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The Top 18 Low-Carb Fast Food Options for Keto

By Fitoru | 12 December 2019
low carb fast food burger

While some fast-food chains have clued in and now provide a chicken salad menu item and a few other low-carb options for the carbohydrate-light eaters among us, not all of them do so well. For example, if that salad comes drenched in ranch dressing, you might as well not even order it. So if you’re wondering what fast food joints will serve your low-carb needs, you’ve come to the right place. Here is a comprehensive guide for finding low-carb fast food options on keto and other low-carb diets.

Quick Eats on Keto

When you’re rushed during your busy day or need to find a quick low-carb meal on your lunch hour at work, it can be a huge hassle. While there seems to be a fast-food chain on every block, their menu items tend to include greasy fare, fried foods, and carbs for days

The high-fat, moderate-protein, low-carb keto diet hinges on keeping your carb intake on the extreme lower end (between 20 and 50 grams of carbs per day) so that your body is forced to access fat and the ketone bodies contained within as its main fuel source. This leads to rapid weight loss once you achieve the metabolic state of ketosis, but it can be a very fine line between the carb count you need and the carbs that kick you out of ketosis.

At a fast-food restaurant with friends or coworkers, you have a quick decision to make: what is the least destructive item on the menu, and is anything available that’s actually keto, or do you just have to eat a cheeseburger without the bun and be happy? What follows are some general rules for eating out, plus specific items we can recommend at the top 18 most popular fast-food eateries.

Low-Carb Fast Food: General Guidelines

No matter where you’ve pulled in for food, here are some standard keto-friendly items that you should be able to find on most menus.

  • Grilled chicken: A fried chicken sandwich is, of course, impossible on keto, but short of a sugary seasoning or marinade on a grilled piece of chicken, plain grilled chicken is a pretty safe bet.
  • Bunless hot dogs and burgers: The trick with these items is that they’ll come in a bun, and you’ll just have to throw away the breading after you enjoy the meat and any keto-friendly condiments, cheese, and veggie toppings it comes with.
  • Most salads: Assuming you can find a salad with dressing on the side (you really can’t trust restaurant dressings not to have hidden sugars) and no croutons or other carby additives, fresh veggie salads are a great option. A salad topped with nonstarchy vegetables like tomatoes and radishes or sprinkled with healthy fats like fetta cheese or avocado cubes is fine, and the same goes for grilled chicken. For the dressing, a plain olive oil would be ideal, because something like a vinaigrette or creamy dressing can’t be trusted unless you can get a real look at the nutrition information.
  • Eggs: Breakfast items like a nice veggie scramble or omelet full of Mexican or cheddar cheese can be a great option. You may only have choices like a breakfast sandwich or burrito, which again can be enjoyed as long as you skip the bun and the tortilla.
  • Sausage and ham: Often seen on the side of the breakfast egg dish, these morning meats are much more keto than a side of hashbrowns, so long as they aren’t sweetened or dipped in maple syrup.

Breaded items such as crispy chicken nuggets are out, as are clear carbs like rice and beans, but whole food menu items are perfect, including sides like green beans and protein foods like meat and eggs.

Low-Carb Toppings, Condiments, Sides, and Beverages

When it comes to toppings and condiments, some are more notoriously sugary than others.

  • Keto condiments: Olive oil, tomato-based salsa, vinegar, guacamole, sour cream, and avocado are all relatively safe, as are mayo, mustard, hot sauce, and dill relish.
  • Keto toppings and sides: Pickles, bacon, cheese, jalapeños, mushrooms, olives, tomatoes, fresh onions, lettuce, and raw nuts are all perfectly appropriate on a low-carb diet.
  • Keto beverages: When it comes to beverages, water, unsweetened teas and seltzers, plain coffee, and many diet sodas are technically fine on keto.
  • Unapproved condiments: The sugariest condiments include ketchup, barbecue sauce, and most salad dressing packets that are provided in fast-food establishments.
  • Unapproved toppings and sides: Tortilla strips, breaded chicken, croutons, sugar-roasted nuts, and fruits (even fresh ones) are best avoided when eating out. Likewise, onion rings, breaded mozzarella sticks, tater tots, chips, and fries are all to be skipped, and so is a side of creamy soup (there’s often flour included in creamy soups for thickening).
  • Unapproved beverages: Milkshakes, sugary lemonade, non-diet soda, sweetened coffee, juices, slushies, and smoothies can’t be trusted—make your smoothies at home so you know they’re not full of high-carb or sugary ingredients.

