Eating out while on a low-carb diet can be quite the challenge. Most fast food places serve carb-heavy meals fried in refined vegetable oil — not exactly keto friendly or even healthy for that matter. However, when you're in a hurry and in need for a quick meal, fast food places come in handy.
To help you make wise choices at the drive-through, we did all the researching, tweaking, and customizing for you. Follow our top 6 keto fast food options below and you'll have no problems staying in ketosis at your favorite fast food joint.
Keep in mind, though, that you'll still need to make most of your meals at home if you want variety and nutrient density in your keto diet. The below keto fast food options are great only as occasional indulgences. Also, before we get into the top 6 keto fast food options, we'll explain how to navigate fast food menus on keto.
Ordering at Fast Food Places
The first rule of keto is eating very little carbs (~50 grams/day). That becomes tricky at fast food places since most serve carb-rich food as the base, think French-fries, burgers, onion rings, hot dogs, and pizza. With that in mind, you'd be better off staying away from fast-food. But let's face it – keto fast food is cheap, convenient, and tasty.
So, what do you do when you decide to take the risk with keto fast foods? Here are a few things to help make keto fast food places safe and healthy:
- Always order meat, cheese, and eggs-based entrees with low-carb vegetables on the side. Anything breaded or with rice and potatoes is a no-no. Instead, ask to have these replaced with salad wraps.
- Research local fast food places. Most have their menus listed online, with ingredients and nutrition info included. This will also help you learn which places offer customizable menu builders.
- Add extra fat when possible – extra bacon on the side, fatty dressings, or even an extra knob of butter helps.
- Read labels, especially when you’re dealing with dressings. Many contain hidden carbs and are high in sugar. Ketchup is a good example but there are even worse offenders.
- Not all salads served at keto fast food joints are keto-friendly. Some are seasoned with honey, others come with croutons. Go for simple salads with high-fat dressings and some protein.
- Order plain or bubbly water, go for diet soft drinks, and choose unsweetened coffee or tea. You can always bring stevia tabs in tiny dispensers to sweeten your drinks.
With all that out of the way, here are a few examples of meals you can order at fast food places and not get kicked out of ketosis.
1. An Egg-Based Breakfast
Almost every fast food place and restaurant will offer at least one egg-based breakfasts. Unfortunately, these also come with buns, biscuits, hash browns, and pancakes. Examples include Burger King's breakfast platters or McDonald's Egg McMuffin.
When placing your order, double the scrambled eggs, bacon, and ask to exclude the buns to make it a keto fast food.
In fact, excluding the buns and pancakes, eggs make that an ideal keto fast food. Such a meal is rich in high-quality protein with one large egg providing over 6 grams. Eggs provide a decent amount of fat (5 grams) and are rich in important micronutrients like selenium and vitamin D. Recent studies also suggest that eggs are a source of antioxidants . Here are a few examples of what you can order at different fast food places:
McDonald’s Bacon, Egg, and Cheese Bagel but without the bagel. Best to double your order so you don't end up hungry with this one. You can also ask for extra breakfast sauce and butter. Best of all, you'll get only 4 grams of net carbs from this keto fast food breakfast meal.
Panera Bread Power Breakfast Egg Bowl with Steakor Egg White Bowl with Roasted Turkey. You'll get two eggs, seared meat, and sliced avocado and tomatoes for added nutrition. Both keto fast food options have less than 4 grams of net carbs.
Denny's Eggs & Bacon will make your mornings on keto worry free. Denny's also serves other egg-based options that you can enjoy like scrambled eggs and cheddar. You can order sunny side up eggs at Denny's with bacon strips or sausages.
2. Burrito Bowl for Lunch
Burrito bowls are perfect as a keto fast food option for lunch. You'll usually find them served at Mexican fast food chains like Chipotle and Taco Bell. Most also let you customize them so they fit your keto macros. Things you can include into your burrito bowl are:
- Chicken– You'll usually get chicken breasts which are an excellent source of protein.
- Steak– Another great protein food, steak is also a good source of iron, zinc, choline, and vitamin B12.
- Cheese– You'll usually find American cheese, but some places also serve cheese blends. Definitely don't skip the cheese, though. It's one of the best sources of fat,
- Romaine Lttuce – Leafy greens, in general, are good on a keto diet. Romaine lettuce in your burrito bowl will boost your vitamin C intake.
- Sour Cream– Go for full-fat when available. Sour cream contains lactic acid bacteria which improves gut health and boosts the immune system .
- Guacamole – There's really no reason not to add guacamole to your burrito bowl.
- Ranch Sauce – With buttermilk as the base ingredient, ranch sauce also has its place in a keto diet.
- Jalapeno Peppers – If you like it hot, then add this low-carb vegetable to your bowl.
- Seasoned Beef– Studies show that we absorb minced beef better than beef steak .
Make sure you skip the black beans, potatoes, onions, corn, and fries. As for the sauces, just stick to ranch sauce and optionally go for creamy jalapeno sauce. Most other sauces served at Mexican places are high in bad carbs, so do keep that in mind.
Burrito bowls overall still tend to be higher in carbs than you would want it on keto. Expect your average burrito bowl to give you around 10 grams of total carbs. Luckily, most are also high in fat, containing between 20 and 40 grams of it per serving. That, of course, will depend on the ingredients you choose to add to your bowl.
