Sticking to a low-carb diet when dining out can be hard, especially at fast-food restaurants.
That's because these meals are often based on bread, tortillas, and other high-carb items.
Still, most fast-food restaurants offer some good low-carb options, and many items can easily be modified to fit your lifestyle.
Here are 14 delicious fast foods you can eat on a low-carb diet.
Submarine sandwiches are very high in carbs. A typical sub has at least 50 grams of carbs, most of which come from the bun.
Ordering your sub "in a tub" (in a bowl or container), rather than on a bun, can save you more than 40 grams of carbs.
The carb counts for sub-in-a-tub options may look something like this:
- Turkey breast and provolone: 8 grams of carbs, 1 of which is fiber
- Club supreme: 11 grams of carbs, 2 of which are fiber
- Chicken salad: 9 grams of carbs, 3 of which are fiber
- California club: 9 grams of carbs, 4 of which are fiber
Although the term "sub in a tub" originated at Jersey Mike's, you can order your meal this way from any sub sandwich shop, including Subway.
Just request that it be prepared as a salad with olive oil and vinegar for the dressing.
SUMMARY To minimize carbs while keeping protein intake high, order your favorite sub sandwich “in a tub” or as a salad.
Fried chicken isn't a healthy choice. For starters, the chicken absorbs a lot of oil during frying.
In addition, fried chicken contains about 8–11 grams of carbs per medium-size piece.
Grilled chicken is a much better option and available at many Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) franchises. Each piece of grilled KFC chicken has less than 1 gram of carbs.
As for side dishes, green beans contain 2 grams of digestible carbs per serving and are by far the best option. Coleslaw is next, at 10 grams of digestible carbs.
Click here for complete nutrition information for all of the chicken options and sides available at KFC.
SUMMARY Choose 3 pieces of grilled chicken with a side of green beans for a balanced meal that contains fewer than 10 grams of carbs.
Coffee and tea are carb-free beverages.
They're also high in caffeine, which provides some impressive benefits.
If you like milk in your cup of joe, coffee houses and fast-food eateries often offer half-and-half. A single-serving container has about 0.5 grams of carbs.
Heavy cream is nearly carb-free and sometimes available. However, it contains about 50 calories per tablespoon (15 ml), compared to 20 calories for half-and-half.
Some coffee houses also offer soy or almond milk. Unsweetened versions of these milk substitutes provide minimal carbs per 2-tablespoon (30 ml) serving.
SUMMARY If you prefer to drink coffee with milk or cream, ask for half-and-half, heavy cream, or unsweetened soy or almond milk.
Chipotle is a Mexican fast-food restaurant that has become extremely popular.
Many people consider it healthier than other chains, as it uses high-quality ingredients and emphasizes animal welfare and sustainable farming practices.
Chipotle also makes it very easy to create low-carb meals.
A salad with meat or chicken, grilled vegetables, and guacamole contains 14 grams of total carbs, 8 of which are fiber.
This meal also provides about 30 grams of high-quality protein.
Though vinaigrette is available, generous servings of guacamole and salsa make salad dressing unnecessary.
Additionally, Chipotle has a helpful online nutrition calculator that allows you to see the exact carb content of your meal.
SUMMARY Select a salad with meat, vegetables, salsa, and guacamole for a satisfying meal with 6 grams of digestible carbs.
A bunless burger wrapped in lettuce is a standard low-carb, fast-food meal. It's high in protein, essentially carb-free, and available at all fast-food burger establishments.
You can further customize your burger by adding the following low-carb toppings or additions, depending on availability and personal preferences:
- Cheese: Less than 1 gram of carbs per slice
- Bacon: Less than 1 gram of carbs per slice
- Mustard: Less than 1 gram of carbs per tablespoon
- Mayo: Less than 1 gram of carbs per tablespoon
- Onions: 1 gram of digestible carbs per slice
- Tomato: Less than 1 gram of digestible carbs per slice
- Guacamole: 3 grams of digestible carbs per 1/4 cup (60 grams)
SUMMARY Top your bunless burger with condiments and extra toppings to add flavor while minimizing carb intake.
Panera Bread is a café-style restaurant featuring sandwiches, pastries, soups, salads, and coffee.
Most of the breakfast items are high in carbs. However, two selections from their menu work well for a low-carb morning meal.
The Power Breakfast Egg Bowl with Steak features steak, tomatoes, avocado, and 2 eggs. It provides 5 grams of carbs and 20 grams of protein.
The Power Breakfast Egg White Bowl with Turkey contains egg whites, spinach, bell peppers, and basil for 7 grams of carbs and 25 grams of protein.
SUMMARY Select an egg-based breakfast with meat and vegetables at Panera Bread to keep carb intake low and control hunger levels.
Buffalo wings are delicious and fun to eat.
They may also be a low-carb option at pizza places and sports bars, depending on how they're prepared.
Traditionally, buffalo wings are covered in a spicy red sauce made from vinegar and hot red peppers.
An order of these buffalo wings typically has 0–3 grams of carbs per serving.
