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?

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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. By the way, there’s also absolutely nothing wrong with eating previously frozen veggies. Freezing the veggie [or fruit] does not take away any of it’s nutrients. Any decent nutritionist will tell you that if you can’t or don’t want to buy fresh, just get frozen! It is just as good for you, and will be much easier to store and use in small increments. So I don’t know why she notes that all of the veggies and the avocado were frozen. It doesn’t matter in the slightest. Even if you grow all of your own food, trust me, you’ll end up freezing most of it for later use, if not pickling it so that it keeps longer.

  2. I actually used to work at Subway, and while I won’t argue at all with this analysis of the meats and breads/dressings used there, 97% of the veggies/toppings we sold there were cut fresh in the back before being placed on the sandwich bar. At the very least, they were cut/sliced and packed in a very cold cooler for a maximum of an hour or two before being used. This usually only happens once during the day, before a serious lunch rush. Whether or not fruits and veggies are organic also doesn’t really matter much if you aren’t eating the skin or rind. It depends on what kind of fruit/veggie it is. I’m not saying Subway is fantastic and healthy food, and I’m not saying it should be eaten regularly, but it really is one of the best ‘fast food’ options out there, and if we’re being realistic here, most of us will end up needing to grab some kind of fast food at some point. People should know the lesser of the evils, at least.

  3. People try to find things wrong with everything. I will continue to eat Subway subs. You don’t think they are healthy, don’t eat them.

    1. It isn’t a matter of opinion, nor does it have anything to do with “people [who] try to find things wrong with everything”. (see the food babe’s rave reviews of healthy independently produced products) It is a case of you ignoring the facts, while you continue putting food in your body that will likely make you one more of the hundreds of millions of casualties of our predatory system of food production that was built on the systematic destruction of the family farm system that came before.

    2. It’s not “thinking” they’re not healthy, they aren’t!
      But keep stuffing your face without a care in the world. Let’s see where that gets you.

  4. I think the main point of the article is to inform us; whether or not you choose to believe her claims and/or question what you (we) put into our bodies, the facts are there. Perhaps SUBWAY will offer some “organic” selections if enough people ask for them. (Ever wonder why there aren’t any organic/natural fast food chains?) For those decrying the expense of organic food vs. processed, I ask “why skimp on nutrition?” Strange how we spend megabucks on what goes on our bodies, the toys we just have to have, but save money (for now) on nutrition.

  5. Oh, and just from being mindful of my body i can sort of tell when what ive just eaten is “real” food or if its extremley processed with dozens of ingriedients. Subway just makes me feel kinda crappy all over. I have a 6 inch in the fridge that will probably be my last subway sandwhich for a long while.

    BTW sorry about my previous comment, but the girl in that video is gorgeous and couldnt help myself. Keep doin your thing homegirl.

  6. I agree that processed food is not the best for health. However, there’s a cost, in terms of money and time, to live on only “real food”. To do that, we need to be farmers, or quite rich to afford everything fresh and organic. This is not going to happen anytime soon for the majority of population.

    If you have the luxury of choosing the real food, good for you. For most of us, we just have to make do with the lesser of the evils. Many modern inventions (like computers, cellphones, decorative materials etc.) are not really suitable for the human body that evolves much slower to adapt. There’s no need to take the extreme positions.

    1. Or go to a Farmer’s Market?
      It’s really not that difficult to NOT eat crap from Subway.

  7. I eat at subway several times per week. I will continue and also encourage others to do so as babe sounds like a vegan or some other food nut that has to inflict her lifestyle on others,I give no credence to this person and neither should the rest of America .

    1. Even if she is vegan, that fact has nothing to do with this article. She’s trying to convey that Subway’s food is FULL OF CHEMICALS.

      Greg, you sound awfully smart. Keep eating your processed meats that are full of nitrates. Let me know colon cancer is!

      1. Stephanie, everything we eat is made from chemicals. So your argument isn’t going to hold water. What Greg is saying is that, not everyone is agreeing that some of these food additives, when present in very small amounts, are inherently unhealthy. It is sort of a trade off. In order to serve people the freshest, safest food possible, so things have been added to keep them from having harmful bacteria, that could make someone sick.

        I am not for any additives, myself, but with a population of over 300 million, the bottom line is that we need to keep our food as fresh and good as long as possible to feed everyone. Unless we greatly add to our population of farmers and food production locally, it won’t change.

      2. Good points Rick. If people truly are concerned with chemicals in their foods, then they’d not eat out at all and invest heavily in their own farm. Even foods labeled “organic” in supermarkets are studied and proven to not really be truly organic.

