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.

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

  • [...] Subway: healthy or not? (Ignorance is not bliss 30 years down the road.) [...]

  • [...] came across some interesting info at 100 days of real food.com and could not help but share.  Subway boasts that their food is fresh and eating healthy off the [...]

  • me

    No where does it say organic in Subway. Its saying its a healthier fast food option than other fast food chains. Of course the turkey and ham is processed. What turkey or ham looks like that in slices with out having anything added to it. And unless everyone is planning on growing all their own veges anything canned or purchased not certified organic its going to contain chemicals and byproducts. Let’s be real about this…..it’s common sense. It is definitely a healthier option as long as you use common sense when ordering.

    • It’s true that Subway doesn’t advertise as being organic, but that’s not my point. Just because something is labeled with less calories and fat, doesn’t make it healthy for you. Wouldn’t it be nice if the biggest chain restaurant in the world offered at least one organic option? Just one?! At least Panera Bread and Jason’s Deli are doing this.

      • Hentai

        Yes, just because something is labeled with less calories and fat DOES make it healthIER for you than an alternative product with MORE calories and fat.

        If you perceive a demand for an organic fast food chain that offers a cost-competitive product to Subway, why don’t you start your OWN chain, instead of writing a “hit piece” on a quintessential American success story like Subway?

        You might want to start by reading “Start Small, Finish Big” by Fred DeLuca (co-founder of Subway)

        • Jeff

          Hentai – um, no. Less calories and fat does not necessarily make it healthier for you than something with more. It is MUCH healthier to eat, say:
          - a 500-calorie meal w/ 10 grams of fat, free of processed foods and free of vegetables grown from GMO seeds than it is to eat (in other words, NATURAL NUTRITIOUS food)
          - a 300-calorie meal w/ 0 grams of fat full of processed foods and full of veggies grown GMO seeds/or veggies sprayed down w/ pesticides (in other words, FAKE and NUTRIENT-DEFICIENT FOOD)

          Also, there is a such thing as GOOD fat. Your body needs fat to survive. This is why “low-fat” diets are not necessarily the best way to go – you just have to make sure you’re eating the right kinds of fat.

      • Jeff

        Foodbabe – are those vegetables organic? My guess (based on no research but strong probably-correct suspicion) is that the veggies you’re eating from Subway are either from GMOs or they were lathered in pesticides. And that they were planted in a field that is nutrient-deficient b/c it’s been planted the past 10 years in a row instead of being allowed to lie fallow and regenerate the nutrients in its soil.

        Thoughts?

  • [...] I had planned to share my new favorite sandwich that I have been having for lunch lately when I saw a post on a blog that I follow and enjoy reading. It talks about Subway and if it is really fresh or not. You can see it here on 100 Days of Real Food. [...]

  • Ken Johnson

    I think you should go to your child’s grammar school and join their arithmetic class. Then, you’ll actually be able to do the simple math and show the chances of Subway would have to do you harm, you’d also understand how a marginal increase actually means and contextualize this for your readers. But, then you wouldn’t be able to light your hair on fire and try to scare people into being a food snob.

    GMO food is not harmful for you. MSG is not harmful for you. GMO food is responsible for billions of people being alive and not facing starvation. We get smuggy white people who dislike these foods, like subway, which is much healthier than traditional fast food joints.

  • Wow! I suppose I should have known better. I don’t eat at Subway often, but I always considered it a better choice than the alternatives. Not so much I guess. As far as the American Heart Association is concerned – I believe they have their seal on Diet Coke & Diet Pepsi as well. So apparently a can o’ chemicals is good for your heart these days. Thanks for an enlightening post.

  • My husband and I were just talking about this the other day. If it’s not made by you, you have no control over what goes into it and it’s bad for you. We accept that when we go out to eat. We’re happy with our 75% whole food approach to life. Sure we could do better, but I really like those chicken tacos our local Mexican restaurant makes.

  • Anna

    Is there any way to make whole wheat sub bread ?

  • Kim

    Thanks for all the good info. I agree Subway is not as good as made at home, but in a pickle I think it’s better than other fast food options.

    Also had to share Avocado must be different regionally as I live in Southern CA and all Subways have fresh avocado. They actually cut it open and use half a fruit per order. It’s my favorite item to get.

  • Sarah2

    I cannot get my response to post, so am trying yet another way. Apologies if this ends up on here several times!

    In the end, although it might seem like splitting hairs since we agree that processed meat is bad, it all boils down to the fact that I strongly believe that people who write for a fairly wide audience on the web should check their facts very carefully and always quote or link to original sources who are recognized experts – the same as any journalist would (or at least should!) do. It is the responsible thing to do. I am reasonably sure that you can find support for pretty much anything on the internet, and of course not all of it is true. I do not believe that the ‘Natural Health Dossier’ is a reputable source. In any case, even if they are reputable, in this case especially, when the quote is attributed to the World Cancer Research Fund and NOT the Natural Health Dossier, original sources should be checked. I have raised the issue with them as well, and hope they will respond, but whether they do or don’t isn’t the point – it’s that falsehoods should not be perpetuated!

  • Sabrina

    Is the subway bread in Canada the same as in the states?

