The Unhealthiest Fast Food Sandwiches in America—And 10 Healthier Options
Aside from burgers, sandwiches are one of the most beloved to-go orders you can get. Have you ever stopped in a fast food place like Subway or a quick-service restaurant like Panera Bread and thought about the nutrition of the sandwich you're about to order? Whether you're watching your weight or just trying to be more health-conscious, it's important for everyone to know what they're putting into their body, which is why the team at Eat This, Not That! compiled a list of 10 unhealthy sandwiches—plus 10 healthier options—so you can make smarter choices at popular sandwich shops.
Methodology: In order to identify the unhealthiest and healthiest sandwiches, we compiled a list of some of the most caloric sandwiches from seven of the most popular quick-service restaurant chains. From there, we took the sandwiches with the most sodium and deemed those the most unhealthy. These sandwiches in most cases—but not all—also had the most calories and the highest total fat and saturated fat contents as well. We also only considered the top two most unhealthy sandwiches at each restaurant to ensure we represented a more diverse range of restaurants. All 10 of the unhealthy sandwiches on this list either nearly meet or exceed the recommended daily allowance of sodium of 2,300 milligrams.
To identify 10 of the healthiest sandwiches you can order, we examined the menus of the same seven quick-service restaurants and selected the sandwiches with the least amount of sodium. In most cases, the sandwiches with the least amount of sodium also had the fewest calories and the least amount of total fat and saturated fat. Only the top two healthiest sandwiches at each restaurant were considered for the final ranking. No sandwich on the healthiest list exceeds 950 milligrams of sodium. We did not consider breakfast sandwiches, wraps, limited-edition or regional sandwiches, or extra-stacked sandwiches for either ranking. For subs, we only considered ones that were between 6 and 8 inches in length.
Now, here are the 20 unhealthiest and healthiest sandwiches from quick-service restaurants.
First, the worst…
Wendy's Homestyle Asiago Ranch Chicken Club
Of all the sandwiches on the unhealthy side of the spectrum, Wendy's Homestyle Asiago Ranch Chicken Club is the least detrimental to your health with only 1,540 milligrams of sodium in each sandwich. This is still a large amount of sodium for one sandwich, though. The American Heart Association recommends consuming no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day, and 1,540 milligrams is a little less than half of that. For not even 700 calories, you essentially wipe out half a day's worth of salt. Between the fried chicken, asiago cheese, bacon strips, and creamy ranch sauce, it makes sense as to why this sandwich packs so much salt.
Jimmy John's Beach Club
This sandwich may not look like it deserves to be on the unhealthiest sandwich list, but its sodium content suggests otherwise. Clocking in at nearly 1,800 milligrams of the salty stuff, this turkey, provolone, and avocado sandwich is far from nutritious. Not to mention that this poultry and vegetable-based sandwich packs a whopping 60 grams of total fat, which is likely from the mayonnaise and avocado. While grams of fat may not be easy to visualize, teaspoons may help form a better visual. Consuming 60 grams of fat is equivalent to eating 15 teaspoons of straight fat.
Potbelly's Wrecking Ball, Originals
This sandwich came into Potbelly's secret underground menu like a wrecking ball. (Cue Miley Cyrus.) Perhaps only devout Potbelly customers know about the sandwich shop's underground menu, on which this behemoth sandwich can be found. This sandwich is just like the "A Wreck" sandwich on the menu, which consists of ham, turkey, Angus roast beef, and salami, except this one stacks on a few meatballs with marinara sauce and provolone cheese, and is then topped with tomato, lettuce, and mayo. Honestly, with that lineup of both processed meat and red meat, it's hard to believe this sandwich doesn't contain 3,000 milligrams of sodium. Still, at a staggering 2,210 milligrams of sodium, this sandwich falls 90 milligrams short of wiping out an entire day's worth of sodium. You'd be better off ordering the "A Wreck" sandwich, which amounts to 1,520 milligrams of sodium.
Firehouse Subs' Steak & Cheese
This cheesesteak from Firehouse Subs is loaded in sodium. Crumbles of sautéed steak, slices of melted provolone, and a swath of mayonnaise and mustard all contribute to this extraordinarily high sodium content. For context, one teaspoon of salt is equivalent to 2,300 milligrams of sodium—imagine how thirsty you would be after that. Well, eating this sandwich will yield a similar experience.
Firehouse Subs' Sweet & Spicy Meatball
OK, we're just going to come out and say it. This sandwich looks amazing. However, with as much sodium as what's in five and a half cups of Chex Mix, it doesn't sound nearly as appetizing. This meatball, marinara-doused, and melted provolone-covered sandwich boasts 20 grams of saturated fat, which is roughly how much you should consume (at most) in a given day. If you truly have a hankering for this sandwich, try ordering a small sub, which would only cost you 480 calories, 11 grams of saturated fat, and 1,290 milligrams of sodium.
Arby's Roast Turkey Ranch & Bacon Sandwich
Arby's may be known for its roast beef sandwiches, but the fast food chain's turkey and bacon sandwich actually houses a lot of salt. Containing more than a day's worth of sodium, this sandwich is something that should be split in half, or at the very least, be eaten in moderation.
Jersey Mike's #43: Chipotle Cheese Steak with mayonnaise
The #43 Chipotle Cheese Steak sandwich can be found under Jersey Mike's hot subs list. Here's how the company's site markets the grub: "Bring on the heat! Our Chipotle Cheese Steak is sure to put a pep in your step." By pep in your step, do they mean a step closer to developing hypertension? This sandwich packs more than 2,600 milligrams of sodium, which is more than 300 milligrams past the recommended daily allotment. For those who already have high blood pressure, the AHA suggests consuming no more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day. Eating this sandwich in one sitting would cause one with high blood pressure to ingest 1.75 times more sodium than what's recommended for the day.
