Updated 12/24/13, see the end for details.

Maybe it’s just me, but sometimes I get irritated when I see recent studies such as this one cause a rash of “Subway is just as bad as McDonald’s” announcements.

Now, to be fair, most of these news releases make it clear that it’s not strictly what the restaurants serve that matters; it’s what people actually order there. Unfortunately, it seems like people aren’t eating the healthy items. The study I linked to involved almost a hundred adolescents who ate meals at both Subway and McDonald’s on separate days. The researchers took the receipts of their meal purchases and calculated that the participants purchased an average of 1,038 calories at McDonald’s versus 955 at Subway. They concluded that despite Subway’s healthy vibe, meals there are just as likely to contribute to overeating as compared to meals from McDonald’s.

This study is somewhat relative to me since it’s no secret that I am a Subway addict. At home, there are multiple Subways within a 15-minute drive. At Williams College, there’s a subway within a thirty second walk from my dorm. And at Greensboro, where I’m spending the summer, I’ve already found two Subways close to my work area.

In contrast, I don’t eat at McDonald’s anymore. The last time I remember even getting a meal there was …

… actually, I’m honestly not sure. My bess guess is during eighth or ninth grade. So it’s been a while since I’ve had a full meal there, so the study may be a bit biased in the sense that if its participants were willing to eat at McDonald’s, it’s not likely that they would order the healthy items at Subway.

But just to be sure that I’m at least avoiding the worst of Subway’s stuff, I decided to analyze my most recent meal there. I ordered a 12-inch nine-grain honey oat sandwich with oven roasted chicken, cheddar cheese, lettuce, onions, and spinach.

According to Subway’s nutrition information, my meal had the following calorie counts (note that I need to double everything, since they only list the 6” size):

  • 12” Honey Oat Bread: 520 Calories, 6.0 g of fat, 600 mg of sodium, 10.0 g of dietary fiber, 18.0 g of sugar, and 18.0 g of protein.
  • Oven roasted chicken: 640 Calories, 3.0 g of fat, 1220 mg of sodium, 10.0 g of dietary fiber, 16.0 g of sugar, and 46.0 g of protein.
  • Cheddar cheese: 120 Calories, 10.0 g of fat, 180 mg of sodium, 0.0 g of dietary fiber, 0.0 g of sugar, and 8.0 g of protein
  • Lettuce: Insignificant counts for everything.
  • Onions: Insignificant counts for everything
  • Spinach: Insignificant counts for everything (except Vitamin A).

That turns out to be a total of approximately 1,280 Calories, 19.0 g of fat, 2,000 mg of sodium, 20.0 g of dietary fiber, 34.0 g of sugar, and 72.0 g of protein. Note that on rare occasions (about 10 percent of the time), I’ll order sides and a drink, so for now I’ll just ignore those (and should make myself never order them in the future). Yes, the amount of calories is surprising to me, and it’s significantly higher than those reported in the study. But in my defense, I’d argue that this meal is leaner as a whole than most meals people order from Subway.

According to this article, which is based on the same study, Subway meals had on average 42.0 g of fat, 2,149 mg of sodium, and 36.0 g of sugar. So despite the higher calorie count as a whole, I’m actually getting less sodium, less sugar, and less than half the amount of fat on average, all while getting some fiber and protein as an added benefit. In addition, I always have to tell the Subway workers to add more lettuce and spinach to my sandwich and to never add dressing. Actually, one of the articles has the interesting idea of asking for half the amount of meat they normally add and replacing the “empty space” with vegetables. If I had done that today, that would have pushed the meal’s Calorie count below the 1,000 Calorie threshold.

Finally, while I did order chicken this time around, the most common protein for me to add to the sandwich is turkey, which will pack in 800 fewer Calories (though, admittedly, with 340 mg more sodium). I only order chicken or turkey from Subway, and not the buffalo chicken kind.

While the meal may be a bit Calorie-excessive, I’m not terrified since I aim to eat about 3,000 Calories a day. It’s at least giving me almost as much protein as I need a day, plus a considerable amount of fiber, which when considered with my fiber-loaded breakfast cereal means I’m getting a healthy amount daily.

I do conclude, though, that it’s not best for me or anyone else to eat at Subway every day. I don’t, of course. Once a week is a nice upper bound for me, and on days that I do eat meals from Subway, I make sure to balance it with eating extra fruit and whole wheat products.

To those of you who regularly eat at Subway, try analyzing one of your meals these days and see what you discover.

Update 12/24/13: The text above is the original entry, which I have kept unchanged for historical purposes. What’s rather amusing in retrospect is that about a week after this was first published, I had my last Subway meal. I have officially quit eating Subway foods.

I realize that my analysis in the original post was more of a McDonalds versus Subway thing, but really, I should be focusing on the question of: should I eat Subway food at all? I’ve concluded, due to the way they cook/store their meats and because of my newfound concern over grains, that Subway is simply not going to be part of my diet for the rest of my life, unless they fundamentally alter the way they make sandwiches.