Before we move on: fast food dessert menus are out entirely, because there’s very little chance that they aren’t full of sugar, so skip those fruit pies and cheesecakes.

Quick Eats on Keto and Low-Carb Fast Food: General Guidelines
The Top 18 Low-Carb Fast Food Recommendations

The Top 18 Low-Carb Fast Food Recommendations

Let’s run down the exact menu items you can order at the top 18 most popular fast-food chains.

1. McDonald’s

Found all over the world, McDonald’s was once notoriously unhealthy until they turned a new leaf and started including healthier menu options a few years ago. Now if you just want to swing through the drive-thru, an Egg McMuffin without the muffin will do, as will the Artisan Grilled Chicken Sandwich without the bun. You could even request a custom order of just the sausage and egg rounds from the breakfast menu and see if your server can’t help you out.

2. Chick-fil-A

Again, chicken is keto-friendly and low in carbs, so the Grilled Chicken Club with bun removed is perfect. With bacon and cheese for your fat macros and some lettuce and tomato for a minimal amount of carbs, it’s safe to eat here.

3. Burger King

Another seemingly ubiquitous fast-food restaurant, Burger King has a Grilled Chicken Burger you can opt for, or order their Garden Side Salad: sub in bacon instead of croutons and you’ve got a delicious option you don’t have to fret about when it comes time to check your ketone levels.

4. Kentucky Fried Chicken

KFC, much like Chick-fil-A, has based their whole establishment around chicken. While most of their menu items are fried or just balls of carbs (those heavy, buttery biscuits), there are a few healthy items on the menu. Grilled chicken is again available, as are sides like green beans and coleslaw. 

5. Wendy’s

Wendy’s has a Bacon, Egg, and Cheese Biscuit order you can consume without the biscuit—it’s basically what some nutritionists might call “a deconstructed omelet.” Wendy’s also has an app with a customizable nutrition option to help you make the right choice for your low-carb diet.

6. Panera Bread

With “bread” right in the name, you may be wondering what you could possibly eat at Panera, and the answer is a salad. Specifically, their Greek Salad, as it only has 7 grams of net carbs (plus 4 grams of healthy fiber), and you can skip the dressing it comes with to make your own dressing at the water fountain where there’s olive oil and lemon wedges available. 

7. Sonic

Tired of all the chicken? You can order up an All-Beef Hot Dog at Sonic for a simple protein solution. Just leave the bun on the plate when you’re done and choose wisely when it comes to your condiments.

8. Taco Bell

The Power Bowl, so long as you specify no rice and no beans, is nothing but a keto-approved medley of veggies, protein, and toppings like sour cream, cheese, and guac. A burrito bowl can be customizable as it’s a menu item that’s easy to tailor to your needs.

9. Carl’s Jr.

The Charbroiled Chicken Club Sandwich at Carl’s Jr. can be enjoyed, with fats like mayo and bacon toppings, so long as you (of course) excuse the bun from your intake.

10. Pizza Hut 

Here’s some variety for you: at Pizza Hut you can order Naked Bone-In Wings. Not the standard grilled chicken fare you’re used to seeing on this list, but instead, an un-sauced chicken wing selection that you can still dunk in some blue cheese dressing for the fat portion of the meal. Made with with soybean oil and corn syrup, it isn’t the healthiest food in the world, but most fast-food chains aren’t where you go for perfect health but for convenience.

