Nutrition Action Healthletter
September 1998 — U.S. Edition

Rating Sandwiches
Between the Slices

By Bonnie Liebman & Jayne Hurley

There are only so many things you can put between two slices of bread. And sometimes it feels like you grew tired of most of them in the middle of the fourth grade.

Worse yet, you may actually miss some of your old favorites—like egg salad or ham or peanut butter—that you’ve kept out of your lunch bag because you don’t want too much fat or salt or cholesterol.

Don’t despair. Well, despair if you want to. Just don’t give in and settle for Lunchables for your kids or a Big Mac for yourself. Here are our suggestions for renovating the old standbys...and rustling up a few newcomers. At least we think they’re new. For all we know, you’ve been eating them since junior high.

The Usual

A tuna salad sandwich with 700 calories? A chicken salad sandwich with half a day’s fat? That’s what we found three years ago when we analyzed sandwiches from restaurants like Wall Street Deli and Schlotzsky’s (April 1995, cover story).

A typical restaurant sandwich ranges from six grams of fat and 370 calories (for turkey with mustard) to 63 grams of fat and 975 calories (for overstuffed tuna salad with mayo on the bread). And no matter what sandwich you pick, expect at least a third to a full day’s sodium before you touch the pickle.

What are restaurants doing wrong?

Most haven’t discovered the low-fat luncheon meats and mayonnaises that crowd the aisles of just about every supermarket north of the Rio Grande.

Subway is the most notable exception. Its heavily advertised line of six-inch subs with no more than six grams of fat didn’t get there with fatty meats (or with cheese or oil). And the chain uses light mayo in its tuna and other salads and always asks if you’d like light or regular mayo on your sub roll. Nice goin’.

Most restaurants compound the problem by trying to give you your "money’s worth." Translation: They stuff their sandwiches with far too much meat, mayonnaise-drenched salads, or other fillings. What ends up getting stuffed, of course, is your stomach.

Are people less generous when they make their own sandwiches? One can only hope. In our chart, we assumed that some folks pile on four ounces of meat or other filling when they pack a lunch (because that’s what many sandwich shops do and we can’t come to your kitchen to measure).

Here’s how to turn a typical sandwich into a healthier sandwich. You’ll find the recipes for all the sandwiches in bold at the end of this article (they are hyperlinked as well).

Vegetable Sandwiches

Never heard of a vegetable sandwich? In restaurants, the "veggie" is usually heavy on cheese or dressing.

You can make the most delicious Artichokes, Etc. sandwich by stuffing a toasted whole wheat pita (pocket) bread with chopped marinated artichoke hearts, red onion, and any other vegetables you’re in the mood for. (Yes, the artichokes are expensive and the marinade has some oil, but the cost—to your pocketbook or waistline—is small if you only use three or four per sandwich.)

Be bold. Raw spinach, mushrooms, marinated red pepper, and horseradish inside the same pita? Check out our Horseradish Heaven. Cucumber and tomato in a garlic yogurt dressing? Try our Right-on Raita.

Unlike most sandwiches, our veggie versions supply at least a serving of vegetables and all the fiber, vitamins, and phytochemicals that come with them. All for just 200 to 300 calories and less than seven grams of fat.

Unfortunately, you’ll still get quite a bit of salt. Two slices of most breads will cost you anywhere from 150 to 500 milligrams of sodium. Pitas generally run in the low 300s. Check the label.

Bean Sandwiches

Hummus is a Middle-Eastern spread made mostly of chickpeas (garbanzo beans). It’s easy to whip up your own with a food processor, but it’s easier to pick some up from your supermarket’s refrigerator case.

A three-tablespoon shmear adds less than 250 calories, six grams of fat, and 450 mg of sodium to your pocket bread. For crunch, add chopped cucumber, tomatoes, and scallions or red onions. That’s what we’ve done in our Hummus Among Us.

Peanut Butter

It’s cheap, requires no refrigeration, and kids (not to mention ex-kids) love it. But a sandwich with just two tablespoons of peanut butter—it’s easy to use more—will run you 20 grams of fat, four of them saturated.

