Inconsistent Calorie Labelling: Why I like McDonalds, Loathe Subway

I’m going to come right out and say something here. I am a fan of McDonalds. Not just the food, but the company in general. In fact, I think as a global brand, they have been particularly responsible when it comes to innovating healthy products and providing nutritional information to their customers.

Yes, you heard me right.


McDonalds is often demonized as the first example of a massive global fast food brand that seemed to encourage poor eating. Hey, this is no new statement; we’ve all seen Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me, a documentary where the host eats nothing but McDonalds for 30 days, back in the year 2004. He gained weight, got sick and felt terrible. This was largely in response to the practice of McDonalds offering to ‘upsize’ or ‘supersize’ customers, giving them larger positions for very little extra money; a questionable practice when you consider the world’s obesity epidemic.

I thought this was overly harsh. I really did.

Maccas gives Aussies nutrional information in 2004

At around the same time that the doco was released, McDonalds in Australia put nutritional information on the packaging of its products. I am still very impressed with this, as even ‘healthy’ brands such as Subway do not do this in Australia, they provide brochures in-store and info on their website, which I don’t think is good enough. Plus I have found Subway’s calorie-counting to be problematic and inconsistent.

For a start, have a look at this table.

subway table

I am a nutrition enthusiast, so I read these all the time, and this is so completely unnecessarily complicated, I don’t know where to begin. It’s impossible to read and you’d need a protractor, ruler and set square to work out how many calories are in your lunch.

Plus – on this document here, titled Subway Australia Nutrition Information, they list a Subway Veggie Delight on Wheat Bread as being 205 calories, but the Wheat Bread on its own is listed at 190 calories. If you add up the average contents of what a customer gets when they order a full salad it’s this:

  • 4 slices of tomato (11 cals)
  • 4 slices of cucumber (3 cals)
  • Half a handful of shredded iceburg lettuce (2 cals)
  • Small amount of grated carrot (3 cals)
  • A sprinkle of Spanish/red onion (3 cals)
  • A few thin shards of capsicum/peppers (2 cals)
  • Equivalent of two black olives (8 cals)
  • Equivalent of half a jalapeño (2 cals)

Now, if you work out the calories with a calories counter, you’ll find that the typical salad in a Subway Veggie Delight adds up to 34 calories, more than double what the stupid nutrition sheet says. It’s not just the nutritional information that’s inconsistent, we all remember the Subway Footlong controversy from earlier in the years, don’t we? That issue was also flagged in Australia.


Am I just an obsessive over-reactor?

Well yes, but I am not alone. Diane Weiss wrote about the same frustrations in her controversial book The Heavy, which I have reviewed on this site. In the book, she takes her husband, son and overweight daughter to a healthy burger restaurant that lets you build your own burgers, choose the toppings and then work out the calories via in-store tablet devices. Her family happily builds burgers based on their own individual calorific needs, which as a family they have become aware of via nutritional counselling sessions.

When Weiss goes to get the bill, the calories of the meal are printed on her receipt, and they don’t match the information on the in-store tablets. The difference to her daughter’s meal was only 50 calories, but when you consider her total allowance for the day, it was a significant amount. If you only had $1500 to your name and you blew fifty bucks, you’d be upset, right?

It’s the little things that add up!

I feel that this is something that needs to be addressed, but I am well aware of the problems of nutritional science. Calories are not fixed elements, and how the body absorbs them is not really an exact science. If you go to different calorie counting sites and enter the same food in the same quantity, you are likely to end up with different results.

Have you experienced frustrations with incorrect calorie-labelling?

Photo credits, thank you!

Fries by D Simmonds

Painting by john azoni

Subway by powerplantop

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  1. April 10, 2013

    This is a great post Alyce! It’s so true that those little nutritional sheets are insane! It’s impossible to figure out how much calories are in each sandwhich. I think Starbucks has a similar pamplet about nutritional facts or so I’ve heard. It’s like Americans are TRYING to be healthy that go to Subway (like me) but a lot of times that backfires. Thanks for posting! Great post!

    1. April 11, 2013

      you are so correct! It’s the little things that count and so many people are ill-informed because of poor labeling! Thanks for your comment, Muffins! And best of luck with the healthy eating! I ate hash browns this morning!

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  3. July 2, 2013

    There is certainly a great deal to know about this topic.
    I really like all the points you made.

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