Can You Eat Fast Food While on Keto?
If you've been exploring the possibilities of the keto diet for your weight loss journey, you may have come to the conclusion that you've died and gone to junk food heaven because it seems like a green light to head for the golden arches. After all, you're being told to replace carbohydrates with fats and what's fattier than fast food? The fact is that, while your conclusion about the junk food green light may have some merit, it's kind of like being able to drink when you reach the legal age in your state.
Sure, you now have the right to belly up to the bar, but restraint will need to be your guiding principle. Same with keto and fast food restaurants. Go ahead and stroll into the burger or fried chicken joint, but remember that without exercising common sense and restraint you could cause yourself serious health problems.
What You Need to Know About Fast Food When on Keto
Let’s say you’ve adopted the keto diet and you’ve been doing a pretty good job sticking to your dietary guns. Then one day you’re out to lunch with some friends, and they decide it’s time for a junk food fix. What do you do? Well, the good news is that fast food restaurants and keto are compatible. It’s mostly a matter of being smart about it.
The bad news is that you’ll need to give it some thought before just blurting out an order. But you should be doing that anyway whether you’re on the keto lifestyle or not, so it’s not such bad news. Below are a few basic guidelines you should keep in mind when faced with the oh-so-colorful menu of the fast food joint.
12 Fast Food Options When You're on the Keto Diet
Now that we’ve laid down a few basic principles let’s take a look at how the various fast food places stack up when it comes to viable fast food keto options. Also, keep in mind that for the purposes of this article we’re going to stick to the major fast food players since there isn’t enough space to go into depth on every restaurant out there. You should be able to use the info below as a guide to fast food dos and don’ts in general. Let’s get started.
McDonald’s - To be more responsive to an increasingly diet-conscious customer base, McDonald's, as well as Burger King, allow you to make small but important modifications to their menu items. For instance; you can order your burger or chicken sandwich without the bun in either joint. However, make sure you don't compensate for the lack of a bread by smothering your meat patty in ketchup, as ketchup is loaded with sugar and that's a fast no-no. The same goes for their breakfast fast food items like Egg McMuffin.
Wendy’s - Wendy's aren't quite as low-carb friendly as McDonald's or Burger King in that they don't typically allow you to make as many alterations to their menu items as the Big Two do and they don't have a lot of low carb items to choose from. Although the Grilled Chicken Sandwich without a bun can be a pretty good choice. If you want, you can add some extra cheese or maybe some mayo to spruce things up a bit. Wendy's salads, however, are a bit of a fast food keto diet letdown as they’re typically brimming with carbs.
White Castle - White Castle comes up short in the keto fast food department. Their menu items are typically packed with carbs and they don't allow a lot of customization. In fact, if you're standing in front of a White Castle contemplating your options and you spy a McDonald's a bit further down the street, you'll be better off taking the extra walk. That said, if it's White Castle or nothing try ordering their beef sliders with no bun. (Just don't ask why they're called "sliders" because nobody really knows.)
KFC - If you’re looking for decent keto fast food options, KFC stands out as a pretty solid one. Their grilled chicken menu items are a low-carb hit with 1g or less of carbohydrates per serving. A lot of KFCs offer green beans on the side and that’s a great choice to have with your grilled chicken. Their salads are also a pretty reliable option for those looking to expand their fast food keto diet options. That includes their Caesar and House Salads without croutons, and topped with Buttermilk Ranch or Creamy Parmesan dressings. Bottom line is you get a lot to like from a low-carb diet perspective from the Colonel.
Popeye’s - Unlike its fast food big brother KFC, Popeye’s comes up short in the keto fast food department. Most of their Chicken Combo, Chicken Tenders, and Seafood Combos are all heavily breaded, and there aren’t any real low-carb winners anywhere on their menu. If you have no other options, you can always ask for one of those plastic knives and scrape off all the bread. After that ask for some of their tartar sauce and use that as a dip to add flavor to the chicken.
