How to Eat Low-Carb at Carl's Jr. or Hardees

Weighing in on the Brands' Efforts to Become Healthier

Carl's Jr
Terence Ong/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 3.0

Hardee's/Carl's Jr. is the fourth-largest hamburger fast food chain in the United States, just behind McDonald's, Burger King, and Wendy's.

Hardee's and Carl's Jr. are owned by the same company (CK Restaurants Holdings Inc.) and share similar menus. The Carl's Jr. brand is situated in the western states, while Hardee's can be found throughout the rest of the U.S.

Introduction of a Healthier Menu

As with most fast food chains in the U.S., Hardee's/Carl's Jr. seemed to understand how lucrative healthy eating could be. While the brand made its name on such items as the Thickburger, Made From Scratch biscuits, and Hand-Scooped Ice Cream Shakes, it shifted its position in 2014 to include lower-carbohydrate, lower-calorie, and lower-fat options on their menus.

Dubbed the Other Side menu, the options include low-calorie turkey burgers, lettuce-wrapped beef burgers, charbroiled chicken options, and a range of vegetarian items. The company even went so far as to trademark the phrase "Low Carb It" to usher in the new effort. 

The Hardee's and Carl's Jr. websites each include a nutrition calculator that allows you to add and subtract ingredients from your order to see how it affects your overall nutritional intake. This is great for zeroing in on where the carbs are hiding in your food.

The not-so-good news is that Hardee's and Carl's Jr. were among the last fast food chains to jump on the anti-trans fats bandwagon and continued to use partially hydrogenated oil in many of their beef patties. Fortunately, laws banning the use of partially hydrogenated oils in 2018 forced the company to take steps to live up to its promise of a truly healthier menu.

With that being said, the company's enthusiasm for its Other Side initiative has been dampened in recent years with Carl's Jr. no longer promoting the "Low Carb It" moniker. 

Sandwiches

When it comes to low-carb sandwiches, Hardee's offers three worth your consideration:

  • Low Carb It Charbroiled Chicken Club Sandwich is made with marinated chicken filets, two strips of bacon, melted Swiss cheese, and tomato in an iceberg lettuce wrap. Even with mayonnaise, the bread-less sandwich has only 13 grams of net carbs.
  • Low Carb It 1/3-Pound Thickburger is a version of their ever-popular Angus beef burger wrapped in a lettuce leaf rather a bun. Expect nine grams of net carbs even with all of the fixings.
  • Trim It 1/4-Pound Low-Carb Little Thickburger has only six grams of net carbs despite having more meat.

On for Carl's Jr. front, the list of low-carb mains is pretty thin. Of the available options, only one stands out:

  • Carl's Jr.'s Low-Carb Thickburger is the same as Hardee's with two versions: a 1/3-pounder and a quarter pounder, both of which contain nine grams of net carbs.

While Carl's Jr.'s Chicken Stars has 18 grams of net carb for six pieces, it is difficult to recommend deep-fried chunks of processed chicken as a "healthy" food choice.

Salads 

One of the big differences between Hardee's and Carl's Jr. is that the former has no dinner salads.

Hardee's does offer a side salad with lettuce, tomato, onion, and cheese for a total of six grams of net carbs. But, that's really it.

Not that Carl's Jr. has anything to brag about given that it has reduced its salad menu offerings in recent years from three dinner salads to just one. Their Charbroiled Chicken Salad is made with grilled chicken, a mixture of greens, and a spattering of grated cheese, onion, tomatoes, and cucumber. Without the croutons, the dish has just 10 grams of net carbs.

While Carl's Jr. side salad is more or less the same as Hardee's, it is bigger and weighs in with 14 grams of net carbs without the dressing.

As for salad dressings, the best bet is the blue cheese dressing, with just one gram of carbs per packet, or the house dressing, with three. Skip the Sweet & Bold BBQ Dipping Sauce which is made with high fructose corn syrup and has an unacceptable 15 grams of net carbs per packet (more than the salads themselves).

Breakfast

Hardee's has three menus items listed under its "Low Carb It" brand. Of them, the Low-Carb Breakfast Bowl is comprised of an omelet, bacon bits, a sausage patty, and Swiss cheese for a total of six grams of carbs.

There is nothing even vaguely similar on the Carl's Jr. menu.

Sides 

Having provided us with an assortment of lettuce-wrapped burgers and sandwiches, Hardee's and Carl's Jr. clearly feel they've done their duty and have excluded sides from their healthy menu options. In fact, with the exception of side salads, every item on the Hardee's/Carl's Jr. side menu is deep fried.  

The Verdict

To sum up, Hardee's and Carl's Jr. are not bad places to drop in for a quick bite as they at least offer a few low-carb items that are not all that bad. Some, like the Low-Carb Chicken Club, are actually pretty good.

With that being said, the hoopla surrounding the Other Side initiative has largely fallen by the wayside, especially at Carl's Jr. where high-fat burgers and fries still reign.

Was this page helpful?