Most meat and cheese sandwiches are worse, but you could do better. You can get away with just one tablespoon of PB by spreading it thinner. And switching to a reduced-fat peanut butter cuts a quarter of the fat. As for the jelly: Try half a sliced (or mashed) banana instead. Our Nutty Banana has half a serving of fruit.

Cheese & Cream Cheese

It looks so innocent. But two ounces of almost any cheese means 16 grams of fat, ten of them saturated. That’s half a day’s sat fat. And if those two ounces are process cheese (three slices), you can count on 900 mg of sodium—twice that of most other cheeses.

What to do? First, use less. If you add tomato, lettuce, onion, and other veggies, you could easily get away with one slice of cheese.

Second, try a reduced-fat cheese like Jarlsberg Lite or Cracker Barrel Reduced Fat. That’ll lop off at least a third of the fat...but none of the flavor.

Third, give a low-fat or fat-free cheese a whirl. To some people, they’re fine. To others, they’re anything but. You be the judge.

Cream cheese is a different story. Ounce for ounce, it’s fattier than regular cheese. Each tablespoon has five grams of fat—three of them saturated. And many delis smear it on their bagels like it’s going out of style.

Try a fat-free version. They aren’t as creamy as the real thing, but they’re not half-bad.

Egg Salad

Eggs are loaded with cholesterol, something your arteries could do without. Make your egg salad sandwich with two eggs and two tablespoons of regular mayo and it could easily ring up nearly two days’ worth of cholesterol—plus a third of a day’s saturated fat and half a day’s total fat. Solution: Can the yolks. Our Sort-of-Egg Salad sandwich has no cholesterol and just four grams of fat.

Tuna & Chicken Salad

What’s in a tuna sandwich? It depends on who makes it. It’s not unusual to use 21/2 ounces of tuna (about half a six-ounce can after draining) and three tablespoons of regular mayo. And it’s not unusual for that to come to nearly 600 calories and 40 grams of fat—six of them saturated. So much for low-fat fish.

Cut the mayo in half and the fat will follow. Better yet, switch to two tablespoons of fat-free mayo. The calories drop to around 300 and the fat to a mere five grams.

Chicken salad is the same story—two or three ounces of chicken breast is harmless until you dump in three tablespoons of mayo to moisten it up. Fat-free mayo can slash the fat. But don’t stop there.

You can make chicken, tuna, or any other salad better by adding vegetables. Mix in some chopped tomatoes or cucumber or shredded celery or green pepper. With chicken salad, try chopped grapes, apples, or apricots. You’ll get flavor...and phytochemicals.

Turkey & Chicken

If you want a low-fat sandwich, turkey breast or chicken breast is a safe bet. The processed slices have more sodium than slices of leftover roast turkey from last night. But even with a hefty four ounces of meat, the fat should stay at seven grams.

If your chicken or turkey breast is processed, cut back to two ounces to keep the sodium in check. Make up the difference with lettuce, tomato, and onion. If you need more oomph, use mustard, but each teaspoon will add anywhere from 50 to 130 mg of sodium.

Luncheon Meats

Even two slices (usually two ounces) of bologna will run you 16 grams of fat. At most delis, of course, a two-slicer would be laughed out of the kitchen. Chopped ham, corned beef, and turkey bologna aren’t quite as fatty as regular bologna, but why bother with the usual stuff when you can get low-fat versions?

Your supermarket should have dozens of deli meats with no more than two or three grams of fat per two-ounce serving. Some are fat-free. And the meatless soy-based "deli slices" at your local health food store are also worth a roll in the pita.

Don’t laugh. In just a few years, most soy-based bolognas, hams, and turkeys have gone from nearly inedible to much closer to the real stuff (just don’t look too closely at their color). Slap them between two slices of whole wheat and you may be pleasantly surprised. (We’ll rate them in an upcoming issue.)

Just keep in mind that processed meats (or meatless deli slices) are loaded with sodium. So you can’t just pile four or five ounces into your sandwich. Our advice: Stick to two ounces. Check the label to find luncheon meats (or non-meats) that have less than 500 mg of sodium. (Be careful. Some meats use a one-slice serving size. Be sure to double—or triple—the sodium numbers before you figure out how much it will add to your sandwich.)