        The human body is incredibly resilient. The average American body has an excessive amount of toxins from eating alone and trying to mitigate that amount by avoiding Subway every once and a while will only go so far to make them “healthier.”

      3. Subway isn’t “eating out” anyway. People who take an active interest in eating real food do so because they understand that it is a major key to our health or the lack thereof. If the ridiculous cancer and heart disease rates in America aren’t enough to make you take it seriously, perhaps the hideous and escalating obesity problem will eventually convince you. Our corporate food system is killing us by the millions, and Americans continue to shrug it off. The human body is resilient, but not enough to withstand the abuse of the typical American fast “food” diet.

      4. “so things have been added to keep them from having harmful bacteria, that could make someone sick. ”

        How about they just use fresh vegetables?
        I can’t believe there are pro-preservative people out there. takes all kinds…

    2. So because someone doesn’t eat animal products, he or she is a “food nut”? How do you reckon? Perhaps she’s just very cognizant of what she eats? What’s wrong with that? I happen to like my body and want to be strong, healthy, and live to a ripe old age without any major ailments, so sue me.
      No one forced you to click on the article.

  8. The first time I ever went to a Subway, with my son-who has eaten there numerous times, I stood behind a father and his son , while looking at the food behind the “SNEEZE GUARD ” glass ,(which had a 2″ to a 3″ gap from the top of the counter to the bottom of the guard) the little boy sneezed below the glass , right into the food and I promptly took my son and left, and have never returned !

  9. I liked reading this story, but I’d like to know where all the facts came from? I don’t blindly believe all the information I read on the internet. Did the Food Babe conduct all the scientific analysis herself? Or, is there a scientific report associated with these facts?

  10. Good article, good to know. I would like to hear about High Tech Burrito, my current favorite fast food.

  11. The avocado is fresh (not frozen) in Los Angeles Subways. You can watch them cut it right out of the avocado skin.

  12. Food Babe, can you do an investigation of Panera as well? It positions itself as “healthy”, but I often wonder what ingredients are hidden in their food.

  13. I quit buying from Subway when they changed their tuna salad sandwich from tuna salad to a tuna-flavored mayonnaise sandwich. They saved money on the sandwich cost, and so did I. I just don’t go there any more. Too bad. It was a great sandwich before they ruined it to save a few cents.

    1. Subway makes the tuna salad there, they get a package of tuna and add the mayo, so it’s possible they had accidentally added too much mayo that day. It’s made fresh least it was when I worked there in 2006.

    2. I worked at Subway from 2010-2011 and was always getting in trouble for not adding enough mayo to the tuna. I agree with you – it is primarily mayo with some tuna thrown in. Yuck.

  14. It seems to me as if there’s only one way to avoid eating/drinking something that might contain something that isn’t good for you in one way or another:

    Don’t eat! Don’t drink! Choose whether or not to Be Merry!

    Soon, ye shall die–either of starvation, dehydration, or both!

    I think I’d rather eat something from Subway…

  15. Old Bill Collins

    Are you telling me that the millions of us who switched from our favorite burger place to Subway did not make a good health choice?

    1. If you switched from eating at a basic burger joint to eating at Subway, you definitely made a better health choice. It may not be the absolute pinnacle of health, but it’s still a far healthier choice than a greasy [probably low-quality, factory farmed] burger and some fries that are literally dripping with oil. Just because Subway isn’t the ULTIMATE food choice, doesn’t make it as bad as any and everything else. These things are all on a spectrum, you just have to stay informed and make the best decisions you can when you are given the choice.

    2. Yep.
      The power of advertising.
      The subs may have veggies in them, but at 50 ingredients for the bread, artificial flavors and colors, and preservatives, it’s no better than a burger and fries.
      You’d probably be better off making your burgers and fries at home and skipping Subway.
      And I say that as a vegetarian.

  16. Why is everyone backing the bus up on Subway? It’s a great place to grab a meal on the go. I’m pretty healthy. I run daily–I finish in the top 2% of the races and triathlons I do–and here’s what I recommend: Pile a lot of veggies on a 6″ sandwich (don’t worry, you won’t die from any poisonous sprays). Go easy on the condiments and bread. I usually get tuna or turkey with all the fixings (extra olives) and then add a little light mayo, oil and vinegar for the dressing. I often ditch the top half of the bread (Most places get the bun to burger ratio way off). Skip the chips and soda, just get a water cup–it’s cheaper and better for you. (Side opinion: gum and pop are for kids). If you’re active, go ahead and grab a cookie or a parfait, they’re both really good! Just don’t overeat, stay active, and don’t beat yourself up.

