8 Easy Ways to Cut Calories at the Sub Shop

Article posted in: Diet & Nutrition
Various sandwiches on a shop counter

Taking a weight loss plan into the real world can be really challenging: Restaurants with oversized portions, no calorie counts and vague labels like “light” can mean meals that are easy to finish and hard to track. Which is why the sub shop seems like such a welcome respite: People lose weight by eating their sandwiches! You can choose what goes into the meal! And you know how many calories are in a lot of the things you can choose to put in that meal!

It can be sneaky dangerous, though: When foods are labeled as “better choices” or “low fat” or other healthy-sounding things that have no regulation, it can create an effect scientists have dubbed a “health halo”: When you think a food is “good for you,” you don’t feel guilty when you eat more of it. In a 2007 study from Cornell, people who ate at a “healthy” fast food restaurant underestimated their food intake by 151 calories. Do that every day, and you’ll gain two or three pounds per year.

But sub shops can be really healthy: Unlike other fast food options, they let you pile on the vegetables to get more vitamins, minerals and fiber than you’d get from a burger joint. But like any restaurant or food option, there are hazards: Pile on too much of this or squirt on too much of that, and your six-inch sandwich could deep-six your plans of staying on your weight loss plan. Do these eight things when you order to avoid pitfalls, keep your meal healthy and keep the sub shop from sinking your diet:

1. Ask for your bread “skinny” or thin-cut.
At some shops, you’ve got the option to ask for your sandwich with a little less bread—they’ll rake out some of the white from inside or slice a little from the middle to toss away. This maintains all the bread’s crusty awesomeness, puts more emphasis on the fillings that make the sandwich so good, and reduces calories significantly. At Potbelly Sandwich Shop, switching from multigrain wheat bread to the thin-cut version reduces the calories in the sandwich by 90—almost 20 percent.

2. Trade full-calorie soda for unsweetened tea or water.
Nutritionists and diet experts don’t agree on everything, but most say the same thing: Drinking your calories is a bad idea. Liquid calories come without filling protein, fat or fiber, so they don’t stick with you. That could be why multiple studies have found that consuming carbs in liquid form produces less fullness and satisfaction than solid carbohydrates, meaning you’ll be ready to eat again sooner after slurping down a soda.

And when those carbs are from high-fructose corn syrup—the sweetener in full-calorie sodas—it’s worse: In a Princeton study, rats given HFCS gained more weight than rats who ate table sugar, even when the calories were the same between the two groups. And the same study showed that long-term consumption of HFCS led to increased body fat around the abdomen specifically—meaning we should consider renaming the “beer gut” the “soda gut” (or, depending where you live, the “pop gut”).

Save yourself 150 calories or more: Go for water or unsweetened tea instead. Ask for a lemon or lime from behind the sub counter for some extra flavor. Or, if bubbles are what you love, grab a sparkling water instead.

3. Skip the chips.
You know that if you’re watching your weight, you should probably nix the chips. But what you might not have realized is that even the chips of the “baked” variety can be a diet danger zone. Sure they tout themselves as a lower fat version, but fat (as long as it’s the good kind!) can be your weight loss friend: It makes you feel full, and has been shown in studies to help dieters lose weight. And when something is marked “low fat,” it gets that health halo mentioned above: Studies in 2006 found that putting a “low fat” label on a food encouraged people to eat up to 50 percent more compared to those who didn’t see the label.

The ultimate solution: Don’t eat either bag. If it’s crunchy you’re craving, bring some carrot sticks to work to pair with your sandwich, or see if the shop will give you a few extra coins of cucumber on the side. You’ll get the crunch, have a side dish, and save hundreds of calories. If you’re worried you won’t stay full, ask for a few thin slices of avocado on your sub. Avocados are full of healthy fats that can help keeping you satiated post-lunch.

4. Don’t be fooled by flatbread.
Speaking of the health halo, many flatbreads are trying to trick you: Not only do they not have fewer calories than regular bread, they often have more. Case in point: At Subway, the flatbread has 15 percent more calories than regular Italian bread. If you like the flatbread, those extra 30 calories might be worth it; but if you’re ordering it because you think it’s “healthier,” stick with real bread.

5. Swap mayo-based sauces for mustard.
Creamy sauces seem to be featured in every new sandwich at the major sub shops, and with good reason: Fat is delicious, and these sauces are loaded with it.

They’re loaded with so much, in fact, that it might shock you: A serving of regular mayo from Subway has a whopping 12 grams of fat—as much as a full-sized Snickers bar—and 110 calories. And many of the shops aren’t judicious about the condiment serving sizes, meaning much more could be squeezed on your sandwich.

Opt for mustard instead of mayo and you’ll save 65 calories and lots of unhealthy fat. Or, if you absolutely can’t do without mayo’s hint of sweetness, opt for a reduced fat version, or try honey mustard instead: It will bring just 30 calories per serving to your six-incher.

6. Beware the words “and” and “with.”
When a food tries to do two or more things at once—like be chicken AND bacon AND ranch, or give you all the meats at once—calories get compounded. At one major chain, the turkey sub has 330 calories; turn it into a turkey with bacon, and it’s got 570 calories—an increase of 66 percent. At the same restaurant, the roast chicken sub has 310 calories, while the one with the chicken, bacon, and ranch comes in at 610—nearly double.

Order sandwiches that feature one protein and one cheese—and pile the rest with veggies. Your waistline will thank you.

7. Don’t want salad? Eat your sandwich open-faced.
When you want a sandwich, the suggestion of a salad won’t do. It’s not the same. (And if you wanted a salad, there are so many amazing fast-casual restaurants focused on salad, you’d be better off ordering there.) But if you’ve done the math and want to cut a few calories from your sandwich, grab a fork and knife, anyway: Eat your sandwich open-faced and save big.

The typical sub shop six-inch bun runs between 200 and 250 calories: Stripping off half that means a savings of 100 calories—and saving 100 calories at every meal of the day can mean losing a pound just about every 11 days!

8. Don’t get the finishing squirt of oil.
Some shops (think Potbelly’s) offer a squirt of oil before handing over your sandwich. And while it’s true that oil contains the healthy fats you need in your diet, if you’ve had your fill of healthy fats already, that extra squirt isn’t exactly necessary. And in addition to dumping a whole lot of napkin-needing grease, that little squirt can add 30 unnecessary calories on top of your sandwich—and that’s if the server stops when he should. When you’re in a sub shop and in the habit of saying yes—to more cucumbers, more pickles, more tomatoes and other stuff that’s free—it’s easy to keep saying yes. But when it comes to unnecessary extras, stop the cycle and ask yourself if all of the extras are really necessary.