Like most Americans today, you’re on the go and don’t have time to cook every meal. You may find yourself in your car too often, stomach grumbling, stopping hangrier with another. Your eyes dart around like a lion looking for its prey. However, unlike the African lion, you have many choices quick and easy meal.
With fast-casual restaurants dotted along city streets and crammed into malls from coast to coast, your only concern is deciding where to go. Suddenly, your eyes settle on a location and by the time you’re singing Shawn Mendes’ “Holding Me Back” in the car, you’ve sped through the drive-thru and now you’ve got a hot, salty a sandwich. Easy breeze, right?
The question is, have you ever thought about the nutritional value of your sandwich selection? Is it the right choice for your specific health needs or fitness goals? Do you even know how many calories you consume every time you dine out?
Registered Dietitians Karen Smith, Amy Shapiro and Stephanie McBurnett would say NO! We caught up with these three experts to examine the nutritional content of the multitude of sandwiches currently on fast food menus across the country and rank them from bad to worst. They also offer some alternative options for a healthier choice.
FOR A SANDWICH: 730 calories, 35 g fat (16 g saturated fat), 265 mg cholesterol, 1,770 mg sodium, 66 g carbohydrates (3 g fiber, 9 g sugar), 37 g protein
When you hear “farmhouse,” you might immediately think of healthy and hearty. Well, you’d be right about the second part. this a breakfast sandwich featuring a cheesy brownie layered with two (not one!) eggs, bacon, ham, cheese and cream cheese, it would definitely qualify as hearty (read: big and hearty). So unless you’re a farmer who works in the fields and uses up all those hearty calories, Smith says to avoid starting your day with that breakfast sandwich.
“Choosing this for your first meal of the day means you’ll be eating more saturated fat—the type of fat linked to an increased risk of heart disease, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes—than the American Heart Association recommends you eat in an entire a day,” says Smith, who works at Barnard Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and is also a board-certified diabetes care and education specialist. “Plus, there’s a tremendous amount fiber, which helps lower cholesterol and feeds good gut microbes, as every ingredient from eggs to meat and several types of cheese is animal-based and fiber-free. Those measly 3 grams of fiber come from highly refined pastries and fatty brownies.”
Instead, Smith suggests choosing oatmeal with strawberries and pecans (Panera Bread serves this before 10:30 a.m.), or making a hummus or avocado and veggie sandwich. like this oneat home and eat it with a side of fresh fruit.
FOR A SANDWICH: 780 calories (41 g fat, 12 g saturated fat), 145 mg cholesterol, 2,390 mg sodium, 61 g carbohydrates (4 g fiber, 6 g sugar), 46 g protein
Del Taco may have gone where most Mexican fast food restaurants haven’t with their newly introduced tortas (or sandwiches), but should we? Served on 7-inch toasted rolls, these three new pies are high in calories and fat, especially the Chicken BLT Epic Pie, made with grilled chicken, bacon, ranch, cheddar, shredded lettuce and pico de gallo.
“These sandwiches contain none of the foods that the World Health Organization defines as part of a healthy eating pattern—fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and nuts—unless you count the small amounts of lettuce and pico de gallo added mostly as garnish,” says Smith.
If you try reduce sodium in your diet, Chicken BLT is not for you. Shapiro, founder of Real Nutrition NYC, warns, “This sandwich contains more than the recommended amount of sodium for the day and is high in saturated fat and carbohydrates, which increase the risk of potential diseases. It is also very high in fat and carbohydrates, which can lead to increased risk of high cholesterol and triglycerides.”
According to Smith, a better option would be the Taco Bell Black Bean Burrito, loaded with veggies (lettuce, tomato, onion and jalapeño pepper); mix cheese, sour cream and meat and add seasoned rice. With guacamole, the total fat is 11 grams, and without, 9 grams, he says.
FOR A SANDWICH: 820 calories, 46g fat (10g saturated fat, 0.5g trans fat), 115mg cholesterol, 2820mg sodium, 52g carbohydrates (4g fiber, 8g sugars), 50g protein
Zaxby’s Signature Club Sandwich hit the market earlier this year. This twist on the brand’s Signature Sandwich adds two slices of bacon and American cheese to the mix with a choice of Zax or Spicy Zax sauce. It contains a whopping 820 calories with 46 grams of fat and 52 grams of low-fiber, processed carbohydrates, which, Shapiro warns, can cause increased cholesterol and weight gain.
Smith suggests that a healthier option would be homemade black beans or another type of veggie burger. Skip the cheese and mayo and the lettuce, tomato, onion, ketchup and/or mustard. Bonus points if mushrooms are available as a topping!
