Subway on a Low-Carb Diet

Subway sandwich shop

Subway promotes itself as a "healthy alternative to greasy fast food," and this marketing approach has proven very successful. Studies headed up by Brian Wansink, director of the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, concluded that Subway has acquired a so-called "health halo" -- people give themselves "credit" for eating at Subway and indulge in extra treats when they do so. People also underestimate the calories consumed when eating at Subway, as compared to a hamburger fast food franchise, such as McDonalds.

How does Subway fare as a provider of food for those of us on low-carb diets?

Goodbye to Low-Carb Wraps

Subway used to be a place to get a variety of low-carb offerings, notably low-carb wraps. At one point, Subway worked with Atkins Nutritionals to develop these sandwiches, which proved to be popular with low-carb eaters. However, in spring 2007, Subway suddenly (and without announcement) substituted high-carb wraps for the low-carb items they had been selling. The white flour they are made of offers very little nutrition, and each wrap has about 38 grams of usable carbohydrate -- the equivalent of over three tablespoons of sugar.  Still, many people still think wraps are a low-carb option, which isn't true.

Unfortunately, the sandwiches are worse. Grams of carbs for the 6" subs are mostly in the 40s, with the Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki sandwich leading the pack at 54 grams. And yes, count on doubling those numbers for a foot-long sandwich.

Back to Salads

What's a low-carber to do? As it so often seems to be, salads are the fall-back position. The good news is that Subway offers a wide variety of meats and other toppings in their salads. Most of the salads have only 7 to 10 grams of usable carbohydrate, and between 110 and 150 calories (not counting the dressing).

Excluding the Veggie Delight salad, Subway salads have between 12 and 19 grams of protein, and the meat can be doubled, if you would like. I think they are pretty tasty, especially with the olives and three kinds of peppers.

Choose your salad dressing wisely. Your best bet is the oil and vinegar they put on the subs, which has zero carbs. The ranch dressing is next best pick, at 3 grams for a 2-ounce packet. A packet of fat-free Italian dressing has 7 grams of carb, and the red wine vinaigrette at Subway is loaded with sugar (17 grams of carb - that's over 4 teaspoons of sugar!).

How About Nutrition?

Subway proudly declares that one of their salads provides five servings of vegetables. While this is technically true, the vast majority of the servings are iceberg lettuce. Unfortunately, this is one of the least nutritious vegetables available. Salads at Subway have four grams of fiber.

Bottom Line

Subway is not really a health bargain for those of us attempting to limit sugar(carbs) in our diets.

The salads are fine as an occasional meal, but we'd do better finding a salad made with darker greens and a greater variety of vegetables.


Nutritional Information from Subway,

Chandon, Pierre, Wansink, Brian. "The Biasing Health Halos of Fast-Food Restaurant Health Claims: Lower Calorie Estimates and Higher Side-Dish Consumption Intentions". Journal of Consumer Research. Vol. 34. October 2007.

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