By contrast, other sauces can add a significant number of carbs, especially sweet types, such as barbecue, teriyaki, and anything made from honey.
Sometimes the wings are breaded or battered and fried, which is especially common for boneless wings. Therefore, be sure to ask how the wings are made and order yours with no breading or batter.
Buffalo wings are also usually served with carrots, celery, and ranch dressing.
Although they're higher in carbs than many other vegetables, carrots are fine to eat in small quantities. A half-cup (60 grams) of carrot strips contains about 5 grams of net carbs.
SUMMARY Choose non-breaded buffalo wings with traditional sauce, celery, and a few carrot strips to create a meal with under 10 grams of net carbs.
Sometimes the simplest breakfast option can be the most delicious, such as bacon or sausage and eggs.
This traditional breakfast combination is available at most fast-food restaurants and contains a minimal amount of carbs.
In one study in overweight young women, eating sausage and eggs for breakfast helped reduce appetite.
For this reason, most health professionals advise against a high intake of these foods.
SUMMARY Bacon or sausage with eggs provides very few carbs, reduces hunger, and helps you feel full for hours. Still, limit your intake of processed meats, as they’re linked to an increased risk of heart disease and cancer.
Arby's is one of the largest fast-food sandwich chains in the United States.
Though the Roast Beef Classic is its original and most popular item, Arby's has many other options, including brisket, steak, ham, chicken, and turkey.
Any of these can be ordered without the bread for a tasty low-carb, high-protein meal.
The company website provides a nutrition calculator, so you can customize your order to keep carbs within your target range.
For example, you can select Smokehouse Brisket with Gouda cheese, sauce, and a side salad for 5 grams of digestible carbs and 32 grams of protein.
SUMMARY Use Arby's nutrition calculator to construct a high-protein meal within your target carb range.
Fast-food Italian restaurants are best known for high-carb foods like pizza, pasta, and subs.
Antipasto salad offers a delicious, low-carb alternative.
This salad is traditionally served as an appetizer, consisting of assorted meats, cheese, olives, and vegetables topped with an olive-oil-based dressing. However, it can be ordered in a larger portion as an entrée.
An entrée-size serving of antipasto salad is rich in protein and contains fewer than 10 grams of digestible carbs.
SUMMARY Choose antipasto salad for a filling, low-carb meal at an Italian fast-food restaurant.
Subway is the most popular fast-food sandwich shop worldwide.
In recent years, the chain has been offering chopped salads that can be customized with protein and vegetables of your choice.
One of the most satisfying and nutritious options is the Double Chicken Chopped Salad with Avocado. It contains 10 grams of total carbs, 4 of which are fiber, plus a whopping 36 grams of protein.
A list of Subway salads, along with complete nutrition information, can be found here.
SUMMARY Order a salad with double meat, vegetables, and avocados for a delicious and satisfying Subway meal.
Many people regard burritos as a favorite food.
They typically contain meat, vegetables, rice, and beans wrapped in a large flour tortilla. This results in a meal that can easily pack more than 100 grams of carbs.
However, almost every Mexican restaurant allows you to leave out the tortilla and other high-carb items.
This is known as a burrito bowl or "bare" burrito.
A burrito bowl made with meat, grilled onions, bell peppers, and salsa is a delicious and satisfying meal that provides less than 10 grams of digestible carbs.
SUMMARY Choose a burrito bowl or "bare" burrito for the great flavor of a traditional burrito with very few carbs.
McDonald's is the most popular fast-food chain in the world, with more than 36,000 restaurants worldwide as of 2018.
Though it's best known for burgers like the Big Mac and Quarter Pounder, its Egg McMuffin and Sausage McMuffin breakfast sandwiches are also very popular.
These breakfast entrées consist of an English muffin with one egg, a slice of American cheese, and ham or sausage.
Each sandwich contains 29 grams of carbs. However, ordering either of these items without the muffin will reduce the carb content to 2 grams or less.
It's also a good idea to order 2 low-carb sandwiches, as each one will only provide about 12 grams of protein.
SUMMARY At McDonald’s, order 2 Egg or Sausage McMuffins without the bread for a satisfying meal with 4 grams or less of carbs and 24 grams of protein.
As stated above, ordering a bun-less Arby's sandwich is a great low-carb option.
Additionally, Arby's offers a Roast Turkey Farmhouse Salad featuring roast turkey, bacon, cheese, mixed greens, and tomatoes.
It contains just 8 grams of carbs, 2 of which are fiber, along with 22 grams of protein.
Just make sure not to confuse it with the Crispy Chicken Farmhouse Salad, which includes chicken that's been breaded and fried. It packs 26 grams of total carbs.
SUMMARY Select Arby's Roast Turkey Farmhouse Salad for a wonderful combination of flavors and textures with 6 grams of digestible carbs.
Even if you only see high-carb items on a menu, a delicious low-carb meal can be created at most fast-food restaurants by making simple substitutions.
Although fast food is certainly not as healthy as the food you can prepare at home, it's good to know what to order in case it's your only option.