8 Worst Fast-Food Sandwiches to Stay Away From Right Now
Compared to other fast-food favorites, sandwiches generally don't do as much harm—or they don't have to. If you're choosing between pizza, fries, and a sandwich, for example, the latter is probably easiest to customize into something more nutritious.
But the lesser of evils option doesn't always hold up as a healthy one on its own. As registered dietitian Amy Goodson, MS, RD, CSSD, LD, explains, creamy sauces, heaping piles of processed meat, and hefty bread slices can quickly take a sandwich into dangerously high-calorie and high-fat territory.
She also points out that the super-size nature of many fast-food sandwiches is problematic, especially when they come with bells and whistles on the side like soda, chips, fries, and cookies. Indeed, there are many ways for a fast-food sandwich meal to turn unhealthy.
But Goodson also points out that modifying your sandwich can be a good, healthful strategy. She recommends considering "skinny" options, which use less bread, and going 'easy' or 'light' on the sauces and spreads like mayonnaise to cut down some calories and fat on your sandwich of choice. If all else fails, get the sauce on the side and add it yourself, sparingly.
After getting this general insight from Goodson, we consulted her on specific sandwiches on the market to stay away from. 7 'Healthy' Foods That Are Actually Worse for You Than Candy, Say Dietitians.
Burger King's American Original Chicken Sandwich
With the new year came new sandwiches at Burger King. As part of the chain's new international lineup, the American Original Chicken Sandwich has made a big splash, but it's probably not the best idea to indulge in it often.
This hefty crispy chicken sandwich may be loaded with a few "fresh" veggies, like lettuce and tomato, however, it's also full of empty calories and a sodium palooza. When there's an excessive amount of creamy mayonnaise, an excessive amount of unhealthy fats and sugars follow. Plus, the majority of the sandwich is the large, fluffy sesame seed bun—great flavor, but not so great when you're consuming double the carbs.
Arby's Half Pound Beef 'n Cheddar
Arby's is a beloved fast-food option for sure, with new offerings added to the menu often. But if you're thinking about ordering this bad boy, which features a half-pound of roast beef on an onion bun, topped with a cheddar cheese sauce and red ranch, maybe think again.
Goodson acknowledges that there is less bread here, which cuts down the calories a bit. But, she says, "a half-pound of beef is more than most people should have per serving," and it will load your sandwich up with additional calories and sodium. And let's not forget that the ranch—a thick, creamy sauce that makes everything delicious—also adds more calories and fat to this sandwich.
Instead, Goodson suggests opting for Arby's Classic Roast Beef Sandwich, which will still satisfy your roast beef cravings but won't overload you with processed meat.
Potbelly's Big Mama's Meatball Sandwich on White Bread
Consider the name of the sandwich, and it's clear you're in for an indulgent feast of comfort food with meatballs, provolone cheese, and marinara sauce. But when you opt for the big size and get this sandwich on white bread, it becomes one of the unhealthiest subs out there.
"The reality is meatballs are pretty caloric as they are often not made with the leanest ground beef or pork," says Goodson. "And the marinara sauce is likely the ingredient pushing up the sodium content on this sandwich."
While everyone loves a meatball sub, if you're aiming to be healthy, she recommends going for white meat and reasonable portion sizes. At Potbelly, that could be the original size of the Turkey Breast and Swiss on Multigrain Bread. Plus, she adds, you can (and should!) load it with all your favorite veggies!
Quiznos's 12-inch Classic Italian on White Bread
Quiznos' 12-inch Classic Italian rings in at number four on the unhealthiest fast-food sandwich list. This item is made with four different types of meat including pepperoni, salami, spicy capicola, and smoked ham, which translates to plenty of flavors—and plenty of fat and sodium as well.
"While there are some lighter toppings here, like melted provolone, black olives, fresh lettuce, tomatoes, onions, banana peppers, and red wine vinaigrette, the size of this sandwich and the amount of meat takes it through the roof with calories, fat, and sodium," Goodson says.
She recommends opting for the 4-inch Spicy Monterey sandwich on Wheat Bread, which will save you calories (it's a fraction of the calorie count), while also cutting sodium and fat content way down.
Firehouse Subs' Large Smokehouse Beef & Cheddar Brisket on White Bread
The sodium count on this sub is out of control. At more than double the recommended sodium level for an entire day in just one sandwich, the Smokehouse Beef & Cheddar Brisket, which additionally comes layered with mayo and BBQ sauce, should be avoided at all costs if you value your cardiovascular health.
As Goodson explains, "While you can eat lean beef and cheese as a part of a healthy diet, the large size of this sandwich means more meat and more cheese, thus increasing the amount of calories and fat. Tack on some mayo and BBQ sauce and those numbers go through the roof."
Instead, she suggests, go for the Medium Turkey Sub on Wheat Bread next time you're at Firehouse Subs. This sandwich rings in at about a third of the calories and fat and less than half the sodium.
Jersey Mike's Giant Club Sub on White Bread
This Club Sub is a bit of a classic American throwback, loaded with ham, turkey, bacon, provolone cheese, onions, lettuce, tomatoes, oil, vinegar, salt, and mayonnaise. However, looking at the calories and fat and sodium content, all we can say is that there has to be a better way to enjoy this popular favorite.
"While none of these ingredients are terrible on their own, things like bacon, oil, and mayonnaise combined together really pack a calorific punch," says Goodson. The size of this sandwich is an additional issue.
Instead of indulging in a 2000-plus calorie sandwich, Goodson recommends Jersey Mike's regular-sized Grilled Portabella Mushroom and Swiss on Wheat Bread.
Jimmy John's The J.J. Gargantuan on French Bread
Just look at this thing! The sheer size and moniker of this Jimmy John's sandwich should tip you off about why it took the spot of the #1 unhealthiest sandwich on our list.
Consider what goes into this Gargantuan sandwich: five different meats including salami, Capocollo, turkey, roast beef, and ham. There's no scenario in which that amount of meat does not translate to a sodium bomb—and, looking at the sodium content of this one is enough to make your heart stop. The Gargantuan is then topped with provolone cheese, onion, lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise, oil, and vinegar with oregano and basil seasoning.
"The mayonnaise and oil combo really tack on extra fat and calories," Goodson says. "This sandwich has over three times the recommended about of sodium per day, so it's definitely one to avoid."
But never fear, JJ's has a great healthy option as well. The 8-inch Slim 4 comes on wheat bread, and the only two set ingredients are turkey and bread. From there, load up this sandwich with all your favorite veggies, and you've got yourself a much healthier option.
McDonald's Filet-O-Fish Sandwich
While McDonald's Filet-O-Fish sandwich is the ideal substitute for non-beef-eaters who are looking to dine from the chain, it won't do you any favors from a nutritional standpoint. On its own wild-caught Alaska Pollock—the type of fish Mcdonald's uses in this sandwich—is low in calories and fat, with a high amount of protein. That changes drastically once fried and topped with a heavy, cream-based tarter sauce spread, that comes out to almost triple the macronutrients in this dish. So essentially you're eating a little bit of fish with a big spoonful of pure fat—and not the good kind.
A previous version of this article was originally published on Aug 10, 2022.