Yes, you can eat your favorite foods without blowing up your diet—or your waistline.
What do hamburgers, sub sandwiches, and burritos all have in common?
If you answered, “They’re delicious,” you’d be right. But these popular fast food items are also all heavy in carbohydrates.
And while one meal isn’t going to make or break your diet, sometimes doctor’s orders or your current health goals just don’t mix well with high-carb convenience food.
That doesn’t mean the drive-thru is totally off-limits.
There are low-carb menu items available at almost every major food chain, says Lindsey Pine, R.D. The trick is knowing where to look and what swaps to request.
Where to look refers to both your restaurant selection and to seeking out nutrition information online, since most chains only list the calorie counts in store.
“National fast food and quick service chains all have their complete nutrition info available online, so I recommend taking a look ahead of time if you can,” Pine says. “That way, you’ll be prepared and know exactly what to order.”
Also, don’t be afraid to request adjustments. Most sandwiches or burgers can be served wrapped in or on top of lettuce, and almost all burrito places offer a salad or “bowl” option to bring the carb count way down.
If you’d rather skip the research and refer to a cheat sheet, we’ve got you covered. Here’s what registered dietitians recommend for low-carb eaters at a variety of fast food chains.
The list below mentions specific menu items from each restaurant, but you can use it to guide your order at similar chains as well.
What to Order at Chick-fil-A: Grilled Nuggets with a Superfood Side
Chicken nuggets are often breaded and fried, but Chick-fil-A offers a lower-carb grilled option, says Shamera Robinson, M.P.H., R.D.N.
“Try ordering the grilled nuggets with a kale and broccolini side salad,” she suggests. “Skipping the classic chicken sandwich combo in favor of this lower-carb meal can save you up to 70 grams of carbs.”
Robinson also suggests skipping—or minimally using—the dressing on your superfood salad to cut back on carbs from sugar.
Nutrition per 6 Grilled Nuggets: 110 calories, 2.5 grams fat (1 gram saturated fat), 330 milligrams sodium, 2 grams carbohydrates, 0 grams fiber, 0 grams sugar, 19 grams protein
Nutrition per large Superfood Side with dressing: 180 calories, 9 grams fat (1 gram saturated fat), 220 milligrams sodium, 24 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber, 17 grams sugar, 4 grams protein
What to Order at Chipotle: Salad Bowl with Chicken or Beans, Fajita Vegetables, Salsa, and Guacamole
“Chipotle is usually my go-to for lower carb and calorie food,” says Amanda Baker Lemein, R.D.
“I like to make a bowl with as many vegetables as possible, including both the raw vegetables and the sautéed fajita vegetables, and top it with a lean protein like chicken, or beans for a plant-based option,” she says.
Cover it all with your favorite salsa (Lemein goes with the mild, fresh salsa option) and a small scoop of guacamole.
While this meal is very reasonable in terms of calories and carbohydrates, it’s still high in sodium. Be sure to watch your intake the rest of the day and drink plenty of water. If your doctor has recommended a low-sodium diet for any reason, Chipotle probably isn’t your smartest pick. Other fast food chains offer more options in a lower sodium range.
Nutrition per salad with chicken, fajita vegetables, guacamole, fresh tomato salsa, and lettuce: 460 calories, 29 grams fat (6.5 grams saturated fat), 1,380 milligrams sodium, 18 grams carbohydrates, 9 grams fiber, 4 grams sugar, 35 grams protein
What to Order at Five Guys: Lettuce Wrap Burger with Onions, Tomatoes, and Grilled Mushrooms
“Sometimes you just want a burger, and that’s okay,” Pine says. “To keep it lower in carbs, order your burger as a lettuce wrap, and don’t skimp on the nutrient-dense onions, tomatoes, and grilled mushrooms. Just go light on the ketchup, since it is high in sugar.”
Nutrition per lettuce wrap burger with ketchup: 268 calories, 17 grams fat (8 grams saturated fat), 272 milligrams sodium, 10 grams carbohydrates, 0 grams fiber, 3 grams sugar, 18 grams protein
What to Order at McDonald’s: Bacon Ranch Grilled Chicken Salad
“With all the buns and fries in the fast food world, it can be hard to find an option that is lower in carbs,” Robinson says. Ordering a salad may be an obvious solution, but your specific selection determines how satisfied you’ll feel, she says.
The lowest-carb option at McDonald’s is the Bacon Ranch Grilled Chicken Salad, which comes with 42 grams of filling protein. Just be sure to order it with grilled chicken instead of fried, and watch your sodium intake for the rest of the day.
Nutrition per salad: 320 calories, 14 grams fat (6 grams saturated fat), 1,240 milligrams sodium, 8 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber, 3 grams sugar, 42 grams protein
What to Order at Subway: Veggie Delight Chopped Salad with Egg
“You can order any sub as a chopped salad at Subway, and my go-to is a veggie salad with egg,” says Amy Gorin, R.D.N., owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition in the New York City area.
“This is an off-the-menu hack, but I find that many locations keep eggs in stock all day, and as a vegetarian, this meal is a great low-carb option—eggs for protein, plus a bunch of vegetables for filling fiber,” she says. “I always top my salad with black olives for satiating healthy fats.”
