Are Sandwiches the New Public Enemy #1?

HealthGal Health Guide
  • Americans love sandwiches.  We love all versions of sandwiches, including the traditional sandwich that has two slices of bread (very often white bread, white rolls, or white buns), wraps, flatbreads, and more ethnic versions of the sandwich like pita pockets and burritos.  A typical sandwich includes meat and cheese and some condiments, which are often creamy in nature.  It may also contain some lettuce or a slice or two of tomato.  It’s a hearty meal, right?  Perfect to fill you up and keep you energized for a few hours, correct?  So why did recent headlines suggest that “sandwiches are unhealthy?”

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    Well, if you examine some of the key words I just shared, they include white (flour) and creamy.  Translation – refined sugar and saturated fats.  Unfortunately, sandwiches are also significant sources of too much meat (often fatty), fried fish, tuna or egg mixed with mayonnaise, and scant amounts of vegetables.  Sandwiches are clearly a big source of calories, sodium and sugar.  Data extrapolated from the NHANES survey (2009-2010) suggests that on any given day, 49% of Americans consume a sandwich daily, and sandwiches actually contribute to about 20% of our daily intake of sodium.  The NHANES data also provided some specific American sandwich habits, by ranking actual contents of the sandwiches, and detailed sandwich combinations.  Sandwiches after all, have a wide variety of ingredients.  What's clear is that sodium in particular, seems to feature heavily in most selections.


    The study’s newer extrapolated sandwich parameters helped to isolate different types of sandwiches, like “a turkey sub with cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and a condiment,” versus a fast food sandwich like “quarter pound of meat with bacon strips, tomato slices, and catsup on a white bun.”  It also allowed specific single ingredients like egg salad, bread, ham or beans to be isolated.  The goal was to see just how much sodium is being sourced directly from our sandwich habit.  If you are over age 20, the answer is a lot!  If you refer to recent sodium guidelines, the initial new daily sodium target was "no more than 2300 milligrams of sodium daily."  The American Heart Association is hoping that the next goal for most Americans will be a more strict 1500 milligrams of sodium daily.  Our current consumption of sandwiches would provide 30% of the sodium guidelines (2300 mgs) and a whopping 46% of the more strict sodium guidelines (1500 mgs). 


    Another observation from the NHANES study was that on average, sandwich eaters consume an extra 600 mgs of sodium daily, compared to people who don’t eat sandwiches.  Let’s not forget that many processed breads are a huge source of sodium.  So if you eat salad instead of a sandwich, you are avoiding a common source of sodium.  Of course, if you're heavy handed with dressing or add cheese, you can certainly bump up the sodium levels in your salad.  Let’s not forget that many sandwiches come with a side of Cole slaw, potato salad or chips, which means more sodium.


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    So what can you do to reduce your sandwich habit?  Catch my next blog, Grain Bowls are a Great Sandwich Swap Out!


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Published On: October 10, 2014

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