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The Best Low-Carb Fast-Food Items

by
author image Janet Renee, MS, RD
Janet Renee is a clinical dietitian with a special interest in weight management, sports dietetics, medical nutrition therapy and diet trends. She earned her Master of Science in nutrition from the University of Chicago and has contributed to health and wellness magazines, including Prevention, Self, Shape and Cooking Light.
The Best Low-Carb Fast-Food Items
Make smart fast-food choices. Photo Credit Monkey Business Images/Monkey Business/Getty Images

In the past, it was nearly impossible to find anything on a fast-food menu that fit within a low-carbohydrate meal plan. Nowadays, restaurants are understanding the need for low-carb items and adding them to their menus. While it's always best to make your food fresh at home, it's good to know which choices are suitable for your meal plan if you're in a rush and plan to stop at a fast-food restaurant. Continue to keep nutrition in mind, and save fast-food dining for once-in-a-while occasions.

Grilled, Roasted and Broiled Fast-Food Options

A number of fast-food restaurants now offer grilled, broiled or roasted chicken and beef options. Add a side of vegetables and you've got yourself a relatively low-carb fast-food meal. If you're headed to Chick Fil-A, try the Grilled Nuggets and a fresh fruit cup. You'll get 4 grams of carbs from the nuggets and 13 grams from the fruit, for a total of 17 grams. If KFC is more your flavor, order two Kentucky Grilled Chicken Drumsticks and a side of green beans. You'll make out with just 4 grams of carbs, all of which are from the green beans.

Salads, a Fast-Food Staple

Salads remain some of the best low-carbohydrate items on fast-food menus. Not all salads are created equal, however. Some are loaded with not only processed carbohydrates but calories and fat. A good rule of thumb is to avoid extras like creamy sauces, croutons, cheeses and tortilla strips. Keep it simple with lettuce, tomato, cucumber and lean protein, such as grilled chicken. Choose lighter dressings, such as balsamic vinaigrette, which is typically made using a mixture of lemon, vinegar and herbs. If you stick with these rules, you'll get most of your carbohydrates from the fresh vegetables in the salad and usually come out with somewhere between 10 and 20 grams of carbohydrates.

Hold the Bun on Fast-Food Items

One of the best ways to cut carbs when ordering at a fast-food restaurant is to simply hold the bun. Keep in mind that this doesn't mean ordering any burger on the menu, as you still want to keep nutrition in mind. Many burgers are laden with fat, so it's still wise to choose grilled, broiled or roasted sandwich options. You'll also want to skip the mayo, creamy sauces and ketchup, as well as the cheese. Keep your burger simple with lettuce, tomato and the protein of your choice. The U.S. Department of Agriculture indicates the average plain fast-food burger contains about 31 grams of carbs, but most of those carbs come from the bun. If your restaurant of choice doesn't list nutrition information for bunless sandwiches, ask your server to figure out how many carbs and calories you're getting.

Ordering Low-Carbohydrate Breakfast at Fast-Food Chains

Many breakfast items from fast-food restaurants are loaded with carbohydrates; think pancakes, muffins, bagels, waffles and biscuits. However, if you're in a rush for breakfast and plan on stopping at a fast-food restaurant, you won't find yourself completely out of luck. Whether you plan to stop at McDonald's or Burger King, sticking with eggs, egg whites, protein and fruit is the best way to go. If you order a breakfast sandwich, hold the bread and creamy sauces. If you're headed to Starbucks, try the Spinach Feta Wrap. Save half of the wrap for another time, and you'll come out with 13 net carbs -- the amount of carbs minus the fiber. At Au Bon Pain, try the Egg Whites, Cheddar & Avocado on a Skinny Wheat Bagel for a total of 16 net carbs. Drop the wheat bagel and you'll nix most of the carb content.

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