    1. “Why is everyone backing the bus up on Subway?”
      -Did you bother reading this article? Educate yourself!

      “gum and pop are for kids”
      -if you think pop is for kids, i suggest you educate yourself about childhood obesity. It’s an epidemic. Have you heard?

    2. You work for Subway, don’t you?
      Sounds like you’re doing some PR damage control for them.

  17. I don’t understand the bashing either…shouldn’t we already know that Subway isn’t the best thing for us seeing as how their business is based on processed lunch meat? This info is really interesting and helps explain why I could never feel full after eating a sub from there. I saw them refilling the meat counter too many times and everything (just like at Taco Bell) comes in a box. Nothing is natural about that. Criticize this article or not…it’s your choice what you eat, and eventually you see an end product come out of what you eat whether that’s fat or sickness. Just don’t blame anyone when you get sick…you were warned.

  18. i actually went to subway last year when they had the “avacado” sub and it wasn’t even really avacados itmwas a squeeze bag full of some sort of green paste. disgusting. thank you for this article

  19. My gawd but Americans have become neurotic about food!
    It’s an EFF-ing sandwich, made with ingredients available in the grocery store, but made for me by someone else.
    If you don’t want to eat at Subway, fine, don’t. But don’t act like the place is gonna kill ya.

    1. “made with ingredients available in the grocery store,”

      Did you even read the article? Can’t recall the last time I used azodicarbonamide in anything I made at home. I also don’t use preservatives, nitrates, or food coloring.
      Please. READ before commenting.

  20. Here in UK we have provenance issues, as highlighted by the horsemeat found in ‘beef’ products. Is it the same in the US?

  21. Every single food chain in the world macdonalds, Wendy’s, Pizza Hut, Harvey’s. all of that crap is all behind the government and the government wants population control. They want our cancer diabetes and diseases to keep going. Did you know Monsanto has huge barns guarded with all natural seeds? Look it up. It’s true. They know what there doing. Did you know a can of coke has more then 100 times your daily sugar intake? And we wonder why everyone is obese. Is fructose or corn syrop really needed in everything? NO! And we defiantly don’t need aspertain in our diet drinks! It fries your brain cells! I would rather drink the regular cola! Even our organic farms have been taken over by the Monsanto seeds already. Even organic food is not always safe. This is what the government wants they out all that stuff in the foods to keep us weak minded! Pink slime? Yeah it’s real look that up to in your meat! 60-99% is not real beef!

    1. i so agree with you. the government backs all of this gmo and fake food to make us sick and depressed and fat so we’ll go to the doctor and get a prescription to benefit big pharma

  22. I tink those usefull information could be available in schools, churches, communities centers and labor union where they feed people with products contaminated.

  23. Me daughter has a done a lot of research on the foods ???? We are eating also… only suggestion is don’t state “they also probably contain______” state only what you know thru research you have done ……it makes your good work more credible. Thanks for the insights.

  24. When at home, I prepare my own food. But what are we supposed to eat while traveling? Fast for a few weeks at a time?

    We have to eat something and lack the time to research restaurants wherever we happen to be.

  25. What about salad dressing? All commercial salad dressings are gmo soybean oil! Also, the vegetables are not organic, so they have chemicals sprayed on them. I agree, this is the healthiest meal you could get there,but far from perfect. It is harder and harder to get real whole food all the time, but we just have to do the best we can!

  26. Funny, a few years ago I decided that there was something unappealing about a subway sandwich and I just avoid it like the plague – now I know why! Trust your gut – it always tells you the truth.

  27. I think a lot of this stuff could be true. Nothing beats home cooked
    meals where you actually see everything that goes into making a great meal. Subway does have a lot of things going for it, as the
    food on the line always looks fresh. The thing about eating out is
    you should not live that way eating out 7 days a week, but hey
    a one stop a week place to enjoy what you are hungry for is a great
    idea and lets the mom enjoy herself not having to cook for her family. Plus it serves as a time of getting together with friends
    at a special place to eat. Do not hurt business places cutting them
    down. They need our help so people will come to their place for food.

    1. Perhaps the dad should cook once in a while, then?

      “Do not hurt business places cutting them down. They need our help so people will come to their place for food.”

      So maybe they should offer food that is not full of preservatives, coloring, nitrates, pesticides, etc.? Why in the *world* would I support a business like that? In a free market, if you can’t hack it…if you can’t get with the times…you go under. If Subway goes under, they deserved it; I don’t owe them my business.

