How to Eat Low-Carb at KFC

Are the low-carb options 'finger-licking good?'

KFC restaurant
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KFC (formerly Kentucky Fried Chicken) is the world's most popular chicken restaurant chain. It has long been renowned for its "finger-licking good" fried chicken but has expanded its menu in recent years to include more health-conscious menu items.

History

The move toward a healthier menu began in 1991 when the company rebranded itself "KFC" to distance itself from the word "fried." While early efforts to attract healthy eaters largely failed (including the introduction of skinless chicken in 1991 and a rotisserie-style chicken in 1993), things began to turn around in 1996 with the introduction of the KFC Tender Roast chicken pieces.

However, it was only in 2009 that things really began to take off when, in an effort to regain market share lost to Chick-Fil-A and others, KFC introduced its now-famous grilled chicken menu.

Unlike some fast food chains that actively target low-carb eaters (such as Carl's Jr. and Hardee's), KFC has never made such overtures. With that being said, a small handful of KFC's top-selling items are among the healthiest fast food options for people on a low-carb or ketogenic diet.

Nutritional Information

For those on a low-carb diet, a nutritional information brochure are available at most KFC branches. While the flyer covers many of KFC's classic menu items, it doesn't include much in the way of information about specialty items such as sandwiches or bowls. For these, you would need to go online and access their nutritional calculator.

In terms of building an appropriate meal, most low-carb diets will restrict you to anywhere from 50 to 150 grams of carbohydrate per day (depending on the type and phase of the diet you are one).

Some ketogenic diets set the bar even lower, limiting carbs to 20 to 30 grams daily.

With regards to nutrition, current guidance from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends no more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day and no more than 20 grams of saturated fat daily for women and 30 grams daily for men.

Chicken Options

It was in 2009 that KFC first introduced its grilled chicken, a decision that was lauded by the likes of Oprah Winfrey and other leading diet enthusiasts. As low-carb items go, it is probably one of the best in the fast food world, offering zero carbs and just 210 calories (albeit with 710 milligrams of sodium).

Other KFC chicken items range being acceptable to being downright poor. They include (from best to worst):

 Carbs (g)Sodium (mg)Saturated
fat (g)
Calories
Grilled Wing0180170
Grilled Drumstick0220180
Grilled Thigh04203150
Grilled Breast07102210
Smoky Mountain BBQ Breast17303260
Hot Wings3160170
Fiery Hot Buffalo Wings5290170
Extra Crispy Tenders8320160
Original Recipe Breast81,1904390
Extra Crispy Breast181,1506530
Popcorn Nuggets391,8205620


Salads

KFC salads are respectable low-carb options. While many of the specialty salads of the past had fried chicken pieces tucked in (a definite no-no), most KFC chains today offer healthy side salads made up primarily of iceberg or romaine lettuce.

The KFC Caesar side salad complete with the creamy parmesan dressing has four grams of carbohydrate and one gram of sugar. Avoid the parmesan croutons which add 12 grams of carbs to the dish.

In terms of salad dressings, KFC has a better selection than most fast food restaurants.

The best choice is the buttermilk ranch dressing with just one gram of carbohydrate per packet. On the flip side, avoid the fat-free version which has an astonishing eight grams of added sugar. The other good low-carb option is the light Italian dressing with two grams of carb.

Sandwiches and Bowls

Compared to KFC chicken, specialty sandwiches, wraps, and bowls are complete no-gos for the low-carb eater. Examples include:

 Carbs (g)Sodium (mg)Saturated
fat (g)
Calories
Double Crunch Sandwich w/ Bacon and Cheese461,2106590
Chicken Pot Pie662,12037790

KFC Famous Bowl

812,3106710

Side Dishes

KFC has only one low-carb side dish to choose from: green beans with three grams of carbs per serving.

Everything else—from the corn on the cob and cole slaw to the baked beans and macaroni and cheese—range from 14 grams to 43 grams per serving.

In terms of beverages, the only sure bet is the Colonel's Iced Tea which comes unsweetened. By contrast, all KFC desserts have well over 22 grams of carbohydrate per serving.

Bottom Line

KFC's grilled chicken greatly expands the low-carb options at this fast food favorite. If you pair it with green beans or a side salad with the buttermilk ranch dressing, you can keep well within your diet goals and still have room to toast yourself with an ice-cold cup of the Colonel's Iced Tea.

Source:

Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. (2015) 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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