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Think Subway is the lesser of fast food evils? Think again. A new US study has found that teens consumed nearly as many calories at the sandwich shop chain as they did when they ate at McDonald’s.
It’s a finding that may take the steam out of Subway’s marketing pitch as the healthier, fresher alternative to fast food options.
For their study, researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles recruited 97 teens aged 12 to 21 to purchase meals at McDonald’s and Subway restaurants on different days.
After looking at their receipts and the meals purchased, researchers made estimates on the number of calories consumed based on the nutritional information provided by the company websites.
The results showed that the average meal consumed from McDonald’s clocked in at 1,038 calories, compared to 955 calories at Subway.
Participants paid for their food with their own money.
"We found that there was no statistically significant difference between the two restaurants, and that participants ate too many calories at both," said lead researcher Lenard Lesser.
“The nutrient profile at Subway was slightly healthier, but the food still contained three times the amount of salt that the Institute of Medicine recommends.” Sodium intake was higher at Subway, averaging 2,149 mg compared to 1,829 mg at McDonald’s, likely from the processed meats, researchers said.
The Institute of Medicine, a non-profit organization in the US which provides independent advice to policymakers, recommends that school lunches not exceed 850 calories. An adolescent should consume an average of about 2,400 calories in a day.
Researchers also found that sandwiches purchased at Subway ended up being higher in calories than those from McDonald’s, clocking in at an average of 784 calories compared to 572 calories at the Golden Arches.
Findings were published in the Journal of Adolescent Health last week.
For a healthier makeover of fast food meals, Lesser recommends eliminating fries and sugary drinks from McDonald’s meals and loading up Subway sandwiches with extra vegetables and less meat.
Subway and McDonald’s are the two largest fast food chains in the world.
Another study published in 2011 found that the number of Subway restaurants -- which boasts the highest number of restaurants in the world -- is proportional to the prevalence of obesity across 26 countries.
Countries with the highest density of Subway restaurants -- the US and Canada -- were found to have a higher prevalence of obesity than countries with lower density like Norway and Japan.