We'll show you the healthiest choices (and splurge-only dishes) to help you order wisely at sub shops.
Credit: Illustration by Serge Bloch  

There’s a reason Subway has emerged as the world’s biggest fast-food chain: A simple sub sandwich makes a satisfying and reasonably healthy meal. Veer off in the wrong direction, though, and you can easily consume more than 1,000 calories, not including the inevitable chips and soda. Sodium is a big issue, too: Many sandwiches supply more than half a day’s worth, thanks to ingredients like deli-style ham, salami, and cheese. And, of course, saturated fat: Meats and cheeses are major contributors, but so are creamy dressings and sauces.

A smart sub choice doesn’t have to be ­sawdust-dry or beige-boring. A slice of cheese boosts flavor for only 50 to 120 calories. Dressing can add 110 to 240 calories, so ask for it on the side. Use about a tablespoon to keep the calorie count near 100, or choose low-calorie dressing or honey mustard for about 50 calories. We analyzed 6-inch options from U.S. restaurants. Nutrition numbers are estimates: Results vary widely among restaurants.

Smart Sub Shop Strategies

Bulk It Up: Ask for extra lettuce, tomato, cucumber, and other veggies―they lend moisture, nutrients, texture, and heft to your sandwich, leaving you more satisfied.

Go For Grains: Add fiber and appealing nutty flavor by ordering your sandwich on whole-grain or multigrain breads, or breads topped with nuts, seeds, or oats.

Splurge Only:

  • Chicken Bacon Ranch
    590 calories
    Chicken sounds like a smart option, but once bacon, cheese, and ranch dressing are piled on, your sub is sunk. Combined, they deliver about half a day’s worth of saturated fat.
  • Meatball
    564 calories
    Full-fat ground beef and cheese send calories soaring, and tomato sauce escalates the sodium. If you absolutely need a meatball fix, order a 6-inch and split it with a friend.

Ask Your Server:

  • Veggie
    493 calories
    At most sub shops, “veggie” sandwiches tend to be more about the cheese. Put the nutrition odds in your favor by asking for half the cheese and double the vegetables.
  • Club
    378 calories
    To make it work, ask for low-fat dressing in place of the mayo (or just less mayo), and request roast beef, turkey breast, and one slice of either cheese or ham (but not both!).

Healthy Choices:

  • Roast Beef and Cheese
    368 calories
    Roast beef tends to be leaner―and lower in sodium―than most other sandwich meats. Add a slice of cheese, and you’ll still keep your meal under 400 calories and reasonably low in fat.
  • Chicken Teriyaki or Honey Mustard
    392 calories
    These savory-sweet sauces lend flavor without a lot of fat. Factor in lean white-meat chicken, and you have a sub that will keep your healthy-eating plan afloat.