Takeaway Food Week: Subway

Takeaway Food Week: Subway

Ordering a sub from Subway can be one of the healthiest choices you can make for takeout, and that’s worth celebrating as Takeaway Food Week rolls on. Just don’t make the mistake of adding the risky extras or picking the wrong sub.

Picture by Like The Grand Canyon

Obviously, there are lots of choices that involve assembling your own meal which combines salad, bread and other ingredients, from rival sub chains to the old-fashioned corner store making sandwiches to order. I'm focusing on Subway here for a couple of reasons. Firstly, with 1250-plus outlets in Australia, it can lay fair claim to being the biggest takeaway provider in the land. Secondly, Subway aggressively markets itself as a healthy choice, sponsoring The Biggest Loser, using spokespeople like Jared Fogle (the dude who lost weight on a largely Subway diet), and highlighting its subs that offer less than six grams of fat and which sauces have lower kilojoule counts.

The emphasis on vegetables and the ability to customise your choices means that it's much easier to come up with a healthy meal in Subway than it is in other chains. There's no fries on offer for starters (obviously you should still dodge full-strength soft drinks). Beyond that, how do the meals measure up? Here's the kilojoule, fat and sodium figures for the main subs on offer from Subway (drawn from its own nutritional information). The sub-6-grams options are listed in italics.

My favourite Subway sub is the meatball, so it's disappointing to learn that it's the most kilojoule-laden choice on the regular menu. That said, at just under 2000Kj, it isn't totally ridiculous in six-inch format as a meal. A footlong, on the other hand, is rather more indulgent than it needs to be for anyone who isn't seven feet tall. There's a major difference between the kilojoule totals for the sub-six-grams category and the other options (notice that the Veggie Pattie is the second highest Kj count, proving that vegetarian food isn't always healthier).

The other risk factor is the sodium. Ideally, you don't want more than 1500mg of sodium in a day, and several of these subs approach that total on their own. Add cheese and a salty sauce and you'd definitely go over.

How can I make this healthier? Beyond dodging the fat-laden meals and keeping an eye on the salt, here's a few sensible rules to follow to make sure your Subway choice doesn't balloon unexpectedly:

  • Resist the footlong. It might seem better value, but doubling the size takes most of these subs into overindulgent territory.
  • Don't buy the cookies. With an average of around 900Kj in one cookie, that could be more kilojoules than your actual six-inch sub.
  • Be wary of the breakfast subs. The least calorific of these still packs 1500Kj.
  • Go easy on the cheese and sauces. Adding cheese puts about 200Kj on the total; the chipotle southwest or thousand island dressings each add 400Kj.
  • Stick with the less fancy breads. Choosing honey oat or italian herbs & cheese will add another 100Kj or so to the total.

How can I save money? The obvious choice here are the range of subs (meatball, seafood sensation, ham, tuna, pizza and Veggie Delite) which cost $5 for a six-inch, or $7 for a footlong. If you split the latter between two people, you've got a fair whack of food for $3.50. Of those, the ham and Veggie Delite are the "low fat" options. (Note that these deals often don't apply in super-high-rent locations such as airports.)

What's your favourite Subway combo? Wrap up your thoughts in the comments.


  • Looks like I tick all the wrong boxes. My favourite sub is the meatball footlong toasted with mozarella, lettuce, capsicum, onion and the chipotle southwest sauce on italian herb and cheese.

    Even though I am 6’3″ it looks like I should change the bread and sauce. I have this sub every couple of weeks and find it a filling cheap lunch in the city.

  • I used to manage a quite Subway store and before that I worked for some time in one of the busiest Subways in the state.

    As a result, I never buy the cookies any more because they just aren’t as delicious at 1pm compared to after they’re still cooling down with the oven.

    Also, I find the claim that the Honey Oat bread has as high a Kj amount as the Italian Herb & Cheese.

    For those that don’t know how they’re made, the honey oat is made by taking the wheat bread and rolling it in the stuff you see on top. Italian herb & cheese is made in a similar way, but with mozzarella liberally sprinkled on top. The parmisan oregano bread (before they took it away in favour of multigrain) was identical to Italian herbs, but didn’t have the cheese added.

  • @kevin i once worked with a chick who DECIDED she had coeliac disease because she went to a naturopath and was told all her problems came from eating wheat and dairy…i can’t help but be reminded of her every time someone points at wheat as being the root of all evil

    • Although there are many patients with Coeliac disease out there, the vast majority of patients that claim to have gluten intolerance are self-diagnosing. IMHO its a fashion. It also seems to correlate quite strongly with lycra.

  • And don’t forget that they have this information on the sneeze proof glass (which actually does work!) so as you’re walking down the queue, you can see this information. It also shows you how you fare if you chuck in a diet coke or apples.

  • Is this a paid advertisement? Can anyone tell me the difference between a subway outlet and a public toilet? I’m not aware of any. The only time I’ve eaten from a subway (hey, I was drunk) I got terrible stomach pains. Extremely poor quality bread and vegetables.

    • If this was a paid advertisement, it would be clearly identified as such. Also: If you’ve only tried Subway when drunk, what makes you so sure the food caused your stomach pains?

    • Pop quiz,..
      What is more to cause nausea,stomach pains, malaise and cloud judgement:

      a) Six inch Subway
      b) Getting blind drunk

      Your 60 seconds start now. Tick tock tick tock tick tock,…

      • I wasn’t drunk enough to be sick, and the distinct painful stomach churning was none other than food poisoning. The likely culprit was badly prepared chicken. But yeah, Subway is objectively low quality food, the bread is gooey, the veggies are trash, and the meat toxic. You might not know that if you aren’t capable of making your own sandwich. Also, the decor of the stores reminds one strongly of a public toilet, probably full of worse bacteria too.

