If you’re on the road and need to grab something quick from a fast food joint, ordering a sandwich must be a better option than a greasy burger and fries, right? Not always.
In fact, some sandwiches can be deceiving. With caloric sauces, fatty meats, and simple carbs for bread, some of these menu items pack more calories, fat, and sodium than a double cheeseburger. The trick is learning how to identify which subs and sandwiches are calorie bombs and which ones have the leanest, healthiest ingredients.
We scanned through some of our favorite fast food and fast casual restaurants for the best sandwiches to keep your healthy eating on track. Plus, the major ones to avoid. Looking for other smart fast food options? Check out The Healthiest Dish to Order at 20 Fast Food Chains.
First, The Worst…
If you’re craving a sandwich, steer clear of these fast food staples. Even subs packed with veggies can be secret calories bombs.
Arby’s Loaded Italian Sub
Per sandwich: 680 calories, 40 g fat (14 g saturated fat, 0.5 g trans fat), 2,270 mg sodium, 49 g carbs (3 g fiber, 7 g sugar), 32 g protein
Compared to others on this list (and many fast food menus), the relatively low-calorie count of this sandwich seems promising. But beyond the layers of pepperoni, salami, and cheese lies 40 grams of fat, and not the good healthy fats. Arby’s has yet to cut out ingredients with trans fat, which the FDA has banned starting in 2018. Trans fat is a dangerous type of fat that has been associated with raising levels of artery-clogging LDL, or bad cholesterol. And 40 grams of fat is a lot for just one sandwich; a cheeseburger, medium fries, and an ice cream cone at McDonald’s has less fat and sodium.
Jimmy Johns #13 Gourmet Veggie Club
Per sandwich: 995 calories, 63.5 g fat (23 g saturated fat), 1,530 mg sodium, 67 g carbs (6 g fiber, n/a g sugar), 49 g protein.
This sandwich is entirely veggies so it can’t be that bad, right? Unfortunately, this veggie-based sub is quite the calorie trap. Raking in nearly 1,000 calories, more than a day’s worth of saturated fat, and almost your entire allotment of fat from the FDA (it’s just 1.5 grams short), this hero is no, well, hero. Not to mention, the sodium count provides you with more of the salty stuff than 7 servings of Nacho Cheese Doritos! This may be the first time we say this, but if you’re thinking veggie, think again.
Jersey Mike’s Buffalo Chicken Cheesesteak on Wheat Regular
Per sandwich: 950 calories, 48 g fat (16 g saturated fat), 3,865 mg sodium, 73 g carbs, (4 g fiber, 12 g sugar), 59 g protein
We would applaud you for swapping from white to wheat. Unfortunately, that swap doesn’t really help this sub in the nutrition department. Jersey Mike's stuffs this sammy with 118 percent of your day’s protein, and if you eat more protein than your body needs, it stores it as fat. Not to mention a ridiculous load of fat, sodium, and carbs. The only smart way to eat this sandwich would be to cut it into thirds and split it with two other people, keeping the nutritional information at more seasonable levels.
Subway 6-inch Chicken and Bacon Ranch Melt
Per sandwich: 610 calories, 30 g fat (10 g saturated fat, 0.5 g trans fat) 1,290 mg sodium, 47 g carbs (5 g fiber, 8 g sugar), 38 g protein
Subway may be making moves to help their consumers stay fit, but it still doesn’t create all of its sandwiches equally. Hint: Anytime you see the word “bacon” and “ranch” in the same sentence, you should suspect nutritional trouble. This sub, which isn’t even a full footlong, carries more calories than a Big Mac and more fat than 13 Twinkies!
Panera The Italian on a Hoagie Roll
Per sandwich: 880 calories, 47 g fat (15 g saturated fat, 0.5 g trans fat), 2,530 mg sodium, 75 g carbs (4 g fiber, 4 g sugar), 38 g protein
Seems like we’re onto a troubling trend with these Italian-style subs. Filled with ham, salami, soppressata, and provolone, this hoagie is chock-full of fat. Studies show that the consumption of processed meats—the kind at your deli, or on subs like these—has been linked to heart disease, the risk of diabetes, and even colon cancer. That’s because deli meats include sodium nitrate as a preservative. .It’s also loaded with sodium, a known contributor to hypertension.
Wendy’s Asiago Ranch Chicken Club
Per sandwich: 670 calories, 34 g fat (9 g saturated fat), 1,490 mg sodium, 54 g carbs (n/a fiber, 7 g sugar), 38 g protein
Wendy’s is really trying to trick us by eliminating the word “crispy” on this sandwich, making us believe the chicken breast skipped the deep fryer. But with bacon, ranch, and loads of cheese, this sandwich is a fraud! Creamy sauces like ranch are always an indicator of a waist-widening sub. The simple swap?
ETNT TIP: Say bye to mayo, ranch, and all white sauces, which are usually packed with fat and calories. Try mustard instead: it’s low-calorie and just as flavorful.
Potbelly Turkey Club on Regular With Mayo, Onion, Tomato, and Lettuce
Per 1 sandwich: 743 calories, 35 g fat (12 g saturated fat), 2,052 mg sodium, 64 g carbs (6 g fiber, 6 g sugar), 51 g protein
Multigrain wheat and turkey is usually a winning combo, but topping this sandwich with bacon, cheese, and creamy spreads ruins a good thing. This classic Potbelly sandwich is dishing out roughly 53 percent of your recommended fat, 61 percent of your saturated fat, and 85 percent of your sodium. When it comes to caloric sandwich toppings, less is more.