Chick-Fil-A - Chick-Fil-A is another chicken fast food joint that isn’t going to win any prizes for being too friendly to those on a ketogenic diet. Their Grilled Chicken Nuggets are their lowest carb item while their Grilled Market Salad is their ‘any port in a storm’ salad offering with 11g of carbohydrates. Their dipping sauces should also be avoided as they’re loaded with sugar and carbs and are not good keto fast food options.
Subway - If someone asked you what is the most popular fast food on earth in terms of number of stores what would you say? McDonald's? KFC? Well, the answer is actually Subway and it's not even close. They have 8,000 more shops than 2nd place McDonald's. While a sub shop that puts the importance of a big fat slab of bread right up front in the customer's face might seem like an unlikely place to find keto friendly fast foods the fact is many Subway shops will take their sub contents and toss them into a salad bowl for you. Even better, most Subway shops in the US offer a full salad menu. Try the Oven Roasted Chicken Salad. It's among their lower carb offerings and tastes great to boot.
Taco Bell - Keto and Taco Bell are not concepts that go particularly well together. A lot of that can be laid at the admittedly delicious but un-keto friendly feet of the tortilla. While trying to find keto at Taco Bell isn’t as hard as searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack, it can be a challenge. Although to be fair you might be able to satisfy the needs of your ketogenic diet at Taco Bell to some extent by ordering their side of chicken, beef and lettuce with guacamole. If you can find a Taco Bell that still offers this item.
Jack in the Box - Jack in the Box has many ketogenic friendly menu items to choose from. So if you’re out on the road and feeling a bit peckish and you happen to spy a JitB off your port bow, don’t hesitate to pull in and fill up. While Jack in the Box is known for their burgers, their Swiss Burger with Bacon tastes just fine without a bun and will only yield 8g of carbs. They also have a Grilled Chicken Club Salad that’s equally low on carbs and offer a slew of keto friendly dressings including Creamy Southwest, Bacon Ranch, and Buttermilk. If it’s fast food for a low-carb diet you’re after, Jack’s got you covered.
Fast Food Breakfast Joints - In this case, we're talking Denny's, Waffle House and IHOP primarily. While these places also have lunch - and in some cases dinner - their bread and butter so to speak is their breakfast business. As such if you're hankering for a ketogenic breakfast stop into any one of them and pick up one of their bacon and egg specials or try a broccoli and cheese omelet at IHOP and get your day off on the right foot. If you find yourself in Denny's later in the day, try their Prime Rib Cobb Salad with avocado, tomato, and boiled eggs. A real keto fast food winner.
Cracker Barrel - Cracker Barrel is a bit of a departure from most other breakfast oriented fast food places since they have a dedicated low-carb menu that’s pretty great. It includes a Grilled Steak Salad and a Lemon Pepper Grilled Trout with 0 carbs. Get some green beans on the side, and you’re good to go. Even if their dinner items aren’t calling to you from the menu you still have the option of ordering a big plate of bacon and eggs.
Pizza Hut - Pizza places are like sub shops in that their primary focus is on bread-heavy items, which is kind of the equivalent of low-carb dog food. However, Pizza Hut does offer a variety of other items besides pizza, but... you’re largely out of luck there too since most of them are bread based. But if you’re in a bind and it’s Pizza Hut or nothing you can pick up some of their chicken wings and strip the breading. Or buy something like their Meat Lover’s Pizza and just pick off the meaty toppings. While you’ll often find salads on the menu at local pizza parlors it’s a bit odd to us that Pizza Hut (or most of the large pizza chains for that matter) don’t offer salads on their standard menus.
Supplementing your keto lifestyle with a healthy dose of fast foods is not as absurd an idea as it sounds. The biggest things to watch out for are bread-based items like pizza or subs, meat or fish items that have a bread coating and condiments that contain a bunch of sugar. While none of the fast food outlets mentioned above are going to fulfill all your ketogenic dietary needs you'll be able to find enough at most places to fill you up and more than enough to provide a hearty keto fast food meal plan at places like Denny’s, Jack in the Box, Cracker Barrel or KFC.