    I fail to see your gripe with this. Lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and green peppers probably account for a large part of their sales. If you don’t know that adding cheese or anything else will change the nutritional info you’re a fucking retard or just like to complain. There’s quite literally millions of combinations you can get and I don’t think it should be within your expectation that they provide all that info.

  • http://industry.bnet.com/food/?tag=banner;rotocop Melanie Warner

    Subway has done a great job at marketing, getting people to think of them as a healthier choice, which may be true when compared with other options. But it’s hard to think of their sandwiches as “fresh” as all of their marketing claims when you look at their list of artificial and highly processed ingredients.
    Melanie Warner, BNET Food Blogger
    http://industry.bnet.com/food/10001251/at-subway-customers-may-not-be-eating-fresh/?tag=content;col1

  • Heidi

    I always read the fine print. I still won’t stop going to subway though. I do not really consider them any better than a a neighborhood sub shop.. Usually the same items, well, except i would say they measure more then then neighborhood shops. Still, better than going to Burger King.

  • Ian

    The very basis of Subway’s entire marketing claim is still rooted in the 70s-era fat phobia.

    Sure, there’s less than 6 grams of fat, but you’re still eating a non-trivial chunk of white bread made with heavily processed white flour, garnished with a smattering of vegetables of dubious quality (when was the last time you saw a RED tomato at subway?) and a token slice of over-processed deli “meat” that’s packed with sodium.

    And when you add the “cheese” to the sandwich, you’re adding some calories, but it’s still process cheese “food” (by definition, contains less than 50% actual cheese).

    And then you wash it down with a bottomless soft drink.

    For years, I’ve been highly skeptical of subway’s nutrition claims. It’s just as easy to blow 1000 calories at Subway as it is to stay under 300 calories at McD.

  • Rebecca

    I’m one of those people who doesn’t like condiments! Or sauces for that matter. I prefer tasting the bite of the onions and the tang of the tomatoes. Anemic tomatoes though they are. But I am well aware I’m in a minority :)

  • Daniel

    Subway has nutrition information plastered everywhere, yet McDonald’s patrons have a better idea of how many calories they are consuming.
    Interesting video from the Cornell Food and Brand Lab on Subway vs McDonald’s and the “health halo” effect.
    http://www.youtube.com/user/lamntran9#p/u/2/3FgLlfNvNp8

  • http://www.betterschoolfood.org Dr. Susan Rubin

    I spent a good long time on the Subway website and couldn’t find the INGREDIENTS. I personally don’t give a hoot about “nutrition information” any big food corporation knows how to play with fat grams and calorie counts. Its the ingredients that matter.

    Take a peek at Burger King’s ingredients: http://bit.ly/7WFjcr
    It tells a much bigger story than their calorie counts.
    I wouldn’t be surprised if Subway had similar chemicals in their cuisine.

  • http://bakememore.com Laurel

    @Dr. Susan Rubin
    OMG, I just read the ingredient lists from BK. I am quite relieved that I don’t eat that food. Did you notice that the grilled chicken has more ingredients than the fried? What’s up with that???

  • Bill

    Isn’t mustard a condiment with almost no calories? That’s what I have on mine and I skip the cheese. I don’t eat at Subway very often, but it is pretty easy to eat healthfully there if you want. Turkey on whole grain w/ mustard and lots of veggies.

  • http://www.fooducate.com/blog Editorial Staff

    @Dr. Susan Rubin
    Good point about ingredients.
    A company that fails to present its ingredient list while embellishing nutrition and health virtues of its products would appear to have something to hide.

  • http://www.fooducate.com/blog Editorial Staff

    @Bill
    Mustard is the best of the triumvirate (Ketchup, Mayonnaise, Mustard) from a caloric standpoint. Mayo is oil+eggs, Ketchup is tomatoes+sugar.
    Happy you can find something tasty and healthy.

  • http://industry.bnet.com/food/?tag=banner;rotocop Melanie Warner

    @Dr. Susan Rubin
    Subway’s ingredients list is certainly hard to find, but it’s there. Take a look.
    http://subway.com/subwayroot/MenuNutrition/Nutrition/frmUSIngredients.aspx

  • Will

    Very mature reply bill. @Bill

  • Kristen

    I don’t eat at subway often, but it’s probably the best food court option in my office building. I usually get a whole wheat roast beef sub with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and pickles. I think pickles make it more tasty and less dry and I don’t miss cheese or mayo one bit. Subway is definitely not health food but all things considered it’s not bad for the days when I don’t have time to pack lunch.

  • cherry

    @Bill I agree. What is wrong with not having cheese and skipping the mayo? I always get wheat with turkey, all the veggies, and vinegar with no oil….the veggies provide enough flavor….who needs mayo? I don’t think the author is making a valid point here. It seems they have some vendetta against subway for some reason. Probably should have done more research.

