How unhealthy is a Reuben sandwich?

The Reuben sandwich is a classic American sandwich made with corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, and Russian or Thousand Island dressing grilled between slices of rye bread. While delicious, the traditional Reuben sandwich is high in calories, fat, and sodium. In this 5000 word article, we will analyze the nutritional content of a Reuben sandwich and discuss just how unhealthy it is.

What is in a Reuben sandwich?

A traditional Reuben sandwich contains the following ingredients:

  • Rye bread – Rye bread provides fiber and nutrients like B vitamins, iron, and zinc. However, rye bread tends to be denser and higher in carbohydrates than wheat bread.
  • Corned beef – Corned beef is salt-cured brisket of beef. It is high in protein, but also high in sodium.
  • Sauerkraut – Sauerkraut is fermented cabbage. It contains probiotics that support gut health but is also high in sodium.
  • Swiss cheese – Swiss cheese is low in fat but contains saturated fat and sodium.
  • Russian or Thousand Island dressing – These creamy dressings contain mayonnaise along with ingredients like ketchup, pickles, and onions. They are high in fat, calories, and sodium.

Nutritional Content of a Reuben Sandwich

The nutritional content of a Reuben sandwich can vary depending on the exact ingredients and quantities used. However, on average, a single 6-inch Reuben sandwich contains:

  • Calories: About 700 calories
  • Total fat: 40g
  • Saturated fat: 15g
  • Cholesterol: 115mg
  • Sodium: 1800mg
  • Carbohydrates: 40g
  • Protein: 32g

To put those numbers into perspective, here are the recommended daily amounts for a typical adult:

  • Calories: 2000 to 2500
  • Total fat: 44g to 77g
  • Saturated fat: 22g
  • Cholesterol: 300mg
  • Sodium: 1500mg to 2300mg
  • Carbohydrates: 225g to 325g
  • Protein: 46g to 56g for women, 56g to 102g for men

So in one sandwich, you are getting about 35% of your daily calories, over half your daily fat including a lot of saturated fat, over a third of the maximum recommended cholesterol, most of your sodium, and a good amount of carbs and protein.


At 700 calories, a Reuben packs a lot of calories into a single sandwich. The average person needs about 2000-2500 calories per day, so this one sandwich contains 28%-35% of your total daily calorie needs.

The high calorie count is largely due to the fatty ingredients like the corn beef, cheese, and dressing. If you are trying to watch your calories, a Reuben sandwich can quickly put you over your calorie budget for a meal or even an entire day. Keep that in mind if you are counting calories.


With 40g of total fat and 15g of saturated fat, the Reuben sandwich lives up to its reputation as a fatty sandwich. The recommended limit for saturated fat is about 22g per day. So the saturated fat in one Reuben already puts you over the daily amount.

The American Heart Association recommends limiting total fat intake to 25-35% of total calories. With 700 calories in the sandwich and 40g of fat, over half of those calories (57%) come from fat.

The high fat content comes primarily from the fatty meats like corned beef, the cheese, and the creamy dressing. All this fat adds a lot of flavor, but it can quickly increase your daily fat intake beyond the recommended amount.


In addition to the high saturated fat content, a Reuben sandwich is also very high in cholesterol with 115mg per sandwich.

The recommend daily cholesterol limit is 300mg. Some recommendations are even lower at 200mg per day for people at risk of heart disease. With 115mg of cholesterol in one sandwich, you are getting over a third of your daily cholesterol in the Reuben alone.

The cheese and fatty meats are the main sources of cholesterol. This makes the Reuben a poor choice for anyone limiting cholesterol intake due to heart health concerns.


At 1800mg of sodium, the Reuben sandwich contains most of the recommended daily sodium content in just one sandwich. Health experts recommend limiting sodium to 1500mg-2300mg per day.

The corned beef and sauerkraut provide the most concentrated sources of sodium, but the cheese and dressing also contribute. With so many salty ingredients, it is not surprising that the sodium content is so high.

Consuming high amounts of sodium has been linked to high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. The American Heart Association recommends an ideal limit of 1500mg a day for most adults, making the Reuben sandwich well over the amount preferred for heart health.


A Reuben sandwich contains about 40g of carbohydrates, coming mostly from the rye bread.

40g of carbs is a moderate amount, making up about 13% of daily carb intake based on a 2000 calorie diet.