Au Bon Pain Black Angus Steak and Cheese
Per sandwich: 690 calories, 32 g fat (15 g saturated fat), 1,520 mg sodium, 60 g carbs (3 g fiber, 8 g sugar), 40 g protein
This Au Bon Pain sub delivers a one-two punch of sky high fat and sodium. Angus steak may sound appetizing, but it’s coated with layers of cheese, meaning 15 grams of saturated fat. Not sure what 15 grams of saturated fat looks like? You would have to chow down four containers of McDonald’s fries for the same amount saturated fat. With just a few grams short of your total daily intake of saturated fat, this sandwich is definitely a “Not That!”
Now, The Best…
Have no fear! You can still hit up your favorite fast food joints and order up a flat belly-friendly, protein-packed, sandwich.
Jimmy Johns Turkey Tom on French Bread with Mustard
Per sandwich: 360 calories, 2.5 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 1,225 mg sodium, 57 g carbs (5 g fiber, n/a g sugar), 25 g protein
By simply cutting out the mayo, and saying no thank you to provolone, this sandwich is exactly what lunch should be. Turkey is a great lean meat; it’s one of our favorite foods for energy. The poultry provides high quantities of protein, but not too much. Plus, it’s rich in selenium, a mineral that helps the thyroid function at its best. At less than 400 calories for the whole sandwich, it’s a great on-the-go lunch option.
Arby’s Roast Beef Classic
Per sandwich: 360 calories, 14 g fat (5 g saturated fat), 970 mg sodium, 37 g carbs (2 g fiber, 5 g sugar), 23 g protein
This sandwich is another case where choosing less is more. We recommend going for sticking with the standard Roast Beef Classic at Arby’s. Saying goodbye to loads of processed meats and sauces leaves you with a sesame seed bun, roast beef, and way less sodium. And you’re still left with a sufficiently filling amount of protein. Choose this for a great way to get your guilt-free Arby’s fix.
Jersey Mike’s Turkey and Provolone Wheat Mini
Per sandwich: 340 calories, 7.5 g fat (4 g saturated fat), 985 mg sodium, 44 g carbs (4 g fiber, 5 g sugar), 24 g protein
This sub is one of Jersey Mike’s most popular options for a reason. The chain uses 99% fat-free turkey breast void of any preservatives. It comes with flavorful provolone cheese (which you could skip altogether to cut even more fat and calories). And if you need more flavor, choose mustard! We recommend asking for the “Wheat-Mini” style bread—that way, your lunch is portioned perfectly, serving you the perfect amount of metabolism-boosting protein.
Subway 9-Grain 6-inch Oven Roasted Chicken Fresh Fit Sub
Per sandwich: 320 calories, 5 g fat (1.5 g saturated fat), 610 mg sodium, 46 g carbs (5 g fiber, 8 g sugar), 23 g protein
We applaud Subway for making flat-belly friendly alternatives. You can order this sub as is and feel guilt-free. Filled with flavor from fresh vegetables, juicy oven-roasted chicken, and placed between two pieces of 9-Grain bread, this Subway creation is a winner!
Panera Tuna Salad on Honey Wheat
Per sandwich: 510 calories, 16 g fat (4 g saturated fat), 1,100 mg sodium, 65 g carbs (5 g fiber, 12 g sugar), 28 g protein
At Panera, we say go for the tuna! The fish is a great source of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), a fatty acid that can help reduce belly fat, one of the reasons why tuna is one of the best fish for weight loss. Even better? Cut this sandwich in half. That would cut calories, sodium, carbs and you’d still be full with a whopping 14 grams of muscle-shaping protein, for just 260 calories. Not satisfied with just a sandwich? Get an apple on the side: the fiber and nutrients will keep you feeling full.
Wendy’s Grilled Chicken Sandwich
Per sandwich: 260 calories, 8 g fat (1.5 g saturated fat), 820 mg sodium, 38 g carbs (3 g fiber,11 g sugar), 35 g protein
This chicken sandwich is one of our favorites for the drive-through. Served on a multigrain bun with grilled chicken as opposed to fried, this Wendy’s option is a smart choice. The bun even adds in an extra two grams protein compared to their regular sandwich bun. This sandwich is not only delicious, but will also leave you feeling satisfied and energized, as opposed to sluggish like most fried options will.
Potbelly T-K-Y Skinny
Per sandwich: 294 calories, 8 g fat (4 g saturated fat), 1,054 mg sodium, 39 g carbs (3 g fiber, 2 g sugar), 24 g protein
Like its competitors, Potbelly decided to add lighter fare options to their menu. Their T-K-Y is an option we love; the chain uses one-third less meat and cheese on this “skinny” version compared to its original sandwich. And yet, this option is filled with just the right amount of turkey breast, swiss cheese, and veggies, all perfectly designed to fill you up without the guilt!
Au Bon Pain Herb Chicken Salad Sandwich
Per sandwich: 470 calories, 13 g fat (3 g saturated fat), 890 mg sodium, 58 g carbs (5 g fiber, 4 g sugar), 30 g protein
Au Bon Pain created a classic, and made it on the lighter side! Chicken salad can easily be a fat-filled trap, but this option is not the case. It contains 30 grams of lean muscle-building protein for just 13 grams of fat, and 5 whole grams of fiber, which will keep you feeling satiated.