Subway bread isn't actually bread, Irish court rules — but nutritionists disagree

Subway is known for its hot, fresh bread, but an Irish court now says the restaurant chain’s signature ingredient isn’t bread after all.

Ireland’s Supreme Court specifically took issue with the bread’s sugar count, saying that it keeps the brand’s sandwiches from being considered a staple food, according to the Irish Independent. The ruling was part of a court case in which a Subway franchisee argued that its business should not be liable for a value-added tax (VAT), which is a consumption tax added to products.

“The argument depends on the acceptance of the prior contention that the Subway heated sandwich contains ‘bread’ as defined, and therefore can be said to be food ... rather than confectionary. Since that argument has been rejected, this subsidiary argument must fail,” the court ruled, per the Independent. As a result, the appeal was dismissed.

The definition of bread was based on Ireland’s Value-Added Tax Act of 1972, which says that ingredients like sugar and fat should not be more than 2 percent of the weight of the flour in the dough. The law is designed to make sure that foods like pastries are taxed differently from bread.

AYLESBURY, ENGLAND  - JUNE 05: A Deliveroo driver collects a takeaway order from Subway on June 05, 2020 in Aylesbury, England . The British government further relaxed Covid-19 quarantine measures in England this week, allowing groups of six people from different households to meet in parks and gardens, subject to social distancing rules. Many schools also reopened and vulnerable people who are shielding in their homes are allowed to go outside again. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)
Ireland’s Supreme Court specifically took issue with the sugar count in Subway breads. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

The court ruled that Subway’s sandwiches fall outside that definition because the bread has a sugar content of 10 percent of the weight of the flour included in the dough.

A Subway spokesperson told Yahoo Life that the company doesn’t agree with the ruling, saying, “Subway’s bread is, of course, bread. We have been baking fresh bread in our restaurants for more than three decades, and our guests return each day for sandwiches made on bread that smells as good as it tastes.”

Subway’s breads contain a range of sugar per serving, and it varies by bread type. Some, like the Italian and Monterey cheddar breads, contain 1 gram of sugar per serving, while others, like the 9-Grain Honey Oat and Artisan Flatbread, contain 4 grams of sugar per serving, according to nutrition information available online.

A piece of packaged white bread contains about 2 grams of sugar per serving, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.

So, is Subway bread actually bread? Nutritionists say yes. “To me, bread is any baked dough that is leavened by yeast,” registered dietitian Scott Keatley, of Keatley Medical Nutrition Therapy in New York, tells Yahoo Life.

It’s actually common for bread to have added sugar, and even a lot of it, registered dietitian Jessica Cording, author of The Little Book of Game-Changers, tells Yahoo Life. “From a big-picture perspective, bread is one of the less obvious sources of added sugar,” she says. “It's not just Subway — some popular bread brands have a similar amount of sugar.”

Sugar isn’t required to make bread, although it’s usually used in small amounts to feed the yeast to make the bread rise, says Karen Ansel, a registered dietitian-nutritionist and co-author of The Calendar Diet. “But it can be done without added sugar, because of the naturally present starch/sugar in flour,” she adds.

Sugar is often added to commercial breads, though, Ansel explains. “Sugar binds water, so it’s frequently added to bread to keep it moist and prevent it from drying out,” she says. “That’s why many brands of bread have added sugar.”

Cording points out that some breads have even higher sugar counts — on par with cookies. “Even some ‘healthy’-seeming brands can have a high amount of sugar,” she says. “Regardless of what you call the product it’s in, sugar is sugar, and you need to be mindful of how it fits into the context of your day-to-day diet.”

If you want to look for healthy bread, Cording recommends searching for one with “as little added sugar as possible.” Breads with whole grains and at least 2 grams of fiber are also ideal, she says.

It’s possible to find a loaf without added sugar, “but these tend to be grainier breads like sprouted grain bread,” Ansel says. When it comes to picking out healthy bread, “label-reading and comparing brands is key,” she says.

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