In Depth

Is Subway healthy?

In 2013, UCLA scientists tested how many calories were eaten at the sandwich chain – and their findings were not terribly flattering

Subway's "eat fresh" motto helped turn the brand into the world's largest fast-food chain. But as the franchise announces plans to open another 500 stores across the UK by 2020, some critics worry its spread could be detrimental to the nation's health.

Is Subway a healthy fast food?

In 2013, scientists from the University of California Los Angeles tracked the orders of a group of young people aged 12 to 21 at both McDonald's and Subway, the New York Daily reports.

Using the nutritional information on each company's website, they then worked out how many calories were being consumed on average in each sitting to discover the focal group consumed 1,038 calories at McDonald's and 955 at Subway.

But even though healthier options were available, the scientists found the average Subway sandwich purchased came to 784 calories, compared to the average burger order, which came in at 582 calories.

The US Institute of Medicine recommends 2,400 calories per day for adolescents, meaning the group was consuming close to half their recommended calorific intake in one sitting at either chain.

Salt in the wound

According to the NHS, adults should eat no more than 6g of salt a day – around one teaspoon. The American Heart Association, on the other hand, is much more cautious and recommends no more than 1.5g per day.

Check out Subway's nutritional information page, however, and you'll find one sub could easily take you well over the US guide and towards half the NHS's daily recommendation.

Take the following example - a not-unimaginable sub combination - which comes to 2.8g of salt:

  • Spicy Italian sub filling – 1480mg of salt
  • Italian herb and cheese bread – 470mg
  • Cheddar cheese – 340mg
  • Pepperoni – 400mg
  • Ranch dressing – 200mg
Choose carefully

Peter Dowding, Subway's UK director, says it is a misconception that the chain is unhealthy. Six of the nine sandwiches on the core menu have fewer than 400 calories, he says, and customers' choices impact how healthy or unhealthy each sandwich is.

"We offer a broad range of products. We cater for choice driven by consumer demand," he told the BBC.

According to the Daily Mail, however, "Subway admits more than half of its customers go for the non-healthy options."

The Livestrong Foundation advises Subway customers to opt for a six-inch sub rather than 12ins, to choose their bread carefully (nine-grain is the best, followed by hearty Italian) and to go easy on dressings and sauces.

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