/ Food & Drink, Health

Fast food foes: how healthy is your sandwich or salad?


Is your supermarket salad as good for you as you think? Our research has found sandwiches and salads that have more calories and fat than a Big Mac or pizza…

When I started researching this article I didn’t think I’d find anything too surprising – I know most fast food is packed with fat, sugar and/or salt and is high in calories. But I was surprised, and in some cases shocked, by just how much can be packed into a relatively small snack or drink.

I found salads that contain more calories than a Big Mac, and sandwiches with more calories than a pizza.

How healthy is your salad?

Choosing a ‘salad’ isn’t always the safest option either, especially pasta salads with creamy, mayonnaise dressings. We found supermarket pasta salads, such as Asda’s Piri Piri Chicken Pasta Salad, that contain more fat than a Burger King Bacon and Cheese Whopper. And sandwiches, such as M&S’s Chicken and Smoked Bacon Salad on Soft Multigrain Farmhouse Bread, with as many calories as a Pizza Express Classic Margherita pizza.

And while mayonnaise in a sandwich adds to the calorie and fat content, a chutney adds sugar. I found several examples containing three teaspoons of sugar per sandwich, for example Pret’s Posh Cheddar and Pickle Artisan baguette contains 17.6g sugar.

You can find these examples and more in our ‘Fast food foes’ article in the May issue of Which? magazine. Perhaps they explain why two-thirds of adults and a third of children in the UK are overweight or obese.

Better food labelling

Many of us are leading increasingly busy lives and rely on supermarkets and chains to provide our lunch or a snack when out and about. Luckily many outlets now provide nutritional information on packaging, shelf labels or menus allowing us to make informed choices. But this information isn’t always available for every item.

We want all manufacturers to adopt traffic light nutrition labelling, and restaurants to display calories so you can see exactly what products contain.

Have you been shocked to find out how much fat, sugar or salt was in something you thought was relatively healthy? Do you use nutritional information to try and choose healthier options or do you pick what you fancy?


I prefer to make my own sandwiches, so I know what goes into them. It was the introduction of mayonnaise that put me off buying sandwiches.

My sandwiches always taste better because they are made to my own specs and like Wavechange I know what goes into them.

The last time I needed something fast, however, I chose a small sushi snack at Tesco, the simple rice and smoked salmon variety. Problem is, there is 4.9g of sugar in it according to the pack, ie more than one teaspoonful of sugar. There is 1.1g of salt as well, 18% of the reference intake as Tesco says. Oops.

Next time I’m hungry again I will try to forego the soya sauce as it may be where most of the salt comes from. But why on earth do they add sugar to the rice and to the salmon?? Or I will try to eat something else, but what?? It’s a minefield out there. (Maybe an apple?…)

If you are going to have a cheese and pickle sandwich it’s pretty obvious it’s going to contain sugar. The whole point of the pickle is to be sweet as well as acidic to balance the fat and saltiness of the cheese. You’d complain if it wasn’t.

The thing you really want to watch is the calories. As long as you are in control of that and don’t eat the same stuff all the time the rest of it doesn’t matter so much. A Tesco taster smoked salmon nigiri may well have got 4.9g of sugar in it but the whole thing contains all of 120 calories, fewer than a couple of biscuits. You’ll have to stomach an awful lot of that sushi stuff to get fat.

I disagree with you about calories being the most important thing to watch. The best guide to calorie intake is what is happening to your weight, which will obviously depend on physical activity. On the other hand, there are good reasons for keeping an eye on salt, sugar and fat intake.

I guess I should have made my point clearer, Nick, which was about hidden ingredients even in what you think might be the healthy option, in agreement with Shefalee. You think, I’ll have a salad and just the one biscuit, and before you know it talking about your middle age spread will be an understatement, never mind your blood pressure and the state of your liver.

However, I agree with you re keeping control and having a varied diet, plus like Wavechange says keeping an eye on salt, sugar and fat intake.

I agree that there is a problem, when you read the labels some of the salt sugar and fat contents in supermarket and petrol station sandwiches are huge.


Rather interesting information on the sugar industries , and others, affecting the advice given under the previous guidelines. The 2015WHO guidance is less tainted.

And this is an interesting article on changing dietary habits.

next time you buy a pre packed chicken sandwich, assuming it to be fresh, look on the ingredients.
chicken usually comes from Brazil or Thailand, and it usually takes a month to get to the preparation stage.

forgot to add that it is frozen at source.

Jennifer says:
29 May 2015

I’m sick of egg or milk (or both) in sandwich bread in all supermarkets. Then there is a huge need for more plant-based sandwiches – not boring old houmous rejigs (Pret). There is a great range of tasty, acceptable bread and fillings now that would be a breath of fresh air in the sandwich market. And for salads – pretty much the same! Internet is filled with gorgeous looking plant-based salads, but are they in supermarkets or high street retail? nope. M&S is best (3 bean salad realiable but …. boring), but I’m not always near an M&S. Always the cheese in salads – sickly, fatty and pus-tarnished!