  28. A Subway is less than a mile from our home. Our teenage grandson worked there for a while. His advice: DON’T EAT IT.

  29. Where did you gather this information? What “research” did you actually do? This seems so far-fetched it’s ridiculous! The things that go into those sandwiches are not any worse than what you would buy at the grocery store! And really bleaching agents in the bread. Have you ever bought bread? Most flour is bleached, especially in white bread. This article is basically a ploy to get people to freak out about what they’re eating! Congrats, you managed to scare all of the ten people who read your article. Next time, maybe you should state something about where you got your information so that your article doesn’t look bogus or made-up, unless of course it is. In that case, no need to cite where you gathered your information.

    1. @Anonymous (Feb 8, 2013)

      Cause I can put faith in the quality of food from huge corporations? They have great track records. How incredibly foolish, …perhaps thats why you are ‘Anonymous’?

      Just cause you don’t like the truth, doesn’t make it go away. Keep eating Subway if you like, be all the guinea pig you want to be.

    2. Say…take it easy pardner! Suppose she does cite you her sources,will you believe her then? Seems to be a lot of venom poured out on a person when all she’s done is state her case, to a lot more than “ten people” as it happens. Which is her right. We are all at liberty to eat where and how we wish,and we should appreciate anyone who helps others make informed decisions about our nutritional choices. Because,though I verily tremble for fear of your great wrath to actually point this out to you,our great food manufacturing corporations have not been entirely forthcoming about what they add to their products to prolong shelf life and to improve the cosmetic appearance of their goods. I don’t have to believe or accept everything she may have presented here,but I think she ought to be respected and not insulted,especially not by someone who hides behind the cloak of anonymity to be offensive and,dare I say,petty and small.

    3. Dear Anonymous, Why would you support the postion that processed food is so wonderrful. Take the taste test. Eat a home grown tomato, then eat one out of the store. Which one is better? Don’t be so hard on someone trying to help

  30. Good for you for taking this on. Independent research like this is needed. I hope that you find more ways to get this research you’ve done out to more people. I recently read an article where some scientists were testing for arsenic in chicken meat. They were able to run a comprehensive substance test on the meat because the lab they were testing at offered this at no extra charge. The results showed things the scientists had never remotely expected to find, such as traces of prescription drugs such as Prozac, among others. Upon further investigation it was revealed that this is apparently fairly common practice, and is done to prevent chickens from being depressed, as it is believed that happier chickens actually make better meat. Keeping them doped up I suppose must be less expensive than letting them leave their cages. The fact that this is done is fairly appalling, I feel due to the fact that trace amounts of these substances are bound to find their way into humans consuming the meat. Information like this needs to be more readily available for everyone.

  31. Well when I eat at Subway- and mine’s in the UK, I don’t bother with the bread rolls at all I have a wrap, and not always a meat one- I know in the Uk we are better off than the States when it comes to what’s in our meat if it isn’t a burger or processed into a fully premade meal, we usually know what’s in it, and can choose not to eat it if we wish, so I sometimes go for the chicken tikka- yes I do know that chicken can be messed with and spices can be faked too but otherwise I choose a plain salad one with everything but the chopped tomatoes in- as they make it soggy, and drop dressings for the same reason- it’s probably about the healthiest takeaway sandwich around, as most are steam baked white or brown bread with mayonnaise based dressings to keep them moist in a plastic wrapper or container sometimes even made the night before with miles to travel before they get to the store where you will buy it though we do have Burger King KFC and McDonalds as well here too

  32. Are you done now? Just because the internet exists doesn’t mean you should post. Better luck next time sweetie.

  33. Those ingredient are not Subways’ special secret recipe, I believe
    all industrial doing the same, so, what and where is our next meal?
    Plant our own vegetable and raise our own cattle?
    We live in a modern century, somehow need to compromise somethings.
    Need x-ray, you compromise radiation, need electricity, PC, celphone, you need to compromise you time, health…. to work for more money…… so what is the point of this article?
    and why point at Subway not others?

  34. @Duff It’s low minded comments like this that really make me laugh. You learned a little bit of chemistry in high school didn’t you. Of course all matter is made of chemicals. No one said they weren’t. I’m sure all of us viewing and reading this are aware we are talking about man made chemicals in food that didn’t originate in the food itself. I treat people like you Duff in my clinic everyday. People who have had their head buried in the sand for years and are now willing to do anything and spend any amount of money to save their life. Duff I think you should go drink petroleum. After all it’s natural and a chemical so by your reasoning it should be fine. Let us know how it goes.
    Well done piece. The most important thing people can do for their health is eat real food. Golden rule.

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