One of the most difficult aspects of following the ketogenic diet can be eating out. After all, not many restaurants cater the low-carb lifestyle.
If you are in the predicament of having nowhere to go for food except a fast food restaurant, don’t panic! There are still ways to stick to your keto diet and stay in ketosis while grubbing on food from fast food restaurants like Chipotle and McDonald’s.
Naturally, your access to fast food might be limited to a select few restaurants, so we went ahead and made a list of the best keto fast food restaurants and which menu items are lowest in carbs (while being high in protein and/or fat).
Forgot your keto-friendly lunch at home? Don’t sweat it, this guide will help you navigate the world of keto fast food in all its bun-less glory! We will show you exactly what to order at some of the most popular keto fast food restaurants.
The Top 10 Keto Fast Food Restaurants
Here are the top 10 keto fast food restaurants we will cover:
- Burger King
- Five Guys
- Jimmy John’s
- Carl’s Jr/Hardee’s
Before moving on, keep in mind that your keto diet should consist mainly of wholesome foods (ideally that you buy fresh from a grocery store).
Just because you’re on the keto diet doesn’t mean your entire diet should be nothing more than fast food. Nevertheless, when you’re low on options for food then these keto fast food restaurants can certainly save the day while allowing you to stay in ketosis!
When most people think of Subway, they assume it’s not a suitable keto fast food restaurant because the entire menu revolves around carb-laden sub sandwiches. In reality, though, there are many keto-friendly options at Subway as long as you stick to the salads.
How to order:
The great thing about Subway is that you can order any of their subs as a salad. That means as long as you avoid sweet meats and breaded chicken – you are clear to order practically any salad you’d like.
Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC)
KFC surprisingly has a somewhat tricky menu to navigate for keto fast food options, mainly because many of their foods are deep fried. Intuitively, breaded chicken is a no-go for keeping carbs low and staying in ketosis. However, there are certainly a select few keto-friendly menu options at KFC.
How to order:
Opt for the grilled chicken selections over their traditional fried chicken offerings. If you’re looking for a side to accompany the chicken, go for the green beans. (Avoid the coleslaw, the dressing packs a decent amount of carbs.)
Chipotle is arguably the most popular fast food chain of the millennial age, with new locations popping up daily. Unfortunately for keto advocates, the burritos and tacos that make up the majority of Chipotle’s menu aren’t remotely low-carb. The good news: You can make any of their burritos into a salad (bowl) and drastically cut the carb tally.
How to order:
Go for the burrito bowls with one of their meats and suitable add-ins. Avoid the rice, limit the beans.
Arby’s surprisingly has one of the vastest keto-friendly menus of all the fast food chains we analyzed. In fact, pretty much all of their sandwiches can be made low-carb by nixing the bread/bun. This makes Arby’s a solid option for high-protein, on-the-go keto food.
How to order:
The good thing about the majority of Arby’s sandwiches is that they don’t come with condiments on them (we recommend avoiding their optional Arby’s sauce, which has sugar in it).
Either take your favorite sandwhich bun-less or garnished with lettuce if available.
McDonald’s is indubitably the most popular fast food chain around the globe. Obviously, their menu revolves around burgers, but much of their offerings can quickly be made keto-friendly by nixing the bun.
They also have a solid low-carb breakfast menu if you go with one of the McMuffin sandwiches and ditch the muffin.
How to order:
If you’re ordering breakfast foods, stick to the sausage patties or one of the egg McMuffin sandwiches without the bread. If you’re in need of a little pep, order their plain black coffee (which is actually quite tasty). Naturally, you’ll want to avoid the hash browns, pancakes, and oatmeal.
For other meals of the day, go for one of their burgers or grilled chicken sandwiches without the bun or ketchup. In fact, if you order a burger/sandwich and ask for no bread, they will often serve it in a bowl with lettuce. If they don’t, just toss the bun/bread.
Burger King is quite similar in menu offerings to McDonald’s (albeit a less keto-friendly breakfast menu). Depending on what you’re in the mood for, Burger King offers quite a few burgers/sandwiches that can be made keto-friendly by forgoing the bread. Their keto-friendly side selections are pretty limited, though.
Proceed using the general rules listed above.
Five Guys has grown significantly over the past decade, with some of the tastiest fast food burgers you can find. All of their toppings/add-ons are practically carb-free as well, minus the ketchup, BBQ sauce, and relish.
How to order:
Go for any of their burgers in a lettuce wrap, or order them as a salad. They also have a hot dog which can easily be made keto-friendly by ditching the bun.
Wendy’s is yet another burger-centric fast food chain, but they do offer other low-carb items like salad and chicken. In general, you’re going to need to focus on sandwiches/burgers and forgo the bun/bread.
How to order:
More burgers, more chicken, and more salads. You can probably see the trend in many of these keto fast food restaurants. Wendy’s does have the added perk of offering one of the most massive bacon and beef sandwiches – the Baconator – you can find at a fast food restaurant. They also have several solid grilled chicken sandwiches, which are keto-friendly without the bread and condiments.
Jimmy John’s, similar to Subway, is surprisingly a suitable keto fast food restaurant if you just order their sandwiches as an “Unwich”. (This means they serve you the sandwich ingredients without the bread.)
Perhaps the biggest downside to ordering an Unwich is the cost (which seems a little pricey for what is essentially meat, veggies, and cheese.)
How to order:
Any of the sandwiches as Unwiches are good-to-go for the keto diet!
Both Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. are owned by the same company, so their menu offerings are essentially the same (just different names). The low-carb options at both of these fast food joints are rather plentiful, too.