Nutrition per salad with one egg: 130 calories, 5 grams fat (1.5 grams saturated fat), 140 milligrams sodium, 11 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams fiber, 6 grams sugar, 9 grams protein
What to Eat at Subway: Roast Beef Chopped Salad
If you want a salad that’s filling but low in carbs, go for a protein-packed roast beef salad, suggests Franziska Spritzler, R.D., C.D.E. Unlike the other deli meats, roast beef is relatively low in sodium, which can be tough to find at fast food restaurants, she says.
Nutrition per salad: 140 calories, 3.5 grams fat (1 gram saturated fat), 460 milligrams sodium, 12 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams fiber, 7 grams sugar, 19 grams protein
What to Order at Starbucks: Egg White and Red Pepper Sous Vide Egg Bites
“If you’re looking for a lower-carb breakfast option at Starbucks, try the sous vide egg bites,” Pine says. This version is made with egg whites, which means less dietary cholesterol and saturated fat.
“Add a side of Starbucks single-serve guacamole pack to make the meal more filling and to add a dose of healthy monounsaturated fats, plus many vitamins and minerals that avocado contains,” Pine suggests.
Nutrition per serving (two egg bites): 170 calories, 7 grams fat (5 grams saturated fat), 500 milligrams sodium, 13 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 2 grams sugar, 13 grams protein
What to Order at Starbucks: Chicken Chorizo Tortilla Sous Vide Egg Bites
If egg whites aren’t your thing, there’s another great egg bite option in the breakfast case. These tasty bites are packed with protein from chicken, eggs, and cotija cheese, and they have just a little bit of crunch from a sprinkling of tortilla chips.
Nutrition per serving (two egg bites): 230 calories, 13 grams fat (7 grams saturated fat), 690 milligrams sodium, 13 grams carbohydrates, 0 grams fiber, 2 grams sugar, 15 grams protein
What to Order at Jimmy John’s: Big John Unwich
Jimmy John’s may be known for the bread, but they can easily accommodate a low-carb diet. The sandwich shop offers something called the Unwich, which is any one of their regular sandwiches prepared as a lettuce wrap.
“These options contain 10 grams of carbohydrates or less,” Pine says. “And depending on the type of sandwich you get, the total calorie count decreases anywhere from 280 to 390.”
The Big John Unwich is packed with tender roast beef, lettuce, tomatoes, and mayo.
Nutrition per Unwich: 260 calories, 20 grams fat (4 grams saturated fat), 590 milligrams sodium, 3 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 2 grams sugar, 32 grams protein
What to Order at Jimmy John’s: The Veggie Unwich
Many low-carb meals are heavy on meat, but it’s not always necessary.
“I like to order Jimmy John’s veggie sandwich sans bread and in a lettuce wrap instead,” Gorin says. “This significantly reduces the meal’s total carb count, and you also get a 41 percent calorie reduction,” she says.
The tasty sandwich comes with provolone, avocado, cucumber, lettuce, tomato, and mayo.
Nutrition per Unwich: 410 calories, 37 grams fat (13 grams saturated fat), 680 milligrams sodium, 7 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 2 grams sugar, 17 grams protein
What to Order at Wendy’s: Southwest Avocado Chicken Salad
“Wendy’s Southwest Avocado Chicken Salad is a great low-carb option when you’re on the go,” Robinson says. “The bed of spring mix is topped with avocado, grilled chicken, and bacon crumbles to provide a good balance of fiber and protein for few carbs.”
If you aren’t super hungry or just want a smaller portion, the salad also comes in half sizes, she says. To cut back on saturated fat, choose either bacon or cheese, not both.
Nutrition per full-size salad: 610 calories, 41 grams fat (11 grams saturated fat), 1,240 milligrams sodium, 18 grams carbohydrates, 7 grams fiber, 7 grams sugar, 43 grams protein
What to Order at Panda Express: Super Greens with Asian Grilled Chicken
“When eating low-carb, be sure to include lots of vegetables for the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber to keep your gut healthy,” Pine says. “At Panda Express, that means ordering a side of the Super Greens: kale, broccoli, and cabbage.”
For an entrée, they offer a few lower carb, healthier options, including string bean chicken breast, mushroom chicken, and grilled teriyaki chicken, Pine says. Pick your favorite, and pair it with the greens for a well-rounded, low-carb meal.
Nutrition per serving of Super Greens: 90 calories, 2.5 grams fat (0 grams saturated fat), 260 milligrams sodium, 10 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams fiber, 4 grams sugar, 6 grams protein
Nutrition per serving of String Bean Chicken Breast: 190 calories, 9 grams fat (2 grams saturated fat), 590 milligrams sodium, 13 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams fiber, 4 grams sugar, 14 grams protein
What to Order at Pizza Hut: Buffalo Wings and a Garden Salad
Pizza joints aren’t exactly rife with low-carb options (thanks, crust), but you can find what you’re looking for on the appetizer menu. Spritzler recommends ordering wings alongside a garden salad without croutons.
If you’re watching your sodium, order the wings “naked,” which means without sauce.
Nutrition per 4 bone-in Buffalo Wings: 400 calories, 19 grams fat (5 grams saturated fat), 1,550 milligrams sodium, 20 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 3 grams sugar, 36 grams protein
Nutrition per garden salad without dressing: 210 calories, 7 grams fat (2 grams saturated fat), 420 milligrams sodium, 31 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams fiber, 8 grams sugar, 7 grams protein
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