Or just stick with Healthy Choice. Any food with "healthy" in its name or on its label can’t contain more than 480 mg of sodium per serving. Some of Oscar Mayer’s and Louis Rich’s meats can hit 700 or 800 mg.


Okay, so you’re not going to pack a BLT "to go." The next time you’re having lunch at home, remember to make it a TLT—that is, a turkey, lettuce, and tomato sandwich. Start with just two slices of turkey bacon, use low-fat mayo on whole wheat toast, and load up on lettuce and tomato.

Hold the Pickle

Many of the sandwiches in this chart were made with four ounces of meat or two ounces of cheese. That’s slightly less than what we were served in 1995 at sandwich shops in several cities. The amount of filling in each sandwich is in parentheses following its name.

All the sandwiches were made using large (1.4-ounce) slices of whole wheat bread or a whole wheat pita. (Check the label for lower-sodium breads.) Unless noted, they have no mayo, mustard, cheese, oil, or dressing.

The chart includes a handful of healthier sandwiches we created (they’re in bold—the recipes are located at the end of this article).

"Best Bites" () have no more than nine grams of total fat, three grams of saturated fat, and 600 milligrams of sodium. "Better Bites" () can have up to 1,000 mg of sodium (many are simply ordinary sandwiches with less filling).

Within each category, sandwiches are ranked from least to most saturated fat.