  • http://www.livingitupcornfree.com kc

    None of the comments take into account the high levels of processing that go into any sandwich meat or pseudo cheese. Almost every ingredient in Subway is full of GMO corn. The 9 grain bread contains 19 sources of GMOs just in a quick scan. The OVEN ROASTED CHICKEN STRIPS contain 9 sources of GMOs and even the yellow mustard has 3. There is lactic acid in every sandwich meat (GMO corn) (they don’t list the ingredients but look on any deli meat package in the store) and you wouldn’t recognize any of the ingredients in their “chicken”. At least at a fast food burger joint, you expect toxic food-like substances. Subway’s “fresh” deli meats are probably older than your dog (and thanks to modern GMO corn preservatives, will probably last as long). The tomatoes are gassed with ethylene (GMO corn), the vegetables are washed in citric acid (GMO corn), each deli meat contains sodium lactate (GMO corn), the cheese is produced with GMO enzymes grown on GMO corn, the bread contains wheat with vitamin enrichments made from GMO corn using GMO corn as a binder, the mayo contains soybean oil (GMO soy), the vinaigrettes and pickles contain white vinegar (GMO corn), the soft drinks are all GMO corn and water (literally, every ingredient in coke is derived from GMO corn except the water), etc……

    Subway is like Madonna, very little substance but quite the marketing genius. They know everyone is terrified of fat in this country. As long as everyone obsesses over saturated fat and ignores the toxic GMO chemicals in food, they are golden. Obesity only became a problem in this country about the same time Crisco and other vegetable oils became popular. Did anyone stop to think who put out the propaganda about animal fats being linked to heart disease and weight gain? When will we stop reading the health claims on foods as “facts”? How else do you explain the fact that Americans consume more low-fat and non-fat foods than ever before but the obesity in America is at epidemic proportions?

    The sad thing is that I am not implying that Subway is worse than other fast food joints. They are just as bad but certainly no worse than McD’s, Dominoes, KFC and Krystal. The sad thing is that Americans will settle for this pseudo food as long as it is cheap. Think about how backwards it is to be willing to pay top dollar for a good cell phone, but allow the cheapest possible food-like substances to nourish your body. Give me real meat and real vegetables cooked in real butter any day.

  • natalie

    i think subway is very nice and healthy better than all these mac donnalds and burger king crap all you ppl probbably dont like subz coz ur all disgusting and like fatty foods

  • Brenda

    In Mariposa, California (outside Yosemite) we have a lot to say about Subway including and beyond their misleading nutritional claims. Check out our facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1349753012#!/group.php?gid=110434848972879

  • Brenda
  • Grace

    I noticed that on Subway’s ingredient list that the wheat bread has high fructose corn syrup while the white bread does not. What would be a better option when eating Subway? I’m always wanting to incorporate more whole grains into my diet, but if the wheat has high fructose corn syrup should I go for the white? Subway is confusing me on this one.

    • http://www.fooducate.com/blog Editorial Staff

      The white bread is probably loaded with sugar too. Science has yet to show HFCS is more problematic than regular sugar. BOTH need to be severely limited in our daily diet. Sugars being equal, go for the whole wheat. Just don’t think of Subway as a daily solution. See if you can make your own sandwiches for lunch…

  • ella parmeter

    i honestly been really disappointed in my sandwiches lately.the pictures you put out is miss advertising, i got a roast beef 6 inch, it had 4 pieces of your thin roast beef and a blt ond only 2 pieces of bacon…..the picturse show a sandwich more than 2 to 4 pieces of meat.. and for the price . i dont think its right

  • http://www.jv21.com/ John Keogh

    @Bill

    If by “this” you mean the main thrust of the article about perception, which is clearly opened and closed, then your comment makes no sense. Subway’s stuff is edible but not very healthy. I cross the road to avoid passing branches of McDonald’s and Subway because I hate the smell of processed food.

  • Kelsey

    Anyone who goes to a fast food restaurant expecting healthy needs a swift kick in the head. Obviously health is not their priority. Go eat an apple.

  • Anthony Villanueva

    last time I checked, subway specifically states in almost every commercial and they had jarred also for years say if you want the healthy option do not use condiments. I was in the military, everyday we had a footlong for are lunch time protein. Ya maybe they have GMOs in the bread, but it’s america, everything has GMOs in it, you don’t like we have a law in america that allows any american to leave this country at there own free will. Some of my friends were actual competition body builders who used subway to get there lunches quick when we were stuck on the flight line fixing planes all day. I have eaten subway every week day for the past 4 – 5 years, I’m in great shape, I have abs, I have no jiggle, and I give thanks to subway. I would suggest you get of your liberal horse and maybe find like a hobby or something so you don’t have to find things to complain about to boost you self esteem… You can throw all your “facts” all your “studies”, but yes, people do eat subway everyday the right way, and those people are a lot healthier than the average american. And also “who eats such an unflavorable sandwich” thats the problem with america, your fat asses, you cant eat a fry without ketchup, you cant eat sandwich without nasty mayo, as an american I can honestly say americans are absolutely disgusting, so you complain about the food, well, quit eating so much of it, food is addictive just like crack, the bad thing is is you have to eat and you have to regulate what you eat…

  • Stan

    What a bunch of assholes on this board!