Jimmy John's Italian Nightclub
Jimmy John's has a knack for naming their sandwiches after different clubs, and for making them all high in sodium. Several slices of salami, capicola, ham, and provolone with a drizzle of vinegar sit between the sub bun, which all hike up the sodium content and fat content. For a healthier option, order this sandwich without the bun and have it instead with a lettuce wrap. Not only does this cut the number of calories in half, but it also cuts the sodium count down to 2,110 milligrams, which is still very high but nonetheless an improvement.
Arby's Half Pound French Dip & Swiss with Au Jus
You may be wondering why a sandwich with just 740 calories and 35 grams of total fat is considered less healthy than one that consists of over 1,000 calories and 65 grams of total fat. The answer? The sodium content. The AHA estimates that the average American consumes about 3,400 milligrams of sodium every single day—well over the suggested allotment of 2,300 milligrams. This sandwich—served with au jus—amounts to that extraordinarily high number on its own. The au jus is a French culinary term for a reduction sauce made from the juices that collect from roasting red meat and either stock or broth. One cup of Swanson's Beef Broth contains a whopping 833 milligrams of sodium alone, and that's all for only 15 calories.
Jersey Mike's #44: Buffalo Chicken Cheese Steak
The worst sodium offender of them all? Jersey Mike's Buffalo Chicken Cheese Steak. At 3,625 milligrams of sodium, this sandwich packs over 1.5 times the amount of sodium you're supposed to consume in one day. Between the chicken, blue cheese dressing, and Frank's Red hot sauce, this sandwich takes the cake as the most sodium-ridden and therefore is the unhealthiest sandwich you can order at one of the seven quick-service restaurants analyzed. There must be a lot of hot sauce on here, with just one tablespoon consisting of 460 milligrams of the stuff.
Now, the best…
Jimmy John's Slim 2: Roast Beef
If you love Jimmy John's, you're in luck because one of the healthier sandwiches you can get at this sandwich shop is the Slim 2. It simply consists of roast beef and bread and only contains 1 gram of saturated fat, which is the second lowest amount of any sandwich on this list, and it costs you less than 1,000 milligrams of sodium. Not too shabby for a sandwich full of processed deli meat!
Panera's Steak & Arugula on Sourdough
Panera's Steak & Arugula on Sourdough sandwich is one of the healthier sandwiches solely because it only packs 880 milligrams of sodium—far less than the daily allotment of 2,300 milligrams a day. Not to mention, 33 grams of protein is the perfect amount for one to metabolize in one sitting.
Jersey Mike's #6: Roast Beef & Provolone
This cold cut sandwich from Jersey Mike's only contains 820 milligrams of sodium. For comparison, the Buffalo Chicken Cheese Steak contains more than four times the amount of sodium at a whopping 3,625 milligrams. A much healthier choice indeed!
Wendy's Grilled Chicken Sandwich
For under 400 calories and below 850 milligrams of sodium, you can enjoy a grilled chicken sandwich—definitely one of the more healthier options! Also, the saturated fat content is low at just 2 grams per serving, which is why it beat out Jersey Mike's Roast Beef & Provolone sandwich.
Potbelly's Tuna Salad—Originals
For those who do have a liking for the fish sandwich, you may be delighted to learn that it's one of the healthier options at Potbelly's. What separates this sandwich from the traditional kind is that it does not contain mayonnaise. All that's on this multigrain sub is 100 percent Albacore tuna, swiss cheese, lettuce, and tomato. This absence of any added sauces (and processed meat) is likely what keeps the sodium level at a low 690 milligrams.
Panera's Napa Almond Chicken Salad on Country Rustic
Panera's chicken salad only packs 680 milligrams of sodium, which makes it one of the healthier sandwich options that you can order at a quick-service restaurant. The only downside to this sandwich is that it contains 12 grams of sugar—which is a lot for a sandwich. Fortunately, it looks like the majority of that sugar comes from the fresh red seedless grapes that are tossed in the mix.
Wendy's Crispy Chicken Sandwich
Shockingly, Wendy's crispy chicken sandwich has less sodium than the fast food chain's grilled chicken counterpart. Ideally, it's better to opt for a grilled option, but because this sandwich contains 200 milligrams less sodium than the grilled variety, we considered it to be the healthier option.
Potbelly's Mushroom Melt—Skinny
The Skinny classification indicated that this sandwich is leaner than most other sandwiches. Aside from being low calorie, the most applaud-worthy aspect of this sandwich is its sodium content—it contains less than one-quarter of the daily recommendation, which is a healthy amount for a meal.
Subway's Rotisserie-Style Chicken
Subway's Rotisserie-Style Chicken sandwich is the second healthiest sandwich you can order at one of these seven quick-service restaurants. Why? For starters, it's tied with the low sodium content of the third healthiest sandwich. Secondly, it packs a healthy ratio of the macronutrients: carbs, fiber, protein, and fat. It beats out Potbelly's Mushroom Melt because it contains less saturated fat, which means it's better for your heart.
Subway's Veggie Delight
Finally, the healthiest sandwich you can order from a quick-service restaurant is Subway's Veggie Delight, which only contains a mere 280 milligrams of sodium. A half-cup of Chex Mix offers around the same amount of sodium. This veggie-filled sandwich doesn't contain a trace of saturated fat. The protein content is relatively low, too, but that's to be expected with the absence of meat and cheese!
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