How to order:
Carl’s Jr. has the benefit of the Lettuce-Wrapped Thickburger in several sizes. At Hardee’s, the Thickburgers normally come with a bun so just nix that. You can order any of the following burgers in a lettuce wrap, just forgo the bun and ketchup:
Hardee’s keto breakfast options:
- Low-Carb Breakfast Bowl: 660 calories, 53g fat, 39g protein, 10g carbs, 2g fiber
For added fat, order additional guacamole and/or bacon. For some extra greens, order the side salad but don’t top it with dressing.
“Are there other keto fast food restaurants?”
Absolutely! This guide just compiles what we consider the best keto fast food restaurants, but there are certainly others.
Choose animal proteins (e.g. beef, chicken, etc.), cheese, and low-carb veggies.
Almost all fast food and sit-down restaurants put excessive sweetener and carbohydrates in their food items. For healthy keto fast food, your best bet is to stick to the most basic options you can find.
Ditch the bread.
Whether you’re buying a hamburger from a drive-thru or a table menu, you’ll definitely want to forgo the bread/bun. Normally, you’ll be able to instead ask for additional sides/toppings like avocado, bacon, veggies, and cheese.
Be wary of foods that are fried/coated in breading, such as chicken wings, chicken nuggets, jalapeno poppers, and mozzarella sticks. Whenever possible, opt for “naked” foods. Some fast food chains even offer grilled chicken “nuggets” now which are a great keto fast food option.
If you get a salad, review the ingredients.
It’s much better to stick with basic salads that consist of meats and ask for the dressing on the side (or simply none at all). While sauces and dressings are a great method to get both fat and taste into your food– they generally are filled with sweetener.
Be quite mindful of any sweet tasting sauces and attempt to choose for fattier salad dressings (that generally consist of no sweetener) like ranch, caesar, and bleu cheese.
Don’t be afraid to make some requests/modifications to something you want to order. While some individuals do not prefer to request specific food, you can definitely do so at greater quality dining establishments.
The menu will typically do an excellent task of breaking down exactly what each meal has; you can ask for to the waiter that the meal is prepared in a specific method (gluten-free, low-carb, and so on).
If you’re unsure, avoid it.
There are tons of additives and carbohydrates/sweeteners in fast foods these days; if you’re left guessing or feel unsure about what a menu item contains, your best bet is to choose something else.
You’re better off choosing something simple that you absolutely know has minimal carbs as opposed to taking a shot in the dark on something that might have 20+ grams of sugar in a mystical “secret” sauce.
Do some online research.
A large number of restaurants and fast-food chains put their dietary info online – some even give you the option to use a custom meal creation app where you can pick exactly what menu items and ingredients you’re thinking of ordering.
This is the best approach for ensuring you know the precise number of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats you eat when dining out.
While fast food and sit-down restaurants are the most common options for on-the-go keto fast food, we understand there are times when those are not readily accessible.
If you find yourself in the predicament of being out in the middle of seemingly nowhere (driving through New Mexico, anyone?), or your only option is to run into a grocery store to find something to nosh on, then the sections below will help you find some keto-friendly food choices.
We hardly believed we would be the people to munch on a sandwich from a gas station while following the keto diet, yet a lengthy car journey in recent years totally reformed that.
Sometimes appetite strikes when you least expect it and it’s not always convenient to stop at both a gas station and fast-food restaurant.
We bought an egg and sausage breakfast sandwich from a gas station and after removing the bread — it was actually not half bad! Simply sausage, egg, and cheese, similar to what you would find at a McDonald’s.
Be careful though, since some of the meat/pork products that are used in to-go sandwiches have preservatives and fillers that might contain carbs.
Furthermore, a number of gas stations now feature ketogenic alternatives like:
- Whole eggs (boiled)
- Deli meat and beef jerky
- String cheese
- Pork skins
When you stop at a gas station or convenience store, have a look around; you can quickly make a proper keto meal even when you’re in a hurry. Craving something to drink? Numerous gas station chains have inexpensive coffee along with keto-friendly sugar-free sweeteners, as well as diet sodas and flavored waters.
Just be sure to always check the food labels (when possible) to ensure the carb count is negligible.
Remember: When in doubt, leave it out!
Supermarkets are often going to be your best option for keto food when you’re not around the home. The most convenient and affordable thing to buy is a whole rotisserie chicken, where you can easily store the leftovers in a hotel fridge for supper (or a meal the next day).
Wholesale supermarkets, like Costco, generally have the best bargains on them, yet they normally only run $4-$6 at other supermarkets.
A few other keto foods you can try to find in the supermarket are:
- Whole eggs (boiled)
- Canned or prepackaged chicken/tuna/salmon
- Ready-to-eat meat
- Pre-made salads and salad bars
- Beef jerky
- Nuts and nut butters
- Coffee and sugar-free beverages
- Raw veggies and dips/dressings
There’s often going to be many alternatives in supermarkets for you to select from; heck, even small towns you drive through on the road usually have a decent grocery store in them.
Plus, if you reside in a bigger city where lunch lines can be long, supermarkets usually have self-checkouts that are exceptionally fast and efficient.
Niche food stores normally have a much larger range of low-carb foods to choose from. Another perk of visiting a niche food store while on-the-go is that you can pick up extra keto-friendly options for later in the week. Some choices that niche food stores generally offer include:
- Organic Deli Meats
- Aged cheese
- Whole nuts
- Raw nut butters
- Veggie chips
- Baked Cheese
- Pre-made zucchini noodles
- Riced cauliflower and broccoli
- Low-carb specialty sauces and condiments
Among these, you’ll find many other specialty low-carb goods and items from both the food stores themselves and other brands across the US.
Just like in standard supermarkets, you’ll find a wide selection of meats and cheese from the deli that you can use as a meal replacement.
Be creative and don’t be afraid to ask an employee where something is (or if they carry certain foods).