  Sandwiches Calories Saturated Fat (grams) Total Fat (grams) Fat (% of calories) Sodium (mg)
Right-On Raita 210 0 2 9 370
Horseradish Heaven 220 0 2 8 520
Bagel (4 oz.) with fat-free cream cheese (2 Tbs.) 330 0 2 5 750
Lightlife Smart Deli Meatless Roast Turkey Style (2 oz.—4 slices) 250 1 3 11 800
Lightlife Smart Deli Meatless Three Peppercorn Style (2 oz.—4 slices) 250 1 3 11 820
Healthy Choice Deli Thin Sliced Oven Roasted Chicken Breast (2 oz.—6 slices) 260 1 3 10 890
Yves Veggie Deli Slices (2 oz.—4 slices) 260 1 3 10 940
Sort-Of-Egg Salad 250 1 4 14 600
Cucumber & Friend 230 1 5 20 560
Artichokes, Etc. 260 1 5 17 590
Healthy Choice Deli Thin Sliced Honey Ham (2 oz.—6 slices) 260 1 5 17 890
Healthy Choice Deli Thin Sliced Oven Roasted Turkey Breast & White Turkey (2 oz.—6 slices) 260 1 5 17 890
Tuna salad (21/2 oz. tuna & 2 Tbs. fat-free mayo) 310 1 5 14 930
  Louis Rich Oven Roasted Deluxe Chicken Breast (4 oz.—4 slices) 320 1 5 14 1,740
Hummus Among Us 290 1 6 19 460
Chicken salad (21/2 oz. diced chicken breast & 2 Tbs. fat-free mayo) 330 1 6 16 710
  Oscar Mayer Deli-Thin Roasted Turkey Breast & White Turkey (4 oz.—9 slices) 310 1 6 17 1,790
  Louis Rich Turkey Ham (4 oz.—4 slices) 320 1 7 20 1,940
Healthy Choice Deli Thin Sliced Pastrami (2 oz.—6 slices) 270 2 5 17 820
Healthy Choice Deli Thin Sliced Roast Beef (2 oz.—6 slices) 260 2 5 17 890
Healthy Choice Beef Bologna (2 oz.—2 slices) 270 2 5 17 900
Turkey breast, fresh cooked (4 oz.—4 slices) 370 2 7 17 490
Chicken breast, fresh cooked (4 oz.—4 sl.) 380 2 7 17 510
  Oscar Mayer Deli-Thin Roast Beef (4 oz.—9 slices) 330 2 7 19 1,610
  Oscar Mayer Boiled Ham (4 oz.—5 slices) 290 2 7 22 1,780
  Louis Rich Oven Roasted White Chicken (4 oz.—3 slices) 300 2 8 24 1,410
The Nutty Banana 330 2 9 25 510
Jarlsberg Lite (1 oz.—1 slice) 270 3 7 23 550
Louis Rich Turkey Bacon (1 oz.—2 strips), lettuce, and tomato 280 3 9 29 780
  Peanut butter (2 Tbs.) 390 4 20 46 570
  Peanut butter (2 Tbs.) and jelly (1 Tbs.) 440 4 20 41 570
  Cracker Barrel Reduced Fat Cheddar (1 oz.) 290 5 9 28 660
  Oscar Mayer Chopped Ham (4 oz.—4 slices) 400 5 15 34 1,700
  Louis Rich Turkey Bologna (4 oz.—4 slices) 400 5 17 38 1,500
  Tuna salad (21/2 oz. tuna & 3 Tbs. mayo) 580 6 38 59 920
  Chicken salad (21/2 oz. diced chicken breast & 3 Tbs. mayo) 610 6 39 58 710
  Bagel (4 oz.) with cream cheese (2 Tbs.) 400 7 12 27 670
  Egg salad (2 eggs & 2 Tbs. mayo) 550 7 36 59 700
  Corned beef (4 oz.—4 slices.) 480 8 25 47 1,700
  Swiss cheese (2 oz.—2 slices) 410 11 19 42 570
  Oscar Mayer Cotto Salami (4 oz.—5 slices) 470 11 26 50 1,670
  Bacon (2 oz.—5 strips), lettuce, and tomato 540 11 32 53 1,330
  Pastrami, beef (4 oz.—4 slices) 590 12 36 55 1,800
  American cheese (2 oz.—3 slices) 430 13 23 48 1,320
  Oscar Mayer Bologna (4 oz.—4 slices) 560 13 35 56 1,580
  For Comparison Calories Saturated Fat (grams) Total Fat (grams) Fat (% of calories) Sodium
Subway Veggie Delite (6-inch sub)* 240 0 3 11 590
Boca Burger, Vegan Original, on a roll 210 1 2 9 470
  Subway Turkey Breast (6-inch sub)* 290 1 4 12 1,400
Subway Roast Beef (6-inch sub)* 300 1 5 15 940
  Subway Ham (6-inch sub)* 300 1 5 15 1,320
  Subway Club (6-inch sub)* 310 1 5 15 1,350
  Subway Turkey Breast & Ham (6-inch sub)* 300 1 5 15 1,360
Subway Roasted Chicken Breast (6-inch sub)* 350 1 6 15 980
Charlie’s Lunch Kit (tuna, mayo, relish, & crackers) 210 1 7 30 720
Healthy Choice Beef Frank on a bun 180 2 4 20 670
Gardenburger, Original, on a roll 250 2 5 18 580
Subway Veggie Delite with cheese (6-inch sub)* 280 2 6 20 790
  Subway Tuna with light mayo (6-inch sub)* 390 2 15 35 940
  McDonald’s Grilled Chicken Deluxe 440 3 20 41 1,040
  Oscar Mayer Reduced Fat Lunchables¹ 260 5 9 31 1,590
  Subway Steak & Cheese (6-inch sub)* 400 6 10 15 1,120
  Hot dog on a bun 300 7 18 54 830
  Subway Classic Italian B.M.T. (6-inch sub)* 460 7 22 43 1,660
  McDonald’s Big Mac 560 10 31 50 1,070
  Pizza Hut Cheese Personal Pan Pizza 630 11 24 34 1,160
  Oscar Mayer Original Lunchables¹ 380 12 24 57 1,740
  Pizza Hut Pepperoni Personal Pan Pizza 670 12 29 39 1,250
  McDonald’s Quarter Pounder with Cheese 530 13 30 51 1,290
  Pizza Hut Supreme Personal Pan Pizza 710 13 31 39 1,380
  Extras Calories Saturated Fat (grams) Total fat (grams) Fat (% of calories) Sodium (mg)
  Lettuce (3 leaves) 5 0 0 0 0
  Tomato (1 slice) 5 0 0 0 0
  Mustard (1 tsp.) 5 0 0 0 60
  Kraft Fat Free Mayo (1 Tbs.) 10 0 0 0 120
  Cream cheese, fat-free (2 Tbs.) 30 0 0 0 160
  Kraft Free American Singles (3/4 oz.—1 slice) 30 0 0 0 300
  Pickle (4 slices) 5 0 0 0 360
  Pita bread, whole wheat, large (2.3 oz.) 170 0 2 11 340
  Rye bread (2.2 oz.—2 slices) 170 0 2 11 420
  Bagel, plain (4 oz.) 300 0 2 6 590
  Whole wheat bread (2.8 oz.—2 slices) 200 1 3 14 420
  Mayonnaise (1 Tbs.) 100 2 11 99 80
  Potato chips (1 oz.—about 20 chips) 150 3 10 60 170
  Philadelphia Light Cream Cheese (2 Tbs.) 70 4 5 64 160
  Cracker Barrel Reduced Fat Cheddar (1 oz.) 90 4 6 60 240
  American cheese (3/4 oz.—1 slice) 80 4 7 79 300
  Swiss cheese (1 oz.—1 slice) 110 5 8 65 70
  Cream cheese (2 Tbs.) 100 6 10 90 90
  Croissant (2.4 oz.) 270 8 14 47 500

