The keto diet is becoming incredibly popular among people who are looking to control their weight, as well as among certain kinds of performance athletes. The keto diet involves eating very low carb, high protein and fat foods, aiming to stay in a state known as ‘ketosis’ where the glycogen stores in your muscles are depleted, and your body is burning fat for energy instead.
Following the keto diet at home is easy, but following the keto diet when you are eating out can be tricky. Here is a quick look at some of the best ‘keto-friendly’ options that you can find at major chain restaurants.
I’ve been following the keto diet for almost two years now, and during that time I’ve found myself having to make a keto-freindly meal decision when dining out, even at fast food restaurants.
While I typically try to avoid eating fast food, there times when it can be unavoidable. Even so, you can still make smart eating choices, and find some great tasting meals that will help your body maintain a state of ketosis.
With all that said, here are my Top 5 Keto Friendly Fast Foods:
1. McDonald’s: Double Quarter pounder with Cheese
Order without the bun, or remove it. Also ditch the ketchup. Image via McDonalds.com
With burger restaurants, it’s a safe bet that ordering the biggest burger they have, without the bun, is going to be a good way to get lots of fat and protein, with not much in the way of carbs.
It’s a good idea to avoid sauces if you’re doing this. The ketchup at McDonald’s is surprisingly sweet, so is likely to add to the carb count significantly.
The double quarter pounder, by itself, will give you 590 calories, 43g fat, 45g protein, and just 4g carbs
There are other options. Their grilled chicken sandwich is unbreaded, so throwing away the bun makes for a low carb snack with a lot of protein.
The chicken salads are decent, too, but if you add dressing you will increase the carb count.
2. Arby’s: Roast Turkey Farmhouse Salad
Image via Arbys.com
This is a brilliant option if you’re sick of beef and chicken. Turkey is a nice change, and the greens and veggies add 2g of fiber, so the 8g carbs listed on the menu isn’t strictly correct in keto terms. The net carbs works out at just 6g.
Skip the sugar-laden dressing. Add a dash of your own vinaigrette if you’re ordering to go and have some stashed at the office. Without the dressing, the salad gives you 230 calories, with 13g fat, 6g net carbs, and 22g protein.
3. Chick-fil-A: Grilled Chicken Club
You’ll want to order this without the bun, or remove before eating. Image via Chick-fil-A.com
The grilled chicken club, without the bun, is always a safe bet. Similar to McDonalds and Burger King, you’re getting 290 calories, mostly from protein.
The chicken club gives you 13g fat, 1g carbs, and 35g protein. The chicken itself is a good source of protein, the cheese and bacon are good sources of fats, and you get a tiny dose of carbs (and some micronutrients) from the lettuce and tomato.
Remember that even on the keto diet, some veggies are useful. They give you fiber, which helps to keep the digestive system moving, and they give you essential micronutrients. A few grams of carbs won’t knock you out of ketosis, and you do need to load up on those essential nutrients.
4. Burger King: Double Cheeseburger with Garden Side Salad
Ditch that bun and ketchup! Image via BK.com
If you’re heading to Burger King, then just order a burger without a bun, and a garden side salad with no croutons. This means you’re getting meat, cheese, pickle and veggies.
The double cheeseburger comes in at 250 calories, 20g protein, 19g fat, and 1g net carbs,
The garden side salad adds 60 calories, 4g protein, 4g fat and 2g net carbs.
That’s quite a low-calorie meal, really just a snack for the average adult male. If you want more calories, add Ken’s Ranch Dressing – 260 calories of dressing, of which 28g are fat, and 1g protein. This will add 2g net carbs.
If you’re not a fan of beef, then the grilled chicken sandwich (without the bun) is 270 calories, 30g protein, 16g fat, and just 2g carbs.
5. Taco Bell: Power Menu (Chicken or Steak)
Order a Power Bowl minus beans and rice to stay keto. I usually add extra meat and/or guac. Image via TacoBell.com
The power menu at Taco bell is perfect for people who want low carb dishes. The Steak Bowl is made up of meat, guacamole, low carb veg, and salsa. It is just 260 calories and contains 20g of protein, 16g of fat, and 9g of carbs. It’s surprisingly satisfying too.
For those who prefer chicken, the chicken bowl version is even lower carb. At 250 calories, this bowl contains 15g of fat, 21g protein, and 7g carbs.
This assumes that you order the bowls with no beans or rice. If you want something more filling then you could add the rice, but you’d be pushing your keto carb allowance for the day if you were to do so.
Taco Bell has a nice Mini Skillet Bowl for breakfast too. Order with no potatoes and enjoy the eggs, salsa and cheese sauce. It’s a perfect breakfast on the go, and it makes for a keto-friendly snack when you’re in a rush too.
Essential Keto Tips for Eating Fast Food
Sometimes you won’t be able to make it to a fast-food restaurant that’s on this list, or you’ll just want a change. Learning how to eat out is a good idea if you’re planning on following the keto diet for a long time.
Ditch the Bun
The first strategy that any keto diet adherent learns is “throw away the bun”, and that is a good starting point. Many restaurants do lettuce wraps instead, which can save on carbs and calories.
If you’re going to a burrito or fajita place, order a bowl instead of a wrap. You’ll get to enjoy the same fillings, but for fewer calories and without the carb hit. Some restaurants will double up on rice when you get a bowl instead of a wrap.
You can ask for a single scoop instead to keep carbs down, and still enjoy the veggies and meat.
What to Avoid on Salads
If you’re buying a salad, remember that lettuce, cucumbers, and other salad vegetables are not particularly carb-dense; they’re more water and fiber. The thing that really adds to the calorie and carb count of salad is the croutons and dressing. Order the dressing on the side so that you don’t go overboard, and skip the croutons.
Ask for a Side of Avocado
If you’re struggling to get enough calories when eating out, try to add avocado to your meals. This is a fatty, filling addition to any dish, and will do you a lot of good.
More Than Just Meat
Don’t fall victim to the idea of just adding loads of meat to your plate and calling that keto. Protein can kick you out of ketosis just like carbs can.
Meat is good, but make sure that you’re getting the right balance of macronutrients, and that means fat too. If you’re not sure what to eat, try slightly reducing your meat portion, and adding some fat-rich sauce to it, or having some fat-rich nuts as a post-meal snack.
Eating the Right Fats
Remember that the type of fat matters too. It’s hard to be choosy with fast food meals but for the rest of your day, you should be aiming to get plenty of unsaturated fats and omega 3s. Things like sardines, tuna, and salmon should be staples in your diet, alongside avocado.
Having to drop into a fast food restaurant every now and then is not going to ruin your diet, but it should not be a long term part of your routine. Planning and meal prepping can be invaluable and will help you to stay on track.
Pack some nuts in your briefcase, keep cheese sticks in the fridge, and prepare dips and vegetable snacks that will keep you going until you get home.
One of the nice things about ketosis is that you experience fewer dips in energy throughout the day and between meals, so if you have to put off a big meal until you get home, you will be able to do so.
As long as over the course of the day you get the nutrients you need, meal timing doesn’t matter too much for a healthy adult.
Mark was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, but moved out west to attend Chico State University. He's been in NoCal ever since and currently resides in the Bay Area with his wife and kids. His current passion is the ketogenic diet, and he's eager to share his diet and health expertise with DadQuarters readers. He currently heads up the DadQuarters editing team, and also contributes to the site as a researcher and writer. Learn more about Mark and the DadQuarters team on our about page.