Low-Carb Fast Food

How to Eat Low-Carb at a Fast-Food Restaurant

burger wrapped in lettuce
Some fast food restaurants will wrap your burger in lettuce. Lew Robertson/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

Who among us has not been short of time and at least tempted to drive through at a fast-food restaurant? Depending on the definition of "fast food," most people in the U.S. eat food from fast-food restaurants at least once per week and often more. The finger has been pointed at this practice as one of the reasons for the obesity epidemic, and indeed, it is difficult to get a healthy fast-food meal.

On the other hand, it is not impossible to eat fast food occasionally without ruining your diet.

There are three main rules to maximizing the healthy food and minimizing the sugars and other carbs at a fast food restaurant:

1. Compare the Nutritional Information at the fast-food restaurants in your area. Below are links to the nutritional information at most of the popular fast-food chains. In particular, look for salad dressings with little sugar -- some have packets with over 4 teaspoons of sugar included! And look for other low-carb items such as these:

2. Order Salads with Grilled Chicken or Other Protein Sometimes you'll see salads on menus that have steak or shrimp on them, but chicken seems to be the mainstay of fast-food meal salads.  (Note!  The chicken at fast food restaurants is often injected with gluten-containing substances, which also have carbs.  I was surprised at one fast food restaurant to discover that the chicken carried a lot of the carb freight of several of the salads and (bread-less) sandwiches.)

Tips for Low-Carb Salads at Fast Food Restaurants:

  1. Skip the croutons, tortilla strips, and similar additions.
  2. It bears repeating to be very careful about sugars in the dressing.  Especially "low-fat" dressings can have truly astronomical amounts of sugar in them.
  3. For best nutrition, look for salads with a mixture of greens, and a variety of vegetables.
  1. Make sure the chicken is grilled, not "crispy fried", or other chicken with breading.

3. Order Burgers and Sandwiches Without Bread - Many fast-food restaurants will now wrap burgers in lettuce instead of a bun, and none of them bat an eye anymore when asked to have the burger without the bun. As always, check the carb counts ahead of time. Anything breaded and fried, as most fish and many chicken sandwiches contain, is going to have a lot of added carbohydrate. Add a "side salad," following the above tips, to the bunless sandwich. In some places, you can ask for a separate larger container such as those the meal salads come in. Then dump the side salad into it, and put the protein on top.

Advice for Specific Fast Food Restaurants

Here are some specific tips about the menu items in these fast food restaurants:

Burger King

Carl's Jr. and Hardee's

KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken)

McDonald's

Subway

Wendy's

More Places to Get Quick Food

Top Ten Ready-Made Low-Carb Foods at the Supermarket

Low-Carb Snacks at Convenience Stores

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