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Low-Carb and Keto Diet Fast Food Menu Choices: How to Eat Successfully at Restaurants
For those on low-carb or keto diets, there is almost always something you can eat at any fast food place or restaurant. Plan ahead. Before entering a restaurant, check their menu and nutritional information online at home or using your smartphone. It’s always good to know the safe options before you’re tempted by menu items you shouldn’t have on a low-carb diet.
To make it easier to find a quick keto-friendly option, I’ve compiled a list of several restaurants and fast food places and the items that I’ve found to be the lowest carb (and most emotionally satisfying) choices. These aren’t all perfect options, but when you’re stuck with no other choices due to time or location constraints, they’ll do in a pinch.
It is a huge help that fast food places are required to post nutrition facts. It gets easier to follow the keto plan every day. The carb count I provide is approximate and is NET grams.
In general, there is usually some sort of salad option wherever you are. At Burger joints, you just have to remove the bun, and many places offer lettuce wraps instead. Chicken should not have breading.
As a side note, it helps to have a knife and fork handy in your car or purse. Big, juicy burgers in tiny pieces of lettuce end up on the table – or in your lap. Small, flimsy fast food plastic items also make eating difficult. Pull out your own sturdy tools and enjoy!
Now for the food choices… here are some pretty obvious general rules to follow:
- Skip the bun or wrap
- Skip the pasta, potato or rice
- Salads – no croutons. Stick to low sugar dressings – Caesar, Blue Cheese, Ranch, Chipotle. Look at the name to give you a clue, things like “honey” in the honey dijon or “sweet” in the name of the dressing – these are usually not a good choice. Check the ingredient for items that have higher carbohydrate content.
- Chicken – Choose grilled or sautéed. Stay away from any chicken that is breaded.
McDonald’s – choose any burger (zero g) or grilled chicken (2 g) without the bun and topped with cheese, mayo, mustard, onion, etc. No ketchup. Add a side salad (3g). The Caesar Salad with Grilled Chicken or the Bacon Ranch Salad with Grilled Chicken is 9g.
Burger King – same burger info as McDonald’s: burger (zero g) without the bun and topped with cheese, mayo, mustard, onion, etc. No ketchup. The tender grill chicken sandwich without the bun is 3g. BEWARE – you might think the veggie burger is low, but it’s 19g of carbs, so that’s about a full day’s worth of carbs on keto. Add a side salad (3g). The tender grilled chicken garden salad is 8g without dressing or croutons. The crispy chicken salad is not an option. Don’t try.
BONUS – dessert!?! – the fresh apple fritters are not fried and are 5g net carbohydrates WITHOUT caramel sauce.
Subway – You should probably skip Subway if you can. Buns and wraps are all high in carbohydrates. I guess you could just have them throw the ingredients in a wrapper without a bun, but that doesn’t sound appealing. I have no info on what the carb count would be for each bunless sub, but you can probably figure it out – chicken or pepperoni is fine, but is “sweet onion” chicken okay? No idea. Stick to the salads, but realize you only get iceberg lettuce (4g).
Carl’s Junior and Hardees – This chain offers “lettuce wraps” – your burger wrapped in a large piece of lettuce for easy low carb eating. (Like I said, I tried it and don’t love it. I like to carry my own fork instead.) Bottomless options – Six dollar burger (7g), 1/2 thick burger (5g), charbroiled chicken club sandwich (7g/10g at Hardees). Grilled chicken salad without croutons is 10g. Side salad is 3g.
Jimmy John’s – The Unwich – a sandwich wrapped in lettuce – fits here. Meat is fine, just make sure the ingredients are not high in carbohydrates.
Wendy’s – Again, you can get your burger in a salad wrap or a box. Any burger with toppings. Mayo has corn syrup and is 1g. The grilled chicken fillet is 1 g. It can be ordered in the chicken sandwich or the ultimate grilled chicken sandwich. Best salads: chicken Caesar (7g), blt chicken salad with grilled chicken. Side salads are 6g or 2g for Caesar.
Pizza Hut and other pizza places – It is possible to get used to eating pizza without a crust. You have to eat twice as much, but if there’s a party or dinner out that you can’t avoid at a pizza place, just slide off the cheesy toppings and eat the big messy pile of cheese and toppings. A side salad is a good addition. Otherwise, just choose to make pizza at home with a low-carb crust.
Mongolian grill – YES! Fill your bowl with chicken, shrimp, onion slices and mushrooms, then top with the Asian black bean sauce. I know beans have carbs, but this sauce label says 1 gram of carbs per serving. ounce (each sauce is clearly labeled). Add a bit of garlic and wait for the grill to do its job. It goes without saying that you skip appetizers, tortillas and rice. Ask the wait staff not to bring them to the table.
Italian restaurants – These require some cunning, but they can be conquered! Ideas: how about Chicken Marsala at an Italian place? Make sure it doesn’t come with pasta. Substitute broccoli or another keto-friendly side dish — or a big salad. Chicken piccata is also an option.
Mexican and Chinese restaurants are the hardest because any low carb option isn’t the reason to go to the restaurant in the first place. At a Mexican restaurant, I usually get a large burrito without beans and spread the soft tortilla out like a plate. Eat the inside ingredients and flip the tortilla.
If you MUST go to one Chinese buffet (I attended a funeral dinner at one time), you can find options, but they probably won’t be your favorite General Tso’s. What about choosing a salad bar? egg? the insides of egg rolls, and I even only ate the insides of crab rangoons. Unfortunately, these ideas leave a whole pile of discarded shells and deep-fried outside bits on your plate and make it look like you’re really wasting food.
Wings anywhere – Standard buffalo sauce is usually OK as well as garlic parmesan
Convenience stores may also be a good option! 7-11 has packages of hard-boiled eggs, cheese plates, slim jims, almonds and pork belly. Pork belly comes in a barbecue flavor and they are ZERO carbs.
Remember, whatever you choose, keep the bread, potatoes, rice, noodles, fries and tortillas. And watch out for the possibility of cornstarch, breadcrumbs and other fillers. With proper planning and a good attitude, you can find healthy keto and low-carb options when eating out and stick to your successful keto diet plan.
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