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

Compare the Nutritional Information of Each Restaurant

Before driving through your favorite fast food joint, compare the nutritional information of several local fast food restaurants. Look for salad dressings with little sugar as some have packets with over 4 teaspoons of sugar included. 

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 will add carbs to the chicken.)

Tips for Low-Carb Salads

  1. Skip the croutons, tortilla strips, and similar additions.
  1. Pick a low-sugar salad dressing like oil and vinegar. Even "low-fat" dressings can have truly astronomical amounts of sugar in them. You can also opt for no salad dressing if there are no healthy options on hand.
  2. Pick salads with a mixture of greens and a variety of vegetables.
  3. Make sure the chicken on your salad is grilled and not crispy or fried. Grilled chicken without any breading is the best way to go.

    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 if you ask to have a burger without the bun. As always, check the carb counts ahead of time. Anything breaded and fried, as most fish and many chicken sandwiches, are, will have a lot more added carbohydrates. Add a side salad, following the above tips, to the bun-less 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.

    Skip the Drinks

    So your meal comes with a free soda, skip it! If a drink comes discounted with the purchase of a meal, ask if you can swap the soda for a water or unsweetened iced tea. If you must have a soda, pick a diet soda instead. Some sweetened drinks have more carbs than your meal, so it's best to avoid any drinks that may be sweetened. If you are getting a coffee-based beverage, opt for black coffee or a drink made with skim or low-fat milk.

    Fortunately, with the rise of trendy low-carb diet more and more fast foods locations are offering healthier options or food swaps for dieters.

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