Low-Carb Fast Food: Does it Fit into the Keto Diet?
As anyone on a keto diet will tell you, one of the hardest factors to navigate is eating out.
Eating fast food is not only convenient for those on-the-go, but is an affordable (and sometimes, the only) option for a meal. Plus, for many people eating out plays a huge role in their social life — no one wants to be that “one friend” who shuts down every restaurant suggestion.
But for those who are either fat adapted, or on their way to becoming fat adapted, this poses a difficult question: Are low carb fast foods okay to consume while on the ketogenic diet?
The answer isn’t so simple.
Whether you’ve been on the keto diet for a couple of weeks or for a couple of months, it’s important to educate yourself when it comes to low carb fast foods, which ones are acceptable in a pinch, and what low carb fast foods you should be avoiding like the plague.
Below is our low carb fast food guide for those on the keto diet.
Keto Diet Basics
Those on a keto diet eat foods that are high in fat and low in carbohydrates, along with moderate amounts of protein. Changing the way you eat — replacing carbs with high fats in your diet — helps your body transition to ketosis (a metabolic state).
When your body is in ketosis, it transitions from using glycogen as an energy source. As glycogen (in the form of carbohydrates) is so easily available in the modern diet, most bodies have become very accustomed to relying on the fast-burning fuel for energy. However, the body is actually designed to burn fat for fuel, which is why it stores excess fat for times when carbohydrates aren’t on hand. By effectively eliminating carbs from your diet, you can force your body to overcome glycogen dependence, and instead adapt itself to burn fat — from the food you take in, and from the fat you have stored on your body.
This leads to fast, effective, healthy weight loss. And because your body is learning how to make use of the fuel it’s been storing away, and the fact that fat is a much slower burning fuel than glycogen, Keto is one diet that actually curbs food cravings. The ketogenic diet has also been connected to lower blood sugar levels and increased energy. In addition, researchers suggest that a keto diet can lower your risk of heart disease.
The Truth About Low Carb Fast Foods and Keto
Although convenient for those in a pinch, generally speaking, fast food is not typically a healthy option. More often than not, the fast food you’re consuming comes in large portions, and is chock-full of sodium, high in calories, and offers negligible nutritional value. After all, the main focus of much fast food is that it tastes good; nutrition is usually a secondary consideration.
Because fast food offers little in the way of nutrients and usually comes from low-quality sources, it doesn’t integrate very well with the keto diet. Even if it fits the high fat, low carb bill, there’s more to effective keto than just hitting your macros. Preparing keto friendly meals at home should always be your first choice when it comes to eating, because you can control what exactly is going into your body and can integrate a more rounded nutritional experience
In addition, once your body is more adapted to the keto diet, you should be able to use intermittent fasting and skip a meal, instead of having to rely on poor-quality, low carb fast foods just to keep from starving.
What if Fast Food is My Only Option?
We get it. Sometimes eating out may be the only option to maintain ketosis. Or you may not be able to fast for a whole meal because you’re not 100 percent fat adapted. Social factors also play a big role, and may make it necessary for you to eat out — such as taking a client to lunch or attending a friend’s birthday dinner.
That said, keto-friendly meals are available at various restaurants, just be sure to do your homework beforehand.
Keto Fast Food Options
Below are 10 national chains and low carb food options for those on the keto diet.
Arby’s — Roast Beef Sandwich (no bun)
At Arby’s, you have a lot of sandwich options that are keto friendly, so long as they’re bunless. Instead of the bun, choose a lettuce wrap, or a side of lettuce.
Chick-fil-A — Grilled Chicken Nuggets (8 count)
Though you should be careful when it comes to sauces, you can enjoy your grilled chicken nuggets with buffalo sauce. The Chick-fil-A cobb salad with grilled chicken and garlic & herb ranch dressing is another option.
Chipotle — Salad Bowl
This salad bowl is easy to order, and you can add meat and certain other low-calorie mix-ins.
Five Guys Burgers — Bacon Cheeseburger (no bun)
Many burgers at Five Guys are fair game, as long as you make sure to go bunless and order the lettuce wrap instead. Watch out for condiments and avoid ketchup, relish and BBQ sauce on your burger.
Jimmy John’s — B.L.T. Unwich
Cleverly named “unwiches,” any of Jimmy John’s sandwiches can be converted to a breadless sandwich, helping you eliminate carbs while still getting the necessary fat and protein. If you’re looking to really cut down on calories, you can order a slim tuna salad unwich or slim 5 salami unwich.
KFC — Grilled Chicken Drumstick & Grilled Chicken Thigh (2 piece)
Grilled chicken is a decent option when looking for low carb foods. As for sides, your best bet is coleslaw or green beans.
McDonald’s — Double Cheeseburger (no bun)
Like Chick-fil-A, you’ll need to be careful with sauces, and order your cheeseburger without ketchup.
Sonic Drive-In — NY Dog (no bun)
Staying on theme, avoid sauces such as ketchup and relish on your hot dog.
Taco Bell — Naked Egg Taco
The naked taco uses a fried egg as the taco shell, but you’ll need to order one with no potatoes. Another keto friendly option is to order their sides, such as a side of grilled chicken, side of beef or a side of lettuce.
Wendy’s — Southwest Avocado Chicken Salad
This salad has the low carb ingredients you want, while leaving you satisfied. Try the salad with an avocado ranch dressing, which is low cal. You can also order their double stack or baconator burger with no bun.
In addition to swapping buns for lettuce and avoiding certain sauces, keep these tips in mind whenever you find yourself having to eat out:
Grab a water cup
Though it may be tempting to grab a sugar-free soda, the keto diet works best when you drink water. You should really be drinking water throughout the day, and not just at your meals, so a little extra hydration is always a good thing.
Double check salad ingredients and dressing before ordering
To the naked eye, salads seem like a no-brainer on a diet, but you’ll need to double check the ingredients to make sure you’re not eating something sugary or high carb. Sometimes the lettuce and spinach are just green coverings for less healthy ingredients
With salad dressing, be sure to order the dressing on the side and choose options such as ranch, oil, caesar or blue cheese. All of these contain the fat you need for the keto diet.
Meat, veggies and cheese should be your staples
When you’re deciding on what to order, pick dishes that have these simple items. Or, look to see if you can order these items as a side and then create a meal out of them.
Do your research before eating out
If you have the luxury of knowing where you’re eating out before heading out, look up the nutritional information online. Most fast food restaurants have this information available on their websites.
On the other hand, if you’re not sure whether an item or meal is keto friendly, it’s best to skip it and find something else.
Lastly, be mindful of portions
Fast food places tend to have larger portions than what you make for yourself at home, so take that into account before you order, and don’t be afraid to leave some of your meal uneaten.
On the surface, the ketogenic diet is about eating high fat, moderate protein, and extremely low carbs. But there’s more to it than all of that. At its heart, keto is about adopting a nutritionally dense, ecologically conscious lifestyle, and fast food just doesn’t usually qualify. Furthermore, if you find yourself constantly pining for the drive-thru or making excuses to eat fast food, your body probably isn’t fully fat adapted. You’re better off doubling down to get yourself into ketosis, after which you’ll have an easier time leaving the fast food behind you.
On the other hand, if you find yourself in a social situation where fast food is the only option, or if you’re not fully fat adapted and can’t fast, there are certain fast food options that are high fat, low carb and have moderate amounts of protein. They often won’t kick you out of ketosis or ruin your progress, but they probably won’t be doing you any favors, either.
If you’re constantly on-the-go or struggling to find filling keto meals, check out our meal menu where our dishes are ready to heat and eat.
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