Rye bread has more fiber and nutrients than white bread, but also has a higher glycemic index which means it can spike blood sugar faster. However, the fat and protein from the sandwich helps slow down absorption and prevent blood sugar spikes.

For most people, the carb content of a Reuben is not a big concern, as long as portions of rye bread are controlled and paired with protein and healthy fats. However, people on low carb diets may want to skip the bread and fillings inside lettuce wraps instead.


With about 32g of protein per sandwich, a Reuben provides a significant amount of this important nutrient.

Protein helps keep you feeling satisfied and full. It also contains amino acids that help maintain and repair muscles, bones, skin and organs.

The corned beef supplies the majority of the protein in a Reuben sandwich. The cheese also contributes protein.

This makes the Reuben a good option for adding high quality protein from meat and dairy products into your diet. The hearty serving of protein helps balance out the high carbs from the rye bread.


In addition to the macros, the Reuben sandwich provides a variety of micronutrients:

  • Iron – Corned beef is rich in iron, providing about 15-20% of the recommended daily amount.
  • Sodium – As discussed earlier, it is very high in sodium content.
  • Vitamin B12 – Provides about 50% of vitamin B12 needs from ingredients like corned beef.
  • Calcium – The Swiss cheese contributes about 10% of calcium needs.
  • Potassium – Contains about 400mg potassium.
  • Zinc – Supplies about 25% of the RDI for zinc from the corned beef.

The Reuben really shines in providing iron, vitamin B12 and zinc from ingredients like corned beef. It also contains probiotics from the sauerkraut that support digestive health.

However, given the high amounts of sodium and saturated fat, these beneficial micronutrients may not offset the potential negative health impacts of consuming a Reuben regularly.

How does a Reuben sandwich compare to other sandwiches?

Compared to other common sandwich choices, the Reuben is one of the unhealthiest options due to it’s very high amounts of sodium, saturated fat, and calories:

Sandwich Calories Total Fat Sodium
Reuben 700 40g 1800mg
Turkey sub 500 10g 900mg
Ham and cheese 400 15g 1000mg
Roast beef 350 6g 700mg
Tuna salad 350 10g 600mg
BLT 400 20g 900mg

As you can see, the Reuben is heads above most other sandwiches in calories, sodium and saturated fat content. The only sandwich that comes close is a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich.

If you are looking make a healthier sandwich choice, options like turkey, roast beef, ham or tuna salad are much lower in calories, sodium and fat overall. Or you can stick with a Reuben but cut it in half or on smaller bread to reduce portion sizes.

Health Risks of Reuben Sandwiches

The unusually high sodium, saturated fat, and cholesterol content of Reuben sandwiches can contribute to several health risks if they are consumed regularly.

Heart Disease

The American Heart Association warns that consuming excess sodium can increase blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. The high amounts of sodium and saturated fat in a Reuben sandwich are of particular concern for heart health.


At 700 calories each, Reuben sandwiches can quickly add excess calories leading to weight gain over time. The high calorie and fat content increase risk for obesity.


Frequent consumption of highly processed meats like corned beef has been associated with an increased risk of developing type-2 diabetes.

GI Problems

Heavy consumption of fatty and salty foods may cause gastrointestinal issues like acid reflux or nausea in some individuals.

Kidney Problems

The very high sodium content puts additional strain on the kidneys which regulate fluid balance in the body. Those with kidney disease are often advised to limit sodium intake which can be a challenge with a Reuben.

Tips for Enjoying Reuben Sandwiches More Healthfully

While Reuben sandwiches are undoubtedly indulgent and unhealthy in traditional form, there are ways to make them a bit more nutritious so they can still be enjoyed in moderation. Here are some tips:

  • Opt for light or reduced sodium corned beef.
  • Choose reduced-fat Swiss cheese.
  • Use light Russian or Thousand Island dressing.
  • Add extra vegetables like tomatoes, onions, spinach or pickles for more fiber.
  • Use multigrain, whole wheat or rye bread instead of white bread.
  • Cut the sandwich in half to reduce portion size.
  • Eat it open faced to cut carbs, fat and calories in half.
  • Pair it with a low calorie side like a salad instead of fries or chips.
  • Limit consumption to once a week or for special occasions only.

