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Is Subway Healthy, Actually? What Science Says

Subway Foot-Long Roast Beef Lunch Delicous but Healthy

Is Subway Healthy, Actually? What Science Says

Ever since the first Subway restaurant opened in 1965, we’ve been taught that Subway is “healthy” fast food. In the 50 years of Subway's history, they’ve gone through many marketing campaigns to reaffirm that it is a healthy choice. With all of the options nowadays, you might be left wondering if Subway is actually healthy or if their marketing has fooled us.

Whether you love Subway or prefer other sub restaurants, it’s important to know how eating there may impact your health. Let’s take a closer look at whether or not Subway is actually healthy and what items on the menu you should avoid.

big sandwich with fresh vegetables on wooden board
Whether Subway is healthy or not depends on what you order.


Is Subway Healthy?

If you’re wondering if Subway is actually healthy, the short answer is that it depends. The best part about restaurants like Subway is you can completely customize what you order. While there are some healthy options at Subway, not everything on their menu is healthy.

According to one study from UCLA back in 2013, Subway is no healthier for kids than eating at McDonald's. The study found that at both restaurants, kids ended up eating far too many calories. This is why it’s important to note that what you order at Subway matters. 

There’s nothing inherently healthy about Subway, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find healthy options on the menu. Some of the sandwiches at Subway are going to be unhealthy no matter what, while others can be customized to fit your needs. 

The two healthiest options on the menu are generally the salads or No Bready Bowls. But pay attention to the overall nutritional values of what you’re ordering. Even some of the salads have higher calories, sugar, and sodium than you would expect, mainly due to the added dressing.  

Healthy Options at Subway

If you’re looking for healthy options to order at Subway, it’s essential to look at their menu ahead of time. The reality is there’s not one specific rule or item to order that’s going to be healthy, but you can customize most items to create a healthier alternative.

No matter what you order, there are some items and additions to really pay attention to, such as dressings and condiments. These additions might seem minor, but some types of dressings can add an enormous amount of calories or sugar to your meal.

If you want to find a healthy meal at Subway, here are your best options:

  • Salad
  • No Bready Bowls

Let’s take a look at these options and what they include.


Salads are another obvious choice for your meal at Subway. The variety of salads allows you to enjoy some of the flavors of your favorite sub without all the calories from the bread. It’s also easy to top a Subway salad with some extra vegetables.

On a typical salad, the dressing alone can add 100-200 calories, depending on the type of dressing and the amount. If you want to go for the healthiest options, ask for the dressing on the side or opt for one of their fat-free dressings.

No Bready Bowls

The last way to order a healthier meal at Subway is to order one of the No Bready Bowls. As you can imagine, based on the name, this is essentially a sandwich in a bowl without the bread. These bowls are often called protein bowls as well.

The main difference between the No Bready Bowl and a salad at Subway is the amount of meat. The No Bready Bowls have a footlong sub’s worth of meat, while the salad has a 6-inch sub’s worth of meat. This is going to lead to more protein in the No Bready Bowls, but more sodium and calories as well.

Are Subway Wraps Healthy?

If you’re looking at the Subway menu, you might notice they also offer wraps. This seems like a healthy alternative to a sub and a good way to reduce the amount of calories and carbs in your meal. Unfortunately, when you compare some of the subs to the wraps, you actually end up with fewer calories and carbs by sticking with a sub.

The only benefit of choosing the wrap is it includes a larger portion of meat, leading to more protein in your meal. If you do need the extra protein, you can always order double meat on your sub instead.

How to Make Subway Healthier

Whether you’re eating at Subway because it’s what you’re craving or because someone else picked the restaurant, you might wonder about some ways to make Subway healthier. Aside from choosing one of the salads or No Bready Bowls, here are a few simple things you can do to make your meal a bit healthier:

Skip the Chips and Drink

You might feel good about the salad or No Bready Bowl that you chose at Subway, but if you grab a fountain drink to go with your meal, it could add another 200 calories and over 40 grams of sugar. Consuming sugary drinks like soda can lead to a greater risk of obesity, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease. The chips can be sneaky as well–depending on which ones you choose; they can add a lot of calories or unnecessary sodium.

Homemade Cold Cut Italian Sub Sandwich with Salami Lettuce and Tomato
One of the best ways to add more nutrients to your Subway sandwich is to pile on the veggies.

©Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock.com

Ask for Extra Veggies

One of the simplest ways you can make your meal healthier if you’re ordering a sub is to load up on the vegetables. Adding extra spinach, peppers, tomatoes, or cucumbers is a good way to add some extra nutrients to your meal.

Avoid the Condiments

Many people would argue that a sub isn’t complete without the right condiments. However, if you’re looking at the overall calorie count of your sub, consider just how many calories and grams of fat or sugar some of the condiments add. One tablespoon of mayo, for example, adds almost 100 calories to your meal.

Go for the Applesauce

While you can skip the side altogether if you are going to include a side to your meal, skip the chips and go for the applesauce instead. The pouch of unsweetened applesauce has only 45 calories and 8 grams of sugar. This is significant compared to the 330 calories a bag of chips like the Flamin’ Hot Cheetos includes.

Order Online

If you want to have complete control over what you order and keep the calories down, order your meal online. Whether you choose a sub or a salad, when you order online and build a custom creation, it calculates the calories for you. This is a helpful way to keep track of what you’re eating at Subway.

When eating at Subway, there are numerous ways to swap out items to make your meal healthier. Planning ahead is the best way to ensure you don’t go overboard with your meal, and ordering online can be a helpful way to track the nutritional value.

What to Order at Subway

There’s not one selection at Subway that’s healthier than all the others. Some of the salads are healthy choices, while others are loaded with high-calorie, sugary dressing. Since it can be overwhelming to find the healthiest options, here are a few menu items for you to order at Subway, along with their calories:

  • 6-inch rotisserie-style chicken sandwich (247 calories)
  • 6-inch oven-roasted chicken sandwich (320 calories)
  • 6-inch veggie delite sandwich (230 calories)
  • Oven-roasted chicken breast salad (130 calories)
  • Roast beef salad (140 calories)

When choosing a salad, the dressing is what makes all the difference. The healthiest option for these salads is the sweet onion dressing, which only adds 40 calories and 8 grams of sugar.

Final Thoughts

Like many restaurants, determining whether Subway is healthy depends on what you order. Some of the items on the menu at Subway can be healthy, while others aren’t much better than McDonald’s. While there are some general rules to keep the calorie, sodium, and sugar content down, keep in mind that you can easily access the nutrition information if you order your food online.

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