Eating out on keto is unavoidable. But don’t worry. We’ve rounded up several key strategies that will ensure that you make the right choices. It doesn’t matter if you’ll be dining at a cafe, restaurant, or bar.
Eating out on any diet is tough, so it isn’t surprising things aren’t different with keto. With most places offering carb-heavy meals, dining out on keto can seem like mission impossible. That’s why ketoers often ask “what can I eat on a keto diet when eating out and what fast food can I eat on a keto diet?”
The answer is, there’s a lot you can order. Eating low-carb at restaurants, fast food places, diners, and cafeterias is totally doable. You just need to have a fail-proof plan for your orders. Skipping the bun, going for meat-based, and asking for extra cheese are some things you could do to keep carbs low.
If you need more info on how to make your order, here are 7 important rules, some from nutrition and keto experts, to follow.
1. Plan Ahead
Always learn about a diet before trying it out. Foods like bread, beans, potatoes, and sugar are high in carbs and will sabotage ketosis. Chicken, beef, broccoli, and cheese are keto diet staples. Knowing this helps navigate restaurant menus and make the whole process of ordering easier.
Another thing you could do is research restaurants and their menus before heading out to dinner. Stacy Goldberg, a nutrition expert and founder and CEO of Savorfull suggests,
“Review the menu ahead of time so you are not fumbling during your date or social dinner.
Have your choices in mind and you can even call ahead to ask the questions that you need to stay Keto compliant.”
Some fast food places like Chipotle offer keto-friendly items. Others need a bit of customizing. You could also see what people on low-carb forums say about what restaurants you can eat at on the keto diet.
2. Avoid Starchy Foods
Rhaizza Velasquez-Garcia, a registered and licensed dietitian suggests to “stay away from any starch.” Starchy foods include items like bread, potatoes, rice, pasta, bananas, and oats. These can raise your blood sugar levels quickly and keep you out of ketosis 1.
But what exactly is starch?
It’s a complex carb that plants use as their energy storage. It is the most common type of carb people eat 1, but one that you must avoid for the keto diet to do its magic.
Unfortunately, they make eating out low-carb near impossible since you’ll find them in the form of fries, steamed rice, burger buns, tortilla wraps, beans, and other restaurant staples. Don’t be afraid to ask for substitutes for carb-dense foods. Nutrition Health Coach Deidre Bloomquist says,
“You can have a burger without the bun or with a lettuce bun, and you can swap out french fries for steamed veggies.”
3. Go for Protein-Rich Foods
Protein intake needs to be moderate on keto, but protein-rich items are your best bet where eating out is concerned. That’s why nutritionist Stacy Goldberg suggests, “Choose restaurants that have more keto-friendly options such as steakhouses, seafood restaurants.”
These foods are more than likely to be low- or no-carb. You can also order them without high-carb sides like fries and rice. Examples include grilled chicken, grilled steak, steamed fish, and scrambled eggs.
What health experts now define as moderate protein intake is around 0.8g per kg of body weight if you’re an average person and up to 2g per kg of body weight if you’re athletic 2. These recommendations apply to keto eaters as well.
4. Add Healthy Fats
To make eating keto at restaurants both enjoyable and healthful, Deidre Bloomquist recommends that you, “Ask for extra healthy fats. Add avocado, guacamole, cheese, oil-based salad dressings, nuts & seeds, and olives are all good options to ask for extra or as an additional side when possible to help boost your fat content for the meal.”
Healthy fats help fuel ketosis, but they also protect your metabolic and cardiovascular health. As one article published in the Nutrition Journal pointed out, replacing fats with carbs does not help reduce heart health — it’s adding more healthy fats to the diet that does so 3. Healthy fats include monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and saturated fats in moderation.
5. Choose Beverages Carefully
Some places offer sugar-free drinks, but that doesn’t mean these drinks are low in carbs. Take, for instance, a Starbucks Vanilla Latte made with sugar-free vanilla syrup. It still has 13g of carbs from the milk despite being sugar-free. In case you didn’t know: milk contains lactose, which is milk sugar. Studies show the body turns lactose into glucose once digested 4.
Drinks you can order include water, plain coffee, diet soda, iced tea (sugar-free), almond milk, and dry wine. Feel free to customize drinks at coffeehouse chains like Starbucks who offer non-nutritive sweeteners, nut milks, and sugar-free syrups. As Colleen Morgan, who is founder of Hip2Keto explains it,
“You can usually find a keto option at any restaurant and most places are totally willing to make accommodations for you.”
6. Be Careful with Sauces, Dips, and Condiments
Some sauces, dips, and condiments contain added sugar, starch, and other high-carb ingredients. Others are rich in fats, fiber, and protein. That’s why you need to take a good look at these items before dipping in.
The best restaurants for the ketogenic diet will offer a range of condiments and dips. Some of the best options include guacamole, cheese sauce, ranch dipping sauce, buffalo dipping sauce, mayonnaise, mustard, and so on. Those you need to avoid include ketchup, pesto, BBQ sauce, and most syrups.
If possible, research keto-friendly options before going out or read the ingredients on the label or menu.
7. Bring Your Own Keto Dessert
If you’re eating out at a friend’s place, family gathering, or other outings, this is another option to consider. As Deidre Bloomquist explains,
“Bring your own dessert to be in control of the sugar content.”
Keto-friendly desserts are usually made with things like almond flour instead of wheat flour, non-nutritive sweeteners like stevia, and sugar-free chocolate or cocoa.
But if you’re eating at a restaurant, most keto eating out guides will tell you that dessert is not an option. We’ve yet to see restaurants offer truly low-carb, ketogenic dessert items. Even simple fruit bowls offered at McDonald’s and similar chains are sugar-laden. Best to avoid them altogether and enjoy a coffee or tea instead. Besides being low-carb, show coffee and tea drinkers live longer 5.
As you can see, learning how to eat out on keto isn’t all that difficult. A little bit of planning, order customizing, and avoiding carbs is all it takes. Of course, there are many nuances in the art of low-carb ordering, but if you’re a beginner, just follow these rules for how to eat keto at restaurants and you’ll keep yourself in ketosis.
- Eating out on keto is possible when you stick to the rules.
- Most restaurants don’t offer full keto items.
- Luckily, most restaurants let you customize your order so it turns out low-carb.
- You can enjoy savory mains and drinks, but not desserts at most places.