FOR A SANDWICH: 930 calories, 44 g fat (15 g saturated fat, 1 g trans fat), 125 mg cholesterol, 1540 mg sodium, 85 g carbohydrates (4 g fiber, 6 g sugar), 47 g protein
This sandwich is stacked with grass-fed beef, aged white cheddar, pickled red onions and horseradish sauce and served on artisan ciabatta bread. According to Shapiro, this sandwich contains nearly a day’s worth of calories for some individuals and is very high in fat and saturated fat, which can raise cholesterol levels and lead to heart disease. In addition, it is a high-carbohydrate, low-fiber food that can be stimulating blood sugar irregularity and health precautions along the way.
Stephanie McBurnett, a registered dietitian and nutrition educator with the Medical Board, points to sodium content as a concern. “The sodium content of this sandwich can wreak havoc on your body and blood pressure,” he warns. “The American Heart Association states that excessive sodium levels above 2,300 milligrams per day can increase blood pressure and cause swelling, bloating, and bloating.”
Instead, McBurnett suggests, “keep the cheese and add veggies to cut down on the sodium in your sandwich. Or, better yet, opt for tempeh bacon, sprouts and tomato sandwich full of healthy fiber and much less sodium.”
FOR A SANDWICH: 1,120 calories, 80 g fat (20 g saturated fat, 1.5 g trans fat), 200 mg cholesterol, 2,630 mg sodium, 69 g carbohydrates (3 g fiber, 13 g sugar), 33 g protein
The mother of all chicken sandwiches, this selection boasts crispy chicken smothered in a beer-flavored cheese sauce, topped with bacon bits and topped with bacon slices, spicy pickles and crispy onions. Talk about cutting the crunch out of your nutritional goals. According to McBurnett, this fast food selection is so high in saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium that if she were your mother, she wouldn’t let you eat it!
“This sandwich even contains trans fats, which the FDA considers no longer ‘generally recognized as safe’ because of their effect on raising LDL cholesterol,” he says.
You could “86” bacon strips and cheese sauce instead if you want to cut back on the bad-for-you ingredients. But since chicken breast alone has 29% saturated fat, you’re better off switching to that rainbow sandwich with hummussuggests McBurnett.
FOR A MEDIUM SANDWICH: 1,190 calories, 66 g fat (27 g saturated fat), 225 mg cholesterol, 2,430 mg sodium, 75 g carbohydrates (1 g fiber, 5 g sugar), 76 g protein
Go big or go home, right? Well, you should go home if you’re considering the Smokecheesy Beef Bacon Medium from Schlotzsky’s Deli. The sandwich chain’s signature toasted sourdough bun is topped with shredded roast Angus beef and topped with smoked cheddar cheese, bacon and mayo.
“This deli sandwich should have a warning label because it contains almost three times the amount of saturated fat you should eat in a day!” McBurnett warns. “A high intake of saturated fat puts you at higher risk for type 2 diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease.”
Shapiro adds that no one needs that much protein in one meal because it is difficult for the body to process so much protein in one session. (Many experts agree that 30 grams of protein per meal is a good spot.)
McBurnett recommends skipping the mayo, bacon, and cheddar cheese to cut back on the saturated fat in this sandwich, or just leave it out entirely.
FOR A SANDWICH: 1449.5 calories, 64 g fat (10.9 g saturated fat, 0.5 g trans fat), 91.2 mg cholesterol, 4730.7 mg sodium, 178.3 g carbohydrates (6.7 g fiber, 11 .9 g of sugar), 42.4 g of protein
“I know why they called this sandwich Ch’King because it’s high in calories and high in sodium,” says McBurnett. “You’re consuming more than half of your daily recommended calories in just one sandwich. [based on a 2,000-calorie per day diet] and double the amount of sodium you should be consuming each day.”
Opt for a Burger King salad instead, which will dramatically lower your total calorie and sodium intake, says McBurnett.
FOR A SANDWICH: 1810 calories, 108 g fat (46 g saturated fat, 5 g trans fat), 270 mg cholesterol, 4950 mg sodium, 128 g carbohydrates (14 g fiber, 25 g sugar), 91 g protein
Subway’s online menu description says it’s the kind of sandwich you’d get from an Italian grandma. Topped with meatballs drenched in marinara sauce, The Boss also stacks mozzarella with pepperoni and comes on bread with Italian herbs and cheese.
Shapiro says this sandwich “has too much of everything, including calories, fat and sodium. It’s an unhealthy choice and should be avoided if you have any health goals in mind.”
McBurnett points out that given the American Heart Association’s recommendation of no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day, this sandwich shouldn’t be the boss of any diet, as it contains 4,950 milligrams of sodium.
To reduce sodium, he recommends removing the cheese and pepperoni. “But with the switch to salad or these grilled portobelloswill benefit your blood pressure the most.”