11. Jimmy John’s

Jimmy John’s has you covered in a way so many other restaurants don’t with the “Unwich” option. These are custom orders everywhere else, but Jimmy John’s know some people want all the makings of a sandwich without the bread. Perfect! Their Unwich items include: 

  • The Big Italian Unwich that comes with ham, salami, pork, provolone, onion, lettuce, tomato, vinegar, and oil.
  • The J.J. BLT with bacon, lettuce, tomato, and a little bit of mayo on top.
  • The J.J. Gargantuan full of roast beef, turkey, pork, salami, ham, and provolone (in case you want all your protein at once).
  • The Slim 3 Unwich that is basically made up of tuna and mayo, so it’s tuna salad in a lettuce wrap for a perfectly keto meal.

That’s not all. They have six Slim Unwich options, along with Unwich versions of the Pepe, the Big John, the Vito, the Turkey Tom, the Spicy East Coast Italian, the Billy Club, the Country Club, the Jimmy Cubano, and the Ultimate Porker. Basically, if you see a sandwich you like at Jimmy John’s you can get it Unwiched without any of the hassle involved in asking for a special off-menu substitution. 

12. Subway

Speaking of sandwich shops, Subway, too, can be workable, like say if you order a tuna salad on top of cucumbers. Filling and fresh, you can add the toppings you want without any more trouble than it takes to order any other standard sandwich. You can also choose the Double Chicken Chopped Salad with Avocado for an all-keto meal option.

13. Arby’s

The Roast Turkey Farmhouse Salad at Arby’s has the veggies and protein content you need, so long as you remember to skip their dressing in favor of plain vinegar or oil. The same goes for the Smokehouse Brisket with Gouda cheese—that and a side salad won’t leave you feeling deprived.

14. In-N-Out Burger

Ask for a Protein-Style Cheeseburger and ye shall succeed. Much like Jimmy John’s, In-N-Out, has options ready-made for those on a low-carb diet who don’t want to fill up on bread. Protein-Style just means lettuce-wrapped, a lean and healthier option. Ask for fresh onions rather than grilled ones to lower the carbs even further.

15. Hardee’s

Getting a Thickburger sans the ketchup provides you with a quarter-pound patty that’s low-carb and filling. Just be careful if you are on keto to watch your protein macros for the rest of the day, as this may max you out.

16. Five Guys

This casual fast-food joint has the option of the Little Bacon Cheeseburger with no bun, and they may even supply you with the makings of a lettuce wrap if you’re willing to ask. Add some mayo to increase the fat content, but of course, skip their signature sack of fries.

17. Jersey Mike’s

The #1 BLT, the Chicken Salad, the #6 Roast Beef & Provolone, and the #9 Club Supreme are all under 500 calories and fewer than 10 grams of carbs if you order the sandwich “in a tub” instead of between two slices of bread.

18. Chipotle

We started with McDonald’s, so let’s end there in a sense with Chipotle. Though the McDonald’s corporation sold out of their Chipotle ownership in recent years, for a long time they were key investors in making the Chipotle chain another booming success. 

Even more recently Chipotle has added a menu section for Lifestyle Bowls, each one specifically crafted for popular diets like keto, paleo, and Whole30. The Keto Salad Bowl comes with romaine lettuce, red salsa, guacamole, carnitas, and cheese, but most of their Lifestyle Bowls are appropriately low carb, with options like a sour cream topping to help boost your fat macros.

Jump into Eating Out

Just because you’re on keto doesn’t mean you can’t still patronize fast-food establishments and cafes like Starbucks. Fast food doesn’t end at eating out either. There are low-carb frozen meals you can stock up on at Whole Foods or your preferred grocery store. 

While it’s true that fast food meals are almost by nature relatively unhealthy when compared to home-cooked meals made from fresh ingredients, the convenience factor is real, and it’s always nice to know you can treat yourself without getting kicked out of ketosis. 

Our best advice in the end: try to plan ahead before you’re standing in front of the register, and err on the side of healthy fats like avocado instead of meat if possible since going over your protein macros can also interrupt ketosis, just not as quickly as carbs do. 

Carry packets of keto-friendly sauces with you, and maybe a container of nuts or olives so you can round out your meals with just a little more fat for fuel. Keep an eye out for restaurants that are maybe more keto compliant, like seafood restaurants with tasty fatty fish options such as tuna, salmon, and sardines. It may not be the fastest food, but depending on how much time you can afford, it may be the better option.

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