  • If you’d like to pop over to http://www.wotzinurfood.com and see what the list
    of ingredients and enumbers is doing to your bodies. We in Europe have
    been concerned about these poisons, so now you can see the dangers.
    Also, check out the links on this page: http://www.wotzinurfood.com/news170511.html

    Regards

    Mark

  • Jason

    Im just wondering were all your work cited is? Or are you a chemist? So what im wondering is,how do you know? You have wikipedia as a link. That is a very shoddy claim that Azodicarbonamide may cause asthma. This is from your link that you posted. “A number of reports have been published of individual azodicarbonamide workers alleging asthma induced by exposure to
    azodicarbonamide. The strongest evidence comes from a study of two
    individuals (one atopic and one non-atopic) who worked at the same
    plastics factory for about 4 years (Malo et al., 1985; Pineau et al.
    1985). These people work at a plastic factory where they inhale this not eat it. I dont know, sounds to me you just thought of something added some of your own opinions and called it a fact.

  • Marcy

    I bought dinner there this week for my entire family. My daughter wanted some avocado on any sandwich. So while they were making it I asked about how they get the avocado and was told it comes frozen in packets! I don’t want to buy this food but sometimes it gets late and there’s a hungry family waiting at home. What do you do at times like that?

  • shareezy

    ferrous gluconate is an iron salt you get in supplements, it’s also used IV as an iron supplement, hardly dangerous unless you OD on it.

  • Amanda

    Subway is actually owned by McDonalds. It’s called McSub. I had a boyfriend who worked there through college and when he told me I was shocked.-

  • [...] food restaurant is unavoidable, so if I have to, I usually try to find a Subway. Even after reading this article, I still feel like it’s one of the best options out there if you can’t find a [...]

  • Liz

    I walked by a Subway last night and avoided it due to this article and picked up my own ingredients from Whole Foods to make myself a sandwich at home. Could you share with us your thoughts on Boars Head deli meat?

  • [...] baking, so we covered the quiche, stuck it in the fridge, and went to Subway-the day after I read this article.  And there were Doritos involved.  Sometimes you do what you gotta do.  I won’t lie, my [...]

  • Michelle

    I suffer from migraines, & I mean suffer! Sometimes I can exceed 20 in a month. I have done my best to eliminate MSG, nitrates & nitrites, alcohol, etc., as well as many other triggers. If MSG is hidden & I am that sensitive, I have to say your research is much appreciated. I can’t say I won’t ever HAVE to eat @ subway or chick-fil-a again, but the info sure explains why I may be continuing to get migraines so frequently.

  • leslie

    you can get the vinegar on the salad…that’s what I do…just veggies and vinegar…but I rarely go there anyway. :)

    The bowl and fork probably have BPA in them too. LOL!

  • Barbara

    Maybe Food Babe should start talking about how much food costs and who has the money to spend on it. subway offers really affordable food and for folks with very little food spending dollars, they offer food that is relatively healthful and provides a decent amount of calories to sustain working folks and kids. if someone is choose b/w mcdonald’s (tons of empty heart-killing calories) v. subway (lots more whole food calories) i hope they pick subway every time. we should be talking about how to get affordable whole foods to everyone. there aren’t a lot of people that can afford to only eat locally-sourced, organically food. the discussion needs on crappy cheap food and the complicated problems of food deserts. this whole post comes off as disgustingly oblivious.

    • Mitchel

      Maybe you should start a community garden and help to feed them something healthy, or start your own blog about feeding the poor fast food. Seriously, if you are that concerned with feeding the poor fast food then you’re reading the wrong site.

      • Hentai

        And if you’re that oblivious to how many of the poverty-level folks in America are barely eking out an existence right now solely relying on fast food outlets like Subway, you’re posting to the wrong site.

        • jomomma

          ummm fast food, at teh end of the day, is WAY more expensive than going to the store and buying your own lunch meats – you can get a pack of deli meats for the same price as some of the food options at Subway – what it comes down to is LAZINESS.

          • Linda

            Spending time HARD AT WORK, earning WAGES to pay the bills instead of leaving work early to have time for “going to the store and buying your own lunch meats” is anything but LAZINESS.

            Some of the poor are WORKING poor, and have to work far more than 40 hours a week (often 2 or 3 part-time jobs that add up to lots more than 40 hours a week) to get by. If there’s a fast food outlet at or near work, getting lunch there may cost one less in lost wages than spending extra time away from the job to do more comparison shopping at farmer’s markets and cook homemade lunches at home costs.

    • Hentai

      Barbara, I agree whole(food)-heartedly!

  • Gina

    when the heart association back it up with their approval its confusing and FASLE! My boyfriend and i eat here thinking it was a better option! And its not, i guess we can never eat out again….FB what do you think about Burgerfi? they just opened one here in san Antonio tx. its beef is grass fed but that doesnt mean anything, its hard for me to decide since the ingredients aren’t listed yet.

    • Hentai

      Wake up already. How confusing can it be? Something WITH the HA’s seal of approval IS healthier than something withOUT it! It’s a comparative thing.

      Maybe you should really play it safe with that new Burgerfi joint. Skip the beef and just eat the grass yourself.

  • andy

    The practice of living through fear and basing personal decisions off of some random opinion permeates itself throughout this editorial and the following comments. Borderline amusing even the opinions of the author about food consumption in general. Probably getting more harmful additives in your system by just standing there breathing air while whining about frozen avocados and processed meat substances and touching the change you receive at the end of the entire process.

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