        • That’s is just a ridiculous comment…
          Subway is a chain store that has a different owner for (nearly) every restaurant. Some are better than others, but what your saying is that because you had a bad pizza from pizza hut in Richmond, you would never get pizza from there store anywhere in aus. Which is just ridiculous.

        • Yeah, that’s a load of crap. It does vary greatly. On the city, the staff, AND THE COUNTRY. The subways here are of stellar quality. Fresh Veggies, Fresh bread, and delicious!.
          They’re the only shining ray of hope(/health) in the “fast food” industry!

  • I love Subway, I get the 6 inch Veggie delight (with is just salad) and it’s only $4 at my local subway. Nice lunch, and tasty. It’s not overly healthy (I like to get some Ranch dressing on my salad, and some cheese) but it’s an occasional treat rather than an everyday meal.

  • TIP – all those who think subway gives stomach pains etc, go to a busy store. You will then know that everything is fresh and hasn’t been sitting around all day.

  • I’m quite a fan of Subway but there are a couple of things to consider when looking at their nutritional guide.

    1. The values do not include Cheese or Sauces.
    2. The Bread is listed as White or Wholemeal.

    The bread thing is a bit annoying as it doesn’t allow you to get the full picture.

    The Cheese and Sauce thing means keeping in mind that these are an extra.

    One last thought, recently when I did this for my main sub I compared the Bread, Wrap and Salad option.

    Worryingly, the Bread came out better nutritionally than the Wrap!

  • You need to include the Protein, Carbohydrate and Fat content for all options. Just showing the Fat content does not provide individuals with sufficient information to make a justified choice. Protein and Carbs are just as important to incorporate into a balanced diet (40:40:20) in my circumstances.

    • As I’ve mentioned on earlier posts, we’re not putting every last bit of data (as it gets overwhelming and in any case is on Subway’s site if you want it). In this context, the fat and salt were the details I particularly chose to emphasise.

      • These aren’t my needs, I am just emphasising the daily requirements of ANY individual are based off a balanaced combination of Protein, Carbohydrates and Fat.

        Over 60% of Australia’s population is considered overweight (or obese) and these figures aren’t likely to get any smaller. By illustrating to the likehacker community that an individual’s food choices should be based off a balanced (protein 40%, carbohydrates 40% and fat 20%) rather than what I assume, is a carbohydrate rich diet. This sort of lifestyle saturates the body’s ability to process the carbs and in turn is stored as fat.

        By not showing all the figures is distorting an individual’s view of what is, or isn’t a healthy meal choice.

  • I enjoy Subway about once a week. But not for its ‘healthy’ side. i Just find it more satisfying to eat a meat and salad roll than a greasy McBurger or Zinger.

    My favourite is a Subway Club w/Chicken fillet extra! soooo much meeeeat! yummo!

  • We had a subway open up in our small town a year or so ago and we love it. Its a great healthier option for take away.

    I am a bit surprised though at some of the data presented there. Guess Kiddo will be getting chicken strips instead of a chicken fillet next time!

  • Subway would be great if it wasn’t for the price. Back in the States I could 3 foot long subs for $9.99. That same 10 bucks will only get me a 6 inch…AND they don’t have the ultimate in Subway sandwiches anymore: the Pizza Sub. That was ‘the’ best sub on the menu.

    While Subway being the ‘healthier choice’ is debatable, it’s just not as economically-friendly as some of the others out there.

    • Two thoughts: the Pizza sub is on the local menu (not sure if it’s identical to the US one, but they definitely have one). Also, there are, as the post mentions, subs available for less than $10. Our $7 footlong deal is a $5 deal in the US (so not entirely sure you’d get three of them as you claim).

    • The low-fat sauces are identified in a list at the sauce end of the counter.

      No fat in jalapenos and only a minor amount in olives, but both do up the salt. The only hi-fat vegetable option on offer is avocado.

  • I think this article was well written. It highlighted the main points people should focus on when they are going to eat out or choose fast food. Consider your portion size, total fat and salt.
    I don’t advocate eating out a subway reguarly but if you going to 1-2wk to make the best choice out of the worst situtation: limit your cheese, sauces and processed or crumbed meats and chose the 6inch… that takes all the fun away I guess. Why don’t people stop being so lazy and prepare your food at home it’s safier in terms of food posioning and healthier for you 🙂

    • Gabrielle, why do you not recommend eating Subway regularly? I tend to buy 2 foot-long Subway Clubs (all Veggies bar Olives, with a Sweet Chili sauce) a week (one to cover Monday lunch and Dinner, the other to cover Tuesday and Thursday lunch) and would be curious to know if this is going too far for some reason?

  • “But yeah, Subway is objectively low quality food, the bread is gooey, the veggies are trash, and the meat toxic.”

    YUP. Couldnt agree more.

    Bread is not fresh, proofed before being frozen and shipped from New Zealand.

    Salad – never seen so much brown lettuce in my life.

    Meat – processed crap which has no nutrional benefit. May as well knaw on a cardboard box.

    Happy eating!!

  • Sam: I’d question your use of the words ‘bread is not fresh’:Subways bread is fresh- it is baked in store from dough which is pre mixed and frozen in New Zealand- but it is baked fresh. Mixing the dough in store is a bit beyond the means of small shopfronts, but they can at least bake it freash.

    In general, I find Subways’ use fo the ‘buy one get one free, so long as you buy a whopping great soft drink to go with it’ specials lower their ‘we’d like you to be healthy’ cred.

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