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Food Babe Investigates: Is Subway Real Food?

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This is a guest post from Vani Hari (a.k.a. The Food Babe).


Subway is the single largest chain restaurant in the world. That means you’ve probably eaten there at some point in your lifetime and if you are like me could possibly have 10 of these restaurants within a 1 mile radius of your house.

But is eating at America’s favorite fast food chain really eating real food?

Subway would certainly like you to think so. With their slogan “Eat Fresh,” marketing with avocados and a guy who lost hundreds of pounds eating their famous sub sandwiches, it’s easy to get duped.

You may also feel tricked when you see a little heart logo, indicating a menu item at Subway is “heart healthy.” Just last week it was announced that the American Heart Association (AHA) has endorsed several menu items at Subway and added the heart logo to indicate which ones.

At every Subway on the “sneeze guard” glass they display one version of their nutritional information – the infamous “6 grams of fat or less” menu. This menu includes calories, fat grams, and that new little heart logo, but doesn’t display anything about the ingredients. Doubting that Subway or the AHA would actually ever create a real food information guide for you, I decided it was time to do this myself. Below are the “6 grams or less” menu items and critical real food information you should know about each choice.

Let’s take a closer look.

  • Subway definitely keeps it fresh and I figured out how. Every single one of their items on the “6 grams or less” menu has preservatives to keep it …well…fresh! Sure Subway makes your meal right in front of you, but what is really happening behind the scenes? Boxes of already cut up and prepackaged processed foods and chemical additives are being shipped from Big Food industry factories to each location.
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  • The 9 grain wheat bread might look and smell freshly baked but it contains close to 50 ingredients including refined flours, dough conditioners, hidden MSG, refined sugars, etc. Could bread this processed ever be real food? Certainly not, when it includes a chemical ingredient called azodicarbonamide, which is banned as a food additive in the U.K., Europe, and Australia, and if you get caught using it in Singapore you can get up to 15 years in prison and be fined $450,000. Azodicarbonamide is more commonly used in the production of foamed plastics, however, it is allowed in the United States as a food additive, a flour bleaching agent, and a dough conditioner that improves elasticity of bread. The U.K. has recognized this ingredient as a potential cause of asthma if inhaled, and advises against its use in people who have sensitivity to food dye allergies and other common allergies in food, because azodicarbonamide can exacerbate the symptoms. Let’s not forget it only takes 4 or 5 simple ingredients to make REAL whole-wheat bread including flour, yeast, salt, water, and maybe honey.

  • Three sandwiches on this menu, along with several other menu items not listed, are comprised of processed meats and filled with nitrates and forms of MSG. The consumption of nitrates need to be taken very seriously. Nitrates are frequently converted into nitrosamines, which have been proven to increase the risk of disease dramatically. The latest research from World Cancer Research Fund declared that “processed meat is too dangerous for human consumption.” Studies have shown it may only take 1.8 ounces of processed meat (about half of what is in a typical 6 inch sub) daily to increase the likelihood of cancer by 50%heart disease by 42% and diabetes by 19%. I still know people who eat Subway for lunch everyday, but I’m glad I don’t know anyone on the actual Subway Diet. Sheesh. I can’t imagine what their percentage would be, could you?
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  • Can you believe the American Heart Association is now putting their seal of approval behind these processed meat based Subway menu items? WOW. After all these studies that show an increase in heart disease? Is this a joke? Even the processed turkey meat that seems harmless because it doesn’t contain nitrates is full of preservatives, chemical flavorings, and carrageenan. I wrote about carrageenan last month after the Cornucopia Institute revealed a study that once the food grade version of carrageenan is ingested it turns into a carcinogen in your digestive system.

  • Preservatives and even artificial colors are added to many of their “fresh” vegetable offerings – like the banana peppers and pickles. The ingredients for the black olives unveiled a new additive I learned about, “ferrous gluconate,” which is an iron based preservative that helps keep olives black.
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  • While the “6 grams or less” menu says the totals don’t include cheese or salad dressings, it is important to know that some of the cheeses offered at subway also have artificial colors, preservatives, and even cellulose that’s made from wood pulp.
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  • Two of the healthiest sounding salad dressings were actually the worst based on my analysis. Fat free honey mustard and the red vinaigrette both have corn syrup, artificial colors, preservatives, and other chemical additives.