Making even small tweaks like using reduced sodium ingredients, adding veggies, or reducing portion sizes can go a long way towards decreasing the calorie, fat, carb, and sodium content.

While these adjustments make the sandwich “healthier”, it is still a high calorie meat sandwich loaded with sodium. So it’s best enjoyed in moderation even after making some healthy substitutions.

Healthier Sandwich Alternatives to a Reuben

If you are looking for a healthier sandwich option, consider these alternatives that are lower in sodium, fat and calories:

Turkey Reuben

Use sliced turkey instead of corned beef. Be sure to use lower sodium options.

Veggie Reuben

Substitute sliced roasted veggies like eggplant, portobello mushrooms or zucchini for the meat.

Chicken Salad Sandwich

Chicken salad made with light mayo is fresh and lower in sodium.

Grilled Chicken Sandwich

A simple grilled chicken breast is an easy lean protein option.

Tuna Melt

Use water-packed tuna and reduced fat cheese.

Avocado Toast Sandwich

Smashed avocado, veggies, sprouts and hummus provide healthy fats.

By substituting the high sodium processed meat with leaner proteins and loading up on veggie toppings, you can make a sandwich with a fraction of the fat, salt and calories.

Healthy Cooking Methods

One other way to make a Reuben healthier is to change up the cooking method. Rather than grilling in butter, try one of these options:

  • Baked – Cooking the sandwich in the oven avoids using any added fats.
  • Broiled – Broiling in the oven also cooks without added fats.
  • Grilled – Grilling on a panini press uses very little oil.
  • Air Fryer – Air fryers let you “fry” foods with no oil needed.

Baking, broiling, grilling or air frying uses little to no added fats resulting in a lower calorie Reuben, than pan frying in butter.

Healthier Side Options

Rather than serving your Reuben with traditional fatty sides like fries, chips or potato salad, pair it with healthier options like:

  • Soup – Broccoli cheddar, tomato, or other veggie soup
  • Salad – Green, potato, pasta, or fruit salad
  • Coleslaw – Light coleslaw dresses up a Reuben sandwich
  • Fruit – Fresh fruit like apple slices, berries, melon
  • Vegetables – Carrots, celery, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes
  • Quinoa – Chili lime quinoa for a fiber and protein boost

Choosing nutritional side dishes balances out the heavy Reuben sandwich. This helps control portions of the high fat sandwich filling and adds important vitamins and minerals.

Focus on sides that add volume with lower calorie foods like vegetables and fruits. A small side salad or soup makes a filling low calorie pairing.

Should You Avoid Reuben Sandwiches Altogether?

Reuben sandwiches are an iconic menu item found on deli menus across the country. Despite their unhealthy reputation, for most people they can be consumed in moderation along with an otherwise balanced diet.

However, certain individuals may be better off avoiding Reubens more strictly due to health conditions affected by excess sodium, fat and cholesterol:

  • Those with high blood pressure, heart disease or stroke history
  • Anyone with diabetes or blood sugar regulation issues
  • Those with current obesity or who are overweight
  • Anyone with kidney disease or gout
  • People with digestive issues like reflux, IBS or ulcers

Pregnant women should also use caution due to risk of elevated blood pressure and excess weight gain.

Of course, any one sandwich is not going to cause major health problems right away. But regularly eating high amounts of sodium, cholesterol and saturated fat can negatively impact health over the long term.

For those unable to tolerate excess fat, salt and cholesterol, it is best to avoid indulging in Reuben sandwiches frequently and choose healthier sandwich alternatives instead. Others can still enjoy an occasional Reuben, as long as they balance it with nutritious foods and exercise.


Reuben sandwiches are notoriously unhealthy due to their high calorie count along with ample amounts of sodium, saturated fat and cholesterol. Just one sandwich can provide over a third of daily recommended amounts for salt, fat and cholesterol.

Frequent Reuben consumption has been associated with increased risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, obesity and other conditions.

However, an occasional Reuben on rye bread can be incorporated into an overall healthy diet for many people. Those with certain medical conditions like hypertension, heart disease and diabetes may be better off avoiding this high sodium sandwich more strictly.

There are also many ways to lighten up a Reuben by using reduced fat ingredients, adding extra veggies, cutting portions or choosing healthier cooking methods. While these tweaks improve the nutrition profile, a Reuben will always be an indulgent fatty sandwich best enjoyed only occasionally.

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