Eating on the go can make it hard to stay within the FDA's recommended 2,000 calorie per-day diet, especially if you often find yourself needing to eat at fast food restaurants.
And while sandwich chain Subway offers alternatives to burgers and fries, what if all those times you thought you were making a healthy choice by dining at Subway, you might as well have been chowing down on a Big Mac?
That's exactly what a 2013 UCLA study implied, stating that, "While meals at McDonald's averaged 1,038 calories, the Subway meals weren't far behind at 955 calories each. And at 784 calories, the average Subway sandwich purchase came in even higher than those bought at McDonald's, which averaged 582 calories."
But is eating at Subway really as bad as eating at McDonald's?
Not exactly. When you control for serving size, McDonald's generally has more calories, fat, cholesterol and carbohydrates than Subway, and the chains compete about evenly for sodium content.
The most important takeaway from UCLA's study, therefore, should not be that Subway is always as unhealthy a McDonald's, but that it can be, so you need to order smart.
Factors to Consider When Ordering Healthy at Subway
The type of bread and additional toppings you choose will affect how many calories your Subway sandwich will contain.
One of the big factors to consider in ordering smart at Subway is sodium content -- excessive sodium intake increases blood pressure, and puts people at high risk for conditions such as stroke and heart failure.
With such serious risks, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends no more than 1,500 mg of sodium per day, but Subway's worst footlong subs contain more than double that amount. The Footlong Breakfast B.M.T Melt, for example, contains 3,200 mg of sodium. (That's far worse than the biggest breakfast at McDonalds, the Big Breakfast with Hotcakes, which has 2,150 mg of sodium.)
But all is not lost at Subway. With a variety of healthy options and ingredients including avocado, lean proteins and a variety of vegetables, they are plenty of ways to create your own healthy (and tasty) sub sandwich.
So to help people order smart and cut down on calories and sodium intake, we explored the nutrition information at Subway to find the three worst six-inch subs. And it's worth mentioning that footlongs across the board are unwise choices!
And -- if after reading all this -- you find yourself wondering what you should be ordering at Subway, we reveal the healthiest four sandwiches.
The 3 Least Healthy Sandwiches at Subway
Subway's least healthy sandwiches fall just short of exceeding the daily recommended intake for sodium.
But keep in mind that this is just one meal.
You'll likely still consume an excess if you eat anything else for the day. To keep track of how many calories and how much sodium you’re consuming each day, try tracking your food using LIVESTRONG.COM’s free MyPlate Calorie Tracker app.
If you’re trying to keep your calories and sodium in check, you’ll want to avoid: the Turkey Italiano Melt, the Spicy Italian and the Italian B.M.T.
1. THE TURKEY ITALIANO MELT - The 6-inch Turkey Italiano Melt (without any cheese or sauces on 9-grain wheat bread) contains 510 calories and 1490 mg of sodium – practically the entire day’s recommended intake!
2. THE SPICY ITALIAN MELT - Similarly, the 6-inch Spicy Italian (without any cheese or sauces on 9-grain wheat bread) contains 480 calories and 1490 mg of sodium.
3. THE ITALIAN B.M.T - The 6-inch Italian B.M.T is only slightly better, at 410 calories and 1260 mg of sodium (without any cheese or sauces on 9-grain wheat bread). If you add cheese and sauces, keep in mind that you’ll be adding more calories and more sodium.
The 4 Best Sub and Sandwich Options at Subway
Along with the 6-inch Monterey Chicken, the 6-inch Subway Tuna sub is one of the four healthiest subs at Subway. There are also two low-fat options that are very healthy: Veggie Delight and Oven Roasted Chicken.
1. 6-INCH VEGGIE DELITE - With 230 calories and 280 mg of sodium, Subway's healthiest 6-inch sandwich is the Veggie Delite (without cheese). As a rule of thumb, anything veggie at Subway will be best, as the meats contain the most sodium.
2. OVEN ROASTED CHICKEN - With 320 calories and 610 mg of sodium, the 6-inch Oven Roasted Chicken sandwich is a great choice. It packs 23 grams of protein!
3. ROTISSERIE-STYLE CHICKEN (FRESH FIT) - This 6-inch sandwich has 350 calories and 540 mg of sodium. It also packs 29 grams of protein, so it will keep you feeling fuller all afternoon long.
4. 6-INCH TUNA SUB - The 6-inch Tuna sub is also a relatively wise choice for nutrition with 480 calories, 20 grams of protein and 600 mg of sodium.
How Bread, Cheese and Sauces Affect Calories in a Subway Tuna Sub
The type of bread and additional toppings you choose will affect how many calories your tuna sub may contain. Basing information on the most commonly requested toppings and bread, Subway lists the tuna sub as containing 480 calories. This is valid for a 6-inch sub without cheese, so if you choose to add cheese or choose to eat a 12-inch sub, the calories will double.
Ingredients counted in the calorie total are lettuce, tomato, onion, green pepper, and cucumber on 9-grain wheat bread. Switching veggies on the sub won’t affect the calorie total much because they all contain less than 5 calories.
The Lowest Calorie and Highest Calorie Breads at Subway
If you prefer a different type of bread, the total calories may change.
The lowest calorie 6-inch breads are: 9-Grain Bread, Hearty Italian Bread and Sourdough Bread. Each of these bread choices is 210 calories.
The highest calorie 6-inch breads are: Monterey Cheddar and Italian Herbs & Cheese. 6-Inch Monterey Cheddar contains 240 calories, while 6-inch Italian Herbs and Cheese contains 250 calories. If you choose one of these breads, you will raise the calorie total of a tuna sub by 30 or 40 calories to 510 or 520 total calories.
The Lowest Calorie and Highest Calorie Cheeses at Subway
The 6-inch tuna sub will contain more calories if you add cheese to it.
Processed American Cheese has the least calories at 40 calories. Provolone cheese and Swiss cheese each have 50 calories.
Cheddar contains the highest amount, at 60 calories. If you choose cheddar cheese, your tuna sub will contain at least 540 calories.
The Lowest Calorie and Highest Calorie Sauces at Subway
Sauces can add additional calories as well. For example, 1 tablespoon of regular mayonnaise or ranch dressing adds 110 calories, while 1 tablespoon of fat free honey mustard contains 30 calories.
Stay on top of how many calories and how much sodium you’re consuming each day, try tracking your food using LIVESTRONG.COM’s free MyPlate Calorie Tracker app.