Food Babe Investigates: Is Subway Real Food?

This is a guest post from Vani Hari (a.k.a. The Food Babe) and New York Times Best Selling author. You can read more about her take on the food industry in her second book, Feeding You Lies!

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.
  • 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?
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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

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505 thoughts on “Food Babe Investigates: Is Subway Real Food?”

  1. Food Babe,

    How does Star Bucks get away with not listing caffeine as an ingredient in their Refreshers drinks? This is a drink that they promote as “natural, real fruit”. My step-daughter, who is a very bright 13 year old but has ADHD, brought these drinks home from a grocery shopping day with mom. Caffeine is the last thing she needs, but I could not say don”t drink this because there was no caffeine listed in the ingredients. She drink it before school and was beginning to get a little hyper before she left the house. After I returned from taking them to school I examined the can a little closer and still saw no caffeine listed but then noticed the green coffee bean extract. Can Food Babe put pressure on Star Bucks to correct this?

  2. Except the tomatos, cucumbers, banana peppers, jalapenos, and olives are treated with artificial coloring an/or chlorine to look more appealing. I used to work at subway…

  3. food babe it was great you got Azodicarbonamide out of subway bread but you need to launch campaign to get it out of national bread Merita sunbeam which affects more people.

  4. Just a point: real avocado would be black in a while after cutting it.. it’s call oxidation… so if it real avocado with no even lemon on it… how come its always soft green?… just saying… think about it!

  5. You’re wrong. The avocado has chemicals. I work at subway, i tasted their avocado, it tastes bitter and preserved. Real avocado doesnt taste like that, it is prepackaged and kept frozen but real avocado turns brown, because it naturally should. Subway avocado doesn’t it can be kept in the fridge for days without turning brown or going bad. All their ‘veggies’ are treated with pesticides. So no, none of their menu is actually healthy everything is prepackaged and preserved with chemicals.

    1. I don’t know what Subway you worked at, but where I worked, the avocado turned brown within hours of not being properly covered in the fridge(lasts about 1 rush since it’s hard to keep covered when you’re busy). It may be prepackaged and frozen but it is real avocado.

      As for your pesticides comment, there are a lot of veggies out there containing pesticides, we rinsed most of the prepared vegetables before serving them.

  6. Subway ran an ad during SNL tonight announcing the removal of the yoga mat ingredient and high fructose corn syrup. A few years ago I worked for them. We were next to a high rise medical clinic. One doctor in particular asked me to look at the boxes that the food was shipped in to look for ingredients such as propylene glycol. All I can say about this new ad campaign is that Subway is trying to cover a multitude of sins so that it can continue to perpetuate a lie that their food is fresh.

  7. I would like to say many things people eat that they don’t
    ever eat often like Aligator,Snake,Rabbit and Squarel, people say “it tastes like Chicken”.The biggest joke is the only thing that is on the healthy list at subway should be the Chicken and Guess What.It doesn’t taste like Chicken. What is it????

  8. Turns out, they even offer Sodium Chloride to sprinkle on their subs, which uses some of the same ingredients used to make HYDROCHLORIC ACID!

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  10. I just lost my faith in humanity and to think that a large demographic of their customers are kids and they’re serving unhealthy food? I hope there’s a law against such actions but what can we do if these multi-million fast food chains are backed by America itself?!

  11. This is “one” of the healthy places were supposed to go to it just shocks me that America allows this to happen makes me sad , and to think we as a society must of gone here. Thanks for posting this, and you blog is amazing :)

  12. Ferrous gluconate is used in all black olives…otherwise they would not be black! Also nearly all store-bought pickles and banana peppers have food dye so that is nothing nefarious on Subway’s part. Regardless, I don’t eat Subway OR pickles w/ food dye, but I don’t think it’s fair to fault Subway for these items if you don’t mention that ALL MAINSTREAM STORE-BOUGHT BRANDS of these items CONTAIN this garbage.

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