Best Bite.
Better Bite.

¹ average for the entire line.
* Numbers include onions, pickles, lettuce, tomatoes, green peppers, and olives but not cheese, mustard, oil, or mayonnaise.

The use of information from this article for commercial purposes is strictly prohibited without written permission from CSPI.
Source: Manufacturers and USDA Nutrient Database for Standard Reference

The information for this article was compiled by Trish Treanor.


Sandwiches Linked in the Article


Feel free to substitute carrots cucumbers, or any of your favorite vegetables.

¼ cup red onion, sliced
½ cup red pepper, chopped
2 Tbs. canned black beans, rinsed (optional)
4 marinated artichoke hearts, chopped
1 toasted whole wheat pita

Chop the vegetables, mix them together, and stuff them into the pita. Serves 1.


½ cucumber, chopped
½ tomato, chopped
¼ cup of plain fat-free or low fat yogurt
1 Tbs. onion, chopped
½ Tbs. fresh cilantro, chopped (optional)
1 clove garlic, minced
2 toasted whole wheat pitas

Combine all the ingredients and stuff them into the two pitas.  Serves 2.


For an "eggier" taste, add one yolk (and add 110 mg of cholesterol per sandwich).

6 eggs (whites only)
1 Tbs. light or low-fat mayonnaise
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
2 tsp. fresh dill, chopped (or ½ tsp. dried)
¼ tsp. freshly ground pepper
2 toasted whole wheat pitas

Boil the eggs for 15 minutes.  Run them under cold water and peel.   Separate the whites from the yolks and discard the yolks.  Chop the whites, combine them with the other ingredients, and stuff into the pitas.  Serves 2.


¾ cup of spinach, chopped
¼ cup marinated sweet red peppers, chopped
2 mushrooms, sliced
¼ cup alfalfa sprouts
2 Tbs. plain fat-free or low-fat yogurt
2 tsp. prepared white horseradish
1 toasted whole wheat pita

Mix the yogurt and the horseradish.   Combine with the remaining ingredients and stuff into the pita.  Serves 1.

Quick Sandwiches

  • The Nutty Banana: Spread 1 Tbs. of reduced-fat peanut butter on a slice of whole-wheat bread.  Heat half a banana in the microwave for 30 seconds.  Mash the banana with a fork and spread it on top of the peanut butter.  Add the top slice of bread.

  • Cucumber & Friend: Slice half a cucumber and half a tomato. Spread 1 Tbs. of low-fat mayo on two slices of whole wheat bread.   Assemble.

  • Hummus Among Us:  Spread 3 Tbs. of hummus in a toasted whole wheat pita.  Add at least ¼ cup each:  Chopped or sliced red peppers, tomatoes, red onion, cucumber, and any other vegetables that strike your fancy.

Nutrition Action Healthletter Subscribe Today! Customer Service