3. A Bunless Burger for Dinner
When you don't feel like making dinner, order a bunless burger instead. But what replaces the famous bun in these burgers? Well, usually a salad wrap but some fast food joints also serve burgers on a plate, topped with eggs and guacamole.
You can also order these low-carb burgers with vegetables on the side.
What you need to watch out for with this keto fast food option is the condiments you'll add. Ketchup, teriyaki, and honey mustard sauces are out of question when you're eating low carb. But mayonnaise, mustard, ranch dressing, and even salsa are all ok.
In case you feel like ordering a burger without the bun will make you come off as a demanding customer, know that there's no reason to worry. Restaurants and fast food places are already familiar with the low-carb diet and most will gladly serve a burger without the carby bun. Here are some examples:
Habit Burger offers Lettuce-Wrapped Double Char Cheeseburgerwith only 11 grams of total carbs and 4 grams of net carbs. You also get around 250-270 calories from one serving.
Five Guys offers a tasty Bacon Cheeseburgerthat contains almost no net carbs, around 30 grams of fat and almost 400 calories, which is pretty decent for just one meal.
McDonald'sbeing the fast food giant that it is has also jumped on the low-carb bandwagon. Now, you can order the classic hamburger complete with American cheese, tomatoes, and whatever dressing you prefer.
4. Low-Carb Drinks to Stay Hydrated
Staying hydrated while on the go is important. But you obviously can't order soda when eating low-carb. A can contains a whopping 40 grams all coming from sugar. Instead, you can order diet soda which contains keto sweetenerslike aspartame.
Other than that even diet soda doesn't offer much in terms of nutrition and health benefits.
Instead, it's best to go for one of the three:
Coffee– McDonald's offers sugar-free vanilla iced coffee with 2% milk or cream. It's made from brewed Arabica coffee which is chock full of antioxidants . Other ingredients in this coffee are cream or milk and sugar-free vanilla syrup sweetened with erythritol.
Tea – Many fast food places also offer sugar-free iced tea. These are usually sweetened with aspartame, sucralose, or another sweetener. They contain 0 carbs and come with added health benefits. Studies examining black tea found this beverage prevents cardiovascular disease, boosts gut health, and makes your bones stronger .
Lemonade– If you can get your hands on freshly squeezed lemon juice without the sugar, then go for it. Other than that, you may find Minute Maid Light Lemonade which contains only 2 grams of carbs.
If you're not happy with any of these suggestions, then plain old water helps. When in doubt, the simplest option is usually the best one.
5. Eggs Bites for a Quick Snack
When you're left wanting more, these Starbucks ket fast food specialties will help curb your mid-day cravings. These egg bites are made using the "sous vide" cooking technique which involves steaming the eggs in a container.
This gives them a velvety texture and melt-in-your mouth feel. Not to mention that they're free of added carbs or starches.
These eggs have only three ingredients as the base: eggs, bacon, and cheese. More specifically, Starbucks also tops their egg bites with bacon and Gruyere and Monterey Jack cheese. All these delicious ingredients make for a decadent indulgence. A serving will give you around 9 grams of carbs, 20 grams of protein, and 22 grams of fat – together giving you 310 calories. The relatively high protein content of these egg bites is also sure to keep you full throughout the day.
Another thing about these egg bites is that Starbucks uses cage-free eggs. Although these eggs are not as nutritious and kosher as free-range eggs, they're still better than eggs from hens that are caged. Hens allowed to walk freely around their hen house endure less stress than caged hens which impacts the quality of their eggs.
6. Salads to Stay Healthy
Salads with chicken or other meat and topped with a fat-rich dressing are the healthiest keto fast food option you can order. They're also dirt cheap and found at most fast food places. Here are some keto salad options at some well-known fast food joints:
McDonald's Bacon Ranch Grilled Chicken Salad– Made with grilled chicken fillets, a salad blend, grape tomatoes, smoked bacon, shredded cheese, and grill seasoning. You can also drizzle some ranch dressing for added flavor and fat. There are around 320 calories in this keto fast food coming from 14 grams of fat, 6 grams of net carbs, and 42 grams of protein.
Wendy's Southwest Avocado Chicken Salad– This keto fast food contains a salad blend, avocado, ranch dressing, bacon, and grilled chicken breasts. The half serving is only 300 calories with equal amounts of fat and protein at around 20 grams.
Arby's Roast Turkey Farmhouse Salad– Another poultry-based salad, this one is also low in carbs providing only 6 grams net carbs per serving. It's made with roast turkey, pepper bacon, cheddar cheese, tomatoes, iceberg lettuce, and mixed lettuce greens. The salad provides only 230 calories, 13 grams of fat, and 22 grams of protein.
Making these salad meals a part of your keto diet also comes with added health benefits. Salads are rich in antioxidant compounds called carotenoids, and research shows that a full-fat dressing boosts the absorption of these compounds .
Fast food places are tricky when you're trying to eat low-carb. But that doesn't mean you can't enjoy a quick fast meal now and then. With a bit of researching and sticking to a few simple rules – any fast food place can also become a keto fast food place.
Follow our simple tips here and opt for one of our top 6 fast keto fast food options next time you head for a quick meal. These top 6 food ideas are rich in fat and protein while being low in carbs. Most are also pretty healthy and nutritious, which is a definitive plus.
Still, for the sake of variety and greater nutrient intake, it's best to cook most of your keto meals at home. Until a restaurant serving keto dieters specifically hits the food market, we'll have to stick to home cooking for the most part.