Court rules Subway sandwiches too sugary to meet legal definition of ‘bread’

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When it comes to fast food, many people consider Subway to be a healthier option. It’s true that among the McDonalds, Taco Bells, and Burger Kings of the world, Subway seems healthier. After all, it does at least provide a few more veggies and a little less fried food.

But it turns out that the Sandwich purveyor may not be as healthy as we want to believe. In a recent court case, the Supreme Court of Ireland ruled that Subway’s bread is too sugary to meet the legal definition of bread.

Subway Sandwiches are Too Sugary

The Supreme Court of Ireland recently ruled that the bread Subway uses for its hot sandwiches contains too much sugar to be considered bread. But how did this reach all the way to the Supreme Court? As the saying goes, you just have to follow the money.

The story starts in 2006. Subway franchisee, Bookfinders Ltd. in County Galway submitted a claim to the Irish Revenue Commissioners. They asked to receive a refund for VAT payments they made between January/February 2004 to November/December 2005 at a rate of 9.2 percent [1].

VAT stands for Value-Added Tax. It is a consumption tax that the government places on products. It occurs whenever value is added at each stage of the supply chain, from production to the point of sale. The amount the users pays is on the cost of the product, less the cost of the materials in the product that have already been taxed.

The tax is based on the user’s consumption, not on their income. For this reason, many consider it to be a regressive tax, and it is highly controversial [2].

The case calls into question “the 1972 Act”. This act exempts certain products from the VAT tax as long as the product is considered essential. In other words, goods and services that are “staples” receive a zero percent VAT tax rate.

The Definition of Bread

The 1972 act provides a definition of what we can consider to be bread. In this definition, the Act says that the weight of ingredients like sugar, fat, and bread improver, cannot exceed two percent of the weight of the flour in the dough.

The purpose of this definition was to distinguish between what is a “staple” (ie- bread), and what is not (ie- baked goods, brownies, etc.).

The five-judge court ruled that Subway’s bread falls outside of this definition. Why? Because it’s dough has a sugar content of roughly ten percent the weight of its flour content. For this reason, a Subway sandwich does not contain “bread”, and is therefore not “food” for the purpose of the Act [3]. 

According to the nutrition facts from the restaurant itself, most of their bread contains between five and nine grams of sugar for a six-inch sandwich [4].

Read: Senior Citizens Are Replacing Teenagers as Fast-Food Workers

So Subway Bread is Sugary, Should I Still Eat It?

If Subway’s bread is so sugary that the Supreme Court does not consider it to be “food”, does that mean you should ditch it altogether?

Not necessarily. As far as fast-food restaurants go, Subway does provide ‘healthier’ options than your traditional burger, fries, or fried chicken. Though that’s not seeing the bar very high. For this reason, when you’re looking for a quick bite on a road trip with limited choice, Subway, relatively speaking, might be your best option. All the more reason to have a packed lunch? Maybe.

That being said, not all sandwiches at the restaurant are made equal. According to eatthis.com, the rotisserie or oven-roasted chicken sandwich, or the veggie delight, are far better options. This is especially true when compared to the bacon ranch melt or the meatball sub. Remember the bread is only part of the sandwich- the fillings matter, too [5].

Of course, if you really want to be health-conscious, most Subway locations give you the option to skip the bread altogether and make your sandwich a salad. Doing this takes the sugar content of the bread out of the question entirely.

It is also important to remember that an occasional trip to Subway is not going to have a negative impact on your health. If it’s your daily lunch spot, you may want to consider how healthy it actually is.

If you only go there once in a while when you’re in a pinch, you likely have nothing to worry about. Even if you get the meatball sub.

Keep Reading: How I Get By: A Week in the Life of a McDonald’s Cashier

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