To top it off, the majority of foods at Subway have been conventionally sourced and probably include pesticides, antibiotics, and/or growth hormones. In my research, I didn’t find one single organic ingredient or menu item available at over 36,000 stores. Even the lemon juice comes in a pre-packaged squirt pack filled with preservatives. Because of this I haven’t consciously ever considered going to a Subway in the last 7 years.

Last weekend, I broke this streak and went into a Subway in search of real food. I have to admit the thought of going into a Subway and ordering off the menu was a little bit daunting, but I decided this was the best way to get the answers to my questions, like whether or not their avocado was really fresh or not. Could it be possible for me to order something and actually take a bite without squirming? Going against my Eat With Your Dollars philosophy and purchasing something from the “bad guys” went against every bone in my body. But I did it.

Watch it all unfold in the video below. Everything at Subway may not be “fresh” but if you are ever stuck on a deserted island and this was the only place you could eat… now you know what to order.

Special thanks to Nicole Galuski for filming

P.S. You can check out my favorite “fast food” sandwich I am eating now and how to get it here.

Comments have been closed on this article, which was written by Vani Hari. If you have a question or comment you can reach her at http://FoodBabe.com.

Vani HariVani Hari a.k.a. Food Babe is an organic living expert, food activist and writer on FoodBabe.com. She teaches people how to make the right purchasing decisions at the grocery store, how to live an organic lifestyle, and how to travel healthfully around the world. The success in her writing and investigative work can be seen in the way food companies react to her uncanny ability to find and expose the truth. To follow Vani, check her out on FacebookTwitter, and Pinterest.

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559 comments to Food Babe Investigates: Is Subway Real Food?

  • Not really surprised at your findings. That said, thank you for bringing this to the forefront where this kind of info needs to be. A good friend of mine suffers from Celiac’s disease and they have a hard time eating bread let alone the nitrates that are added to keep foods “fresh”.
    Much appreciation for taking these things on.

  • Nicole

    Wow so glad I read and watched this!

  • liz m

    Not really surprised about all the preservatives found in the food…Friends told me that year that veggies were full of preservatives and it wasn’t very good for you.
    It is not the reason i avoid Subway in general- it is the lack of hand washing I have seen over the years and the reusing of gloves that concerns me over the preservatives and food die. Gloves have been seen to give a false sense of security to their wearers that their hands are clean and I have seen Subway employees take money and put on the gloves they have been worn and start on the next sandwich…I am sure that Subway has probably an excellent training program on hand washing and proper glove usage but I am not sure that it is well followed.

  • Justin

    If you kill Pita Pit next I’m gonna starve to death =(

  • I have such a love/hate relationship with these posts! On one hand, I love them because they’re so informative and have such great insights. However, I hate them because they are slowly eliminating all options for me! I live in a very tiny town. Trader Joe’s? Organic Markets? I’ve literally only seen them on the internet. I thought Subway might be a fairly decent option… but apparently not! :(

  • Michelle

    I was a regular at Subway before I became pregnant. This is no surprise to me. I’ve avoided deli meats since I was pregnant last year. Just knowing that the nitrates are dangerous to your unborn child—that basically closed the door to eating deli items for me forever. Actually, I think being pregnant was an eye opener for me since many of the things that they recommend that you shouldn’t eat really NO ONE should consume if they’d like to keep their health!

  • Jeannine

    I would like to add that the knife they cut every sandwich with is gross. They never clean it. Thanks for your post.

  • Dave, RN

    That little heart seal is the source of much income for the AHA…

    Folllow the money.

  • I’m not really surprised by this, but I agree with some others who say it is the lesser of the evils. I really only eat Subway when traveling, and here in the midwest, it’s either that, McDonalds, BK, Arbys, Hardees, or pizza. There aren’t organic/health food like restaurants in most towns near me. In fact, I don’t think I have ever seen one when traveling. So while I hate that Subway puts all this junk in their food, it won’t stop me from going when on the road. It’s still better than the other deep fried choices out there–and people have to eat. I have a lot of health problems and have to pack SO much stuff as is (medical necessities) that I don’t have the time, room, OR energy to deal with packing food as well!

  • Stacey C

    I think this is wonderful information to have for my family to make good choices. I have to say, thought, that I have some people questioning where you got this information. They are telling me that the ingredients lists are all on Subways website and that your info doesn’t match it. I believe that you wouldn’t post false information…I am just wondering what to tell the doubters…help! :) Thanks for all you post!