For millions of people, a sandwich is the perfect lunchtime option. Whatever you want to call them—subs, grinders, hoagies, heroes—there’s no denying that a good sandwich can really hit the spot. But if you’re concerned about the healthiness of your lunch as well as its taste, sandwiches can be a little tricky.
Any time you walk into a sub shop, you’re bombarded with options. Knowing what to pick and what to pass on can be difficult, especially since several seemingly innocuous choices turn out to be nutritional parasites. To help you avoid sinking the healthiness of your sandwich, here are 5 common mistakes people make when trying to order a nutritious sub.
1. Choosing a Bad Bread
The first choice you typically make when ordering a sandwich is the type of bread you want. This might seem like a frivolous decision, but certain breads are significantly healthier than others. Watch out for bread varieties that seem overly complicated or fancy, such as Subway’s Italian Herbs and Cheese Bread. Do you really need cheese on your bread? Probably not.
Italian Herbs and Cheese bread has 10 percent more of your daily value of saturated fat and 190 more milligrams of sodium than Subway’s 9-Grain Wheat Bread (and those numbers go higher when you order a foot-long).
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When it comes to picking the right bread, simple is better. Going with basic whole grain or whole wheat bread is usually a safe and smart choice. If you’re skeptical about ingredients, check them out for yourself. You want to see things like whole grain and whole wheat flour appearing first on the list. The Whole Grains Council has a great guide explaining what ingredients indicate the inclusion of whole grains and which ones are typically phony.
2. Deciding to Go with a “Meat Lover’s” Option
A little meat goes a long way in sandwiches. Every sub shop offers a few sandwiches that are packed with significantly more lunch meat than other choices. Although not all lunch meat is nutritionally terrible, they’re best consumed in moderation. Why? Because they’re typically high in sodium and saturated fat.
Potbelly’s “A Wreck” sandwich contains roast beef, turkey, ham and salami. When you compare its nutrition facts to their “Turkey Breast” sandwich (which just contains turkey), it’s obvious that loading up on lunch meat isn’t always a healthy choice..
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The Wreck has roughly 100 more calories, twice as much saturated fat and 150 more milligrams of sodium than the Turkey Breast sandwich. The kicker is that the Turkey Breast sandwich has one more gram of protein (36 grams) per sandwich. If you choose to get extra or double meat, the gap in nutrition grows even wider.
3. Feeling Obligated to Include Cheese
I know most people think a sandwich must have cheese on it, but that’s not the case. Sure, cheese tastes good, but once you understand how it changes the nutritional profile of your sandwich, you might think twice about piling it on.
If you order cheddar cheese on your sandwich at Potbelly’s, you’re adding an extra 25 percent of your daily saturated fat allowance. Same story at Jimmy John’s—including provolone cheese on your sub immediately adds 5 grams of saturated fat, 230mg of sodium and 100 extra calories.
If you’re looking to add flavor, go with a healthier option like hot peppers. If you’re an inveterate cheesehead and prefer not to give it up entirely, choose the healthiest cheese available. Feta and Swiss cheese normally fall on the healthier end of the spectrum.
4. Underestimating the Poor Nutrition of Sauces and Spreads
Does a squirt of sauce on your sandwich really make much of a difference? Well, it can if you pick the wrong ones.
Subway’s Chipotle Southwest sauce has a shocking 10 grams of fat in a single serving, and a tablespoon of their mayo has 12. The servings might be small, but there’s a surprising amount of bad stuff in there. Options like BBQ sauce are typically stuffed with sugar and slathered on in massive portions.
If you want to add flavor, you’re better off going with avocado or olive oil. They get their calories from healthy fats and are packed with useful nutrients.
5. Choosing Sides That Sabotage Your Entire Meal
Even if you order a healthy sandwich, picking the wrong sides is a quick way to turn a healthy meal horrible. A big bag of Cheetos and a towering cup of sugary soda will bankrupt your meal in the blink of an eye.
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You’re much better off going with a piece of fruit, or forgoing sides altogether. If you’re ordering a big sandwich, see if that alone will conquer your hunger. It probably will, but if not, you can always go back and grab something more.
For your beverage, try to stick with water or unsweetened iced tea. They will keep you hydrated and avoid the massive sugar spike (and mid-afternoon crash) that comes from guzzling sugary beverages.