For those who eat low-carb or keto diets, there is almost always something you can eat in every fast food place or restaurant. Plan ahead. Before entering a restaurant, check out their menu and nutrition information online at home or using your smart phone. It’s always good to know the safe options before being tempted by menu items you shouldn’t have on a low-carb diet.
In order to make it easier to find a quick keto-friendly option, I’ve compiled a list of several restaurants and fast food places and those items that I’ve found to be the lowest carb (and most emotionally satisfying) choices. These are not all perfect options, but when you’re stuck with no other choices due to time or location constraints, they’ll do in a pinch.
It’s a huge help that fast-food places are required to post nutritional content. It gets easier to follow the keto plan every day. The carb count I’m listing is approximate and is NET grams.
In general, there is usually some salad option anywhere you are. At Burger joints, just remove the bun, and many places offer lettuce wraps instead. Chicken shouldn’t have breading.
As a side note, it helps to have a knife and fork handy in your car or purse. Big, juicy burgers in tiny pieces of lettuce end up on the table – or in your lap. Small, flimsy fastfood plasticware also makes for difficult eating. Pull out your own sturdy utensils and enjoy!
Now for the food choices… here are some pretty obvious general rules to follow:
- Skip the bun or wrap
- Skip the pasta, potato, or rice
- Salads – no croutons. Stick with low sugar dressing options – Caesar, Blue Cheese, Ranch, Chipotle. Look at the name which may give you a clue, things like “honey” in the honey dijon or “sweet” in the dressing name – these are usually not a good choice. Check the ingredient for items that are higher in carb content.
- Chicken – Choose grilled or sauteed. Stay away from any chicken that is breaded.
McDonald’s – opt for any burger (zero g) or grilled chicken (2 g) without the bun and topped with cheese, mayo, mustard, onions, etc. No ketchup. Add a side salad (3g). The Caesar salad with grilled chicken or the bacon ranch salad with grilled chicken are 9g.
Burger King – same burger info as McDonald’s: burger (zero g) without the bun and topped with cheese, mayo, mustard, onions, etc. No ketchup. The tendergrill chicken sandwich without the bun is 3g. BEWARE – you might think the veggie burger is low, but it is 19g of carbs, so that’s about a full day of carbs on keto. Add a side salad (3g). The tendergrill chicken garden salad is 8g without dressing or croutons. The tendercrisp chicken salad is not an option. Do not attempt.
BONUS – dessert!?! – the fresh apple fries are not fried and are 5g net carbs WITHOUT caramel sauce.
Subway – Probably should skip Subway if you can. The buns and wraps are all high in carbs. I guess you could just have them throw the ingredients in a wrapper sans bun, but that doesn’t sound appealing. I have no info on what the carb count would be for each bunless sub, but you can probably figure it out – chicken or pepperoni is fine, but is “sweet onion” chicken okay? No idea. Stick to the salads, but realize you’ll only get iceberg lettuce (4g).
Carl’s Junior and Hardees – This chain offers “lettuce wraps” – your burger wrapped in a large piece of lettuce for easy low carb eating. (As I’ve said, I tried it and don’t love it. I like to carry my own fork instead.) Bunless options – Six dollar burger (7g), 1/2 thick-burger (5g), charbroiled chicken club sandwich (7g/10g at Hardees). Grilled chicken salad without croutons is 10g. Side salad is 3g.
Jimmy John’s – The unwich – a sandwich wrapped in lettuce – fits the bill here. Meats are fine, just make sure the ingredients are not carb-rich.
Wendy’s – Again, you can get your burger in a lettuce wrap or a box. Any burger with toppings. Mayo has corn syrup, and is 1g. The chicken grill fillet is 1 g. It can be ordered in the chicken club sandwich or the ultimate chicken grill sandwich. Best salads: chicken caesar (7g), blt chicken salad with grilled chicken. Side salads aer 6g or 2g for Caesar.
Pizza Hut and other pizza places – It is possible to get used to eating pizza with no crust. You need to eat twice as much, but if there’s a party or dinner out that you can’t avoid at a pizza place, just slide the cheesy toppings off and eat the big messy pile of cheese and toppings. A side salad is a nice addition. Otherwise, just opt for making pizza at home with a low-carb crust.
Mongolian Barbecue – YES! Load up your bowl with chicken, shrimp, onion slices, and mushrooms, then top with the Asian black bean sauce. I know beans have carbs, but this sauce label says 1 gram of carbs per ounce (each sauce is plainly labeled). Add a bit of garlic and wait for the griller to do his work. It goes without saying that you skip the appetizers, tortillas, and rice. Ask the wait staff not to bring them to the table.
Italian Restaurants – These take a little cunning, but they can be conqurerd! Ideas: how about chicken Marsala in an Italian place? Make sure it doesn’t come with pasta. Substitute broccoli or some other keto-friendly side dish – or a big salad. Chicken piccata is also a possibility.
Mexican and Chinese restaurants are the most difficult, because any low carb option is not the reason to go to the restaurant in the first place. At a Mexican restaurant, I tend to get a large burrito with no beans and spread the soft tortilla out like a plate. Eat the inner ingredients and toss the tortilla.
If you MUST go to a Chinese buffet (I attended a funeral dinner at one), you can find options, but they probably aren’t going to be your favorite General Tso’s. How about the salad bar choices? eggs? the insides of eggrolls, and I even ate the insides only of crab rangoons. Unfortunately, these ideas leave quite a pile of discarded shells and deep fried exterior pieces on your plate and makes it look like you really waste food.
Wings anywhere – Standard buffalo sauce is usually OK as well as garlic Parmesan
Convenience stores can be a good option, too! 7-11 has packs of hard boiled eggs, cheese slabs, slim jims, almonds, and pork rinds. Pork rinds come in a barbecue flavor and they’re ZERO carbs.
Remember, whatever you choose, hold the bread, potatoes, rice, noodles, fries, and tortillas. And watch out for the possibility of corn starch, bread crumbs, and other fillers. With proper planning and a good attitude, you can find healthy keto and low-carb options when dining out, and stick to your successful keto diet plan.
Anupam Ghose, a physician by training, was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus (T2DM) in 2017. After the diagnosis of T2DM, he followed a low carbohydrate high fat diet and reversed his T2DM within a year. Now he has one main goal in life. Yes, it is to make people understand that the conventional method of treating T2DM is not beneficial. The best way to reverse and fight T2DM is through diet and lifestyle modification. He decided to help people suffering from T2DM in their new journey by offering consultations and working together with them in order to achieve a T2DM free life.