How to Eat Low-Carb at a Fast Food Restaurant

4 Simple Rules to Reducing Fast Food Carbs

burger wrapped in lettuce
Some fast food restaurants will wrap your burger in lettuce. Lew Robertson/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

Who among us has not been short of time and at least been tempted to drive through at a fast food restaurant? Depending on the definition of "fast food," most people in the U.S. eat it at least once a week, though it's often more than that. The statistics point to this practice as one of the reasons for the obesity epidemic and it is indeed difficult to get a healthy fast food meal.

On the other hand, it is not impossible to eat fast food occasionally without ruining your diet. Fortunately, with the rise of trendy low-carb diets, more and more fast food locations are offering healthier options or will let you swap items.

There are four main rules to maximizing the healthy food and minimizing the sugars and other carbs at a fast food restaurant.

Compare the Nutritional Information

Before driving through your favorite fast food joint, compare the nutritional information of several local fast food restaurants. Some will offer more healthy options to lure in dieters, so a little research ahead of time will help you choose the least offensive restaurant for your diet.

Many chain restaurants offer nutritional info on their websites as well. This can give you a lot of insight into the carb counts for your favorite menu items. One thing to really check out is salad dressings. Try to find options that are low in sugar because some packets include over four teaspoons of sugar.

Order Salads With Grilled Chicken

Chicken is the mainstay of fast food salads, though you might find some menus that include steak or shrimp options. Any of these would be good protein choices and salads are often one of the healthiest things on the menu.

It's important to note, though, that the chicken at fast food restaurants is often injected with gluten-containing substances, which will add carbs.

Tips for Low-Carb Salads

  1. Skip the croutons, tortilla strips, and similar additions.
  2. Pick a low-sugar salad dressing like oil and vinegar. Even "low-fat" dressings can have some astronomical amounts of sugar in them. You can also opt for no salad dressing if there are no healthy options on hand.
  3. Pick salads with a mixture of greens and a variety of vegetables.
  4. Make sure the chicken on your salad is grilled and not crispy or fried. Grilled chicken without any breading is the best way to go.

Order Burgers and Sandwiches Without Bread

Thanks to the popular low-carb diets, it's rather easy to ask for a burger without the bun and get what you want. Many fast food restaurants will simply wrap the sandwich fixings in lettuce. 

Keep in mind that anything breaded and fried—like most fish and many chicken sandwiches—will have additional carbohydrate.

You can turn your bun-less sandwich into a pretty good meal with a little improvisation as well. Add a side salad to your order and ask for a separate large container like those that the larger salads come in. Then dump the side salad into it and put the protein on top.

Skip the Drinks

Even if your meal comes with a free soda, skip it! If a drink is discounted with the purchase of a meal, ask if you can swap the soda for a water or unsweetened iced tea.

If you must have a soda, pick a diet soda.

Some sweetened drinks have more carbs than your meal, so it's best to avoid any drinks that may be sweetened. If you are getting a coffee-based beverage, opt for black coffee or a drink made with skim or low-fat milk.


National Center for Health Statistics. Caloric Intake From Fast Food Among Adults: The United States, 2007–2010. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2013.