America's Healthiest Fast-Food Sandwiches

The healthiest options at America's biggest sandwich chainsPlenty of fast-food brands are jumping on the healthy bandwagon these days. Sandwich chains like Subway and Così are particularly keen on offering low-calorie, health-conscious menu items, and several others have followed suit. While it's certainly a good sign that such influential fast-food companies are taking the initiative to help Americans maintain a more balanced diet, it's time to take a closer look at just how healthy the options are at national sandwich chains.

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What makes for the "ideal" healthy sandwich, nutritionally speaking? According to nutritionist Kelly Aronica, there are many factors to consider. Based on a diet of roughly 1,800 calories per day (for those people trying to lose weight, or closer to 2,000 for those trying to maintain their current weight) a reasonable lunch should hit close to 500 calories. In this case, the sandwich should have about 400 calories, leaving 100 for sides and a drink. When making a sandwich at home, it's easy to stay within this range using about four ounces of turkey, one slice of cheese, two slices of standard sandwich bread, and mustard (but no mayo). "Beyond that, it gets tough," says Aronica, "Flour tortillas are generally higher in calories than two slices of bread (though of course it depends on the bread). And adding any mayo or dressing will likely put it over the top." And things get even trickier when it comes to eating healthy when grabbing lunch from a fast-food chain.

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But taking calories into account is just the tip of the iceberg; there are plenty of other variables that contribute to a healthy sandwich - like the breakdown of calories from fat, which should max out at about 30 percent overall, or roughly 15 grams of fat. In terms of saturated fat, a reasonable lunch should include no more than 4.5 grams or so in a 400-calorie sandwich. The final factor to consider is the sodium content - the daily recommendation is 2,300 mg, so try to choose a sandwich that stays close to 680 mg. Sodium is particularly sneaky when it comes to sandwiches because many deli meats tend to be positively full of the stuff, so be careful.

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Using these parameters as a guide how did chains like Panera Bread, Arby's, and Quizno's fare? The results may surprise you. Panera has three menu items that fit the bill, which believe it or not, ties it with Arby's in terms of options. Quizno's has one ultra-healthy sandwich on the menu, the same as the likes of Potbelly and Togo's.

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While the sodium content tended to be the killer on most of these restaurants' menus, there were a surprising number of national chains that couldn't cut the mustard at all. Jimmy John's and Blimpie, for instance, didn't have any that qualified.

Flickr/rebuildingsince92Potbelly Sandwich Shop
This Chicago-based toasted sandwich maven has one ultra-healthy sandwich on the menu.

Skinny mushroom melt: Mushrooms, Swiss, cheddar, and provolone cheeses on "thin-cut" bread. 348 calories, 127 calories from fat, 14 grams total fat, 8 grams saturated fat, 638 milligrams sodium.

Wikimedia Commons/PiotrusQuiznos
This national sandwich chain has one menu item that fits the bill.

Cantina Chicken Flatbread Sammie:
Chicken, tomatoes, sautéed mushrooms, sautéed onions, and honey bourbon mustard on flatbread. 270 calories, 70 calories from fat, 7 grams total fat, 1.5 grams saturated fat, 640 milligrams sodium.

Surprisingly, the chain that's considered to be at the forefront of healthy fast-food dining only has two sandwiches that fit the bill here.

6" oven-roasted chicken sub: 320 calories, 40 calories from fat, 5 grams total fat, 1.5 grams saturated fat, 640 milligrams sodium.

6" veggie delite sub: 230 calories, 20 calories from fat, 2.5 grams total fat, 0.5 grams saturated fat, 310 milligrams sodium.

Both sandwiches are calculated including 9-grain wheat bread, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, green peppers, and cucumbers.

Flickr/JareedAu Bon Pain
This fast-food chain is known more for their breakfast options than lunch ones; however, there are two half sandwiches on the menu that will keep your waistline trim.

Half roast beef and brie sandwich on a farmhouse roll: Roast beef, brie, tomatoes, and romaine on a farmhouse roll. 330 calories, 120 calories from fat, 13 grams total fat, 6 grams saturated fat, 680 milligrams sodium.

Half tuna and cheddar sandwich on a farmhouse roll: Tuna salad with carrots, dill, and parsley, tomatoes, romaine, and cheddar cheese on a farmhouse roll. 370 calories, 150 calories from fat, 17 grams total fat, 5 grams saturated fat, 680 milligrams sodium.

Wikimedia Commons/kmf164Panera Bread
This sandwich café and bakery offers a wide variety of freshly made food options, including three ultra-healthy half sandwiches.

Half tomato and mozzarella and tomato on ciabatta panini:
Fresh mozzarella, roasted and fresh tomatoes, basil, and sundried tomato pesto on ciabatta. 380 calories, 15 grams total fat, 5 grams saturated fat, 695 milligrams sodium.

Half Napa almond chicken salad sandwich on sesame semolina: Chicken, diced celery, seedless grapes, almonds, lettuce, tomato, and special dressing on sesame semolina. 345 calories, 13 grams total fat, 2.25 grams saturated fat, 600 milligrams sodium.

Half tuna on honey wheat: tuna salad, lettuce, tomatoes, and red onions on honey wheat. 255 calories, 8 grams total fat, 2 grams saturated fat, 575 milligrams sodium.

- Molly Aronica, The Daily Meal

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