Is Subway Healthy? A Nutritionist Looks at Its Menu

Like with any restaurant chain, take time to review the ingredients.

When trying to maintain a healthy diet but still include take-out sandwiches in your meals, you might consider some of the sub sandwich shops such as Subway. But, just how healthy and nutritious are these chain restaurant sandwiches? Health talked to a nutritionist and registered dietitian to answer this question.

Subway has had its share of ups and downs in nutrition-based public relations, including a lawsuit in 2021. The plaintiff claimed that the chain's tuna isn't tuna but other types of meat. Subway denied the claim on its website, stating that it uses wild-caught skipjack tuna.

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Check the Sub's Ingredients

Beyond calories, macronutrients, and whole grains, ingredients are essential to healthfulness. Subway offers nutrition information that lists ingredients for its bread, proteins, vegetables, condiments, and other items like pizzas, cookies, and soups.

Here's an example of why checking the ingredients can matter. The nutrition information states that Subway's grilled chicken isn't simply cooked chicken breast. Some of its ingredients include: 

  • Boneless skinless chicken breast with rib meat
  • Soy protein concentrate
  • Modified potato starch
  • Sodium phosphate
  • Potassium chloride
  • Maltodextrin
  • Dextrose
  • Caramelized sugar

When I look at ingredient lists like those with clients, they'll often tell me, "Oh, I assumed it was just fresh chicken breast," like the type you'd find in your grocery store's meat aisle. But that might not be the case. 

So, take a look for yourself to see if the ingredients for the item you're interested in are as simple as you might think.

Apart from using the nutrition information to select items with simple, recognizable contents, you can quickly identify allergens or sensitivity triggers you may need to avoid. Allergens may include soy, wheat, dairy, and sulfites. 

Load up on Subway Vegetables

Two pros of Subway include the ability to customize your order and the availability of fresh vegetables. You can pick from a wide variety of vegetables, including spinach, tomatoes, red onions, green peppers, and cucumbers

The best way to build the most vegetables into your meal is to order a salad or one of the chain's No Bready Bowls. Previously known as Protein Bowls, the menu item gives you the ingredients of a sandwich—minus bread—served in a bowl.

While there are several options with pre-selected ingredients, you can also build your own sandwich. Subway even calculates the calories in your selections when ordering online, which allows you to see your meal's total calories.

Bowls and salads are also a smart way to skirt surplus carbs. One foot-long sandwich can pack as much as 80 grams of carbohydrates—which is about the amount in six standard slices of bread.

If you need more carbohydrates than a bowl provides, opt for a squeeze pouch of unsweetened applesauce as a side item. The applesauce provides 16 grams of carbohydrates with no added sugar.

Subway only offers one non-animal protein option—a vegetable patty made from vegetables and soy. Even if you're not plant-based, consider trying it if you can tolerate soy. After all, one study published in JAMA showed that a higher intake of plant protein helps lower the risk of death from all causes.

If you eat meat (and have no problems with soy), consider trying the rotisserie-style chicken, made from chicken, water, and 2% or fewer additional ingredients. Those ingredients include salt, soybean oil, dextrose, and seasonings.

Add the Benefits of Avocado

A scan of the nutrition information shows that the only ingredients in Subway's smashed avocado are Hass avocados and sea salt. 

Add avocado to any order to increase your meal's anti-inflammatory fat, fiber, and antioxidants. Avocado also adds critical vitamins and minerals like potassium, which regulates blood pressure and supports heart, muscle, and nerve function.

Additionally, avocados contain nutrients and bioactive compounds that may help reduce the risk of becoming overweight or obese. Regular avocado consumption may reduce adult weight gain, according to a study published in the journal Nutrients.

Stick With Water

Make water your beverage choice to avoid excess added sugar or artificial sweeteners. 

A 16-ounce fountain soda without ice can pack over 30 grams of sugar, which is more than seven teaspoons. 

So, that 16-ounce soda alone exceeds the six-teaspoon maximum daily advised limit of added sugar.

A Quick Review

As a convenient option, Subway may be better than fried foods. Still, nutrition goes beyond cooking and includes ingredients, processing, and nutrients. 

If you're health-focused, take the time to review any chain's ingredients, including those of Subway, especially if you eat there frequently. Opt for fresh, minimally processed foods as often as possible. Go for items with straightforward ingredients and few additives, including added sugar.

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  1. U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Fooddata Central. Bread, white, commercially prepared.

  2. Huang J, Liao LM, Weinstein SJ, Sinha R, Graubard BI, Albanes D. Association between plant and animal protein intake and overall and cause-specific mortalityJAMA Intern Med. 2020;180(9):1173-1184.

  3. Heskey C, Oda K, Sabaté J. Avocado intake, and longitudinal weight and body mass index changes in an adult cohortNutrients. 2019;11(3):691.

  4. U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Fooddata Central. Beverages, carbonated, cola, fast-food cola.

  5. American Heart Association (AHA). How too much added sugar affects your health infographic.

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