Eating Out at Keto-Friendly Restaurants - dummies

Eating Out at Keto-Friendly Restaurants

By Vicki Abrams, Rami Abrams

A host of restaurants will have something satisfying and low-carb for keto diet followers to enjoy during a meal out. Although you may need to tweak a thing or two, many restaurants will be well-prepared for customers who choose a keto lifestyle and will happily make a swap from high-carb foods to something that will fit into your diet. More and more restaurants are beginning to boast a “low-carb” section of the menu that will help take the guesswork out of ordering.

keto-friendly restaurant
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It’s a good idea take a couple of moments to check the restaurant’s online menu to get a sense of the lay of the (food) land. This way, before you sit down to your meal, you’ll be prepared with a few ideas about what to choose, as well as the questions you’ll need to have answered before ordering. Many restaurants include a modest list of the ingredients in the entrées so you can identify if it fits into your lifestyle. Scoping out the menu gives you a chance to see how keto-friendly the restaurant really is, as well as important characteristics like sensitivity to dietary concerns (such as gluten-free options) and food quality (such as grass-fed beef and organic fare).

Avoid sugary drinks and potatoes

Are there keto drinks besides water? The best bet when you go out is to drink water. Naturally carb-free, it’s the top choice for staying hydrated and keeping you full and resistant to the sugar-sweetened desserts and carbs that are all too easy to indulge in at most restaurants. But you also can ask for other carb-free options, such as diet soda or sugar-free lemonade.

See The Guide to Keto Alcohol: The Complete Guide to Low Carb Drinking.

Here are some great keto-friendly beverage options when you’re eating out:

  • Water or sparkling water, with or without lemon: The classic choice. You’ll never go wrong with this refreshing liquid. Many restaurants are catching up with the infused water trend and may accommodate your request for a little extra flavor added to your water.
  • Coffee: This is a valid option as an after-dinner treat or at a coffee shop. Drink it plain or add a splash of cream or half-and-half.
  • Tea: Herbal, black, and green teas are good options. Most restaurants have multiple varieties and will be happy to provide more hot water. Make sure that if you choose an iced tea, it comes unsweetened.
  • Dry wines: These tend to have about 4 grams of carbs per 5-ounce glass and are a good option if you’re choosing to have some alcohol with your meal or you’re out celebrating with friends and family.
  • Light beer: This alcoholic option may have even fewer carbs than a glass of wine, depending on the brand. It’s an excellent choice for a low-carb treat.

Regular soft drinks are iconic pairs with many restaurant dishes, but they pack on the carbs unbelievably quickly. An average soft drink contains 39 grams of sugar, or nearly 10 teaspoons per glass! If you’re from the South, you’re familiar with the delicious treat known as sweet tea — unfortunately, it has at least as much sugar as a Coke or Pepsi.

Potatoes are another popular item that come in more forms than you can count; unfortunately, they’re off the menu. Many restaurants, including fast-food fare, offer salads, however, so trade in those spuds for spinach!

Steakhouses and barbeque on the keto plan

These restaurants are a keto lover’s dream. You’ll have a lot of different fatty beef prepared in numerous ways, as well as options for seafood and chicken if you choose. Go to town on a ribeye steak and enjoy it with extra butter or creamy sauce with some roasted veggies. You may have to skip some of the barbecue sauce because they often have added sugar (usually honey or brown sugar). Also, stay away from all types of fries, as well as any sugar-filled desserts.

Generally speaking, you’ll want to avoid anything that’s been breaded, because this is a significant source of hidden carbohydrates. Ordering a side Caesar salad is a great choice, but make sure that they hold the croutons! Coleslaw is a popular side at barbeque joints and is typically very keto-friendly; just ask if they’ve added any unique ingredients that may challenge your macros.

If you’re in the mood for a burger, you’re in luck! This traditional American fare has a very keto-friendly base, but you’ll want to avoid the bun, ketchup, and any kind of barbecue sauce. Most restaurants are happy to replace the bread with a lettuce wrap, saving valuable carbs from your daily allowance. If you like mustard, however, feel free to go to town! Other traditional hamburger toppings like lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and pickles are usually great options for keto.

Buffets for keto followers

You should be able to find a host of options at buffets because they’re based on diversity. You can choose grilled or roasted meat or poultry, as well as salads and steamed or grilled veggies. Choose an oil-based vinaigrette over the low-fat or fruity-flavored salad dressings. Sometimes, you’ll need to ask them to bring out these options, but most restaurants have them. Choose egg-based dishes if it’s time for brunch. Stay away from most fried meats because they’ll likely have a breading or flour coating, adding unwanted carbs to your meal.

One solid strategy is to leave “breathing room” on your plate. Mimic the portions you would have at home, knowing you can always make a second trip if you like. Studies have repeatedly shown that the more food we put on our plates, the more we eat; forcing yourself to make several trips will help dial those calories down and help you make better, more intentional choices each time. Start off with a salad, then make a second trip for your entrée.

A crucial element to controlling portion size is the speed at which you eat. If you chow down quickly, your body’s hormones lag behind your intake, and you end up overeating and feeling stuffed and miserable. That food isn’t going anywhere, so take your time — enjoy the company of your family or friends and the atmosphere, putting as much effort into conversation as you are into chewing!

Seafood restaurants and the keto diet

Seafood is a great option. You’ll get your fill of omega-3s with hearty, fatty fish. You can choose crustaceans like shrimp, lobster, and crabs, which are often lower in carbs than mollusks. Make sure you don’t get any deep-fried breaded options like calamari. Salmon is also always a great option because it’s high in protein and heart-healthy omega-3s, as well as a host of vitamins and minerals. Choose seasonal grilled or steamed veggies as your side. Ask for extra butter or a cream-based sauce to make it a true keto dream.

As a general rule, any of the fish or crustaceans on the menu are keto-approved. What isn’t is the breading that often accompanies them. Crab that’s been drenched in butter, for example, is a fantastic dish you should have no qualms about chowing down on. Crab cakes, however, are loaded with carbs and need to be on the “no-go” list.

Dishes that are advertised as “fresh” or “pan-fried” are better options than anything that’s been deep-fried. On the off-chance that you actually find something deep-fried that isn’t smothered in breading, it’s still prepared in the same oil that all the other breaded dishes go through and could be a source of a significant number of hidden carbs.

Many restaurants pair seafood with pasta; as appetizing as it looks, both the pasta and the sauce that accompanies it are normally out of bounds for ketoers. Thankfully, any place that offers noodles often places as much of an emphasis on salads as they do the traditional Italian offerings, so flip over to that section of the menu and have at it!

Mediterranean restaurants and keto diet followers

Mediterranean food may have some of the best options available for heart health, with an easy choice to slather extra-virgin olive oil on virtually everything you eat. This is also one of the broadest genres of dining fare: Mediterranean food pulls offerings from Greek, Italian, Spanish, Algerian, Libyan, Moroccan, Lebanese, Syrian, Turkish, and Israeli dishes. These wide-ranging culinary approaches have a few things in common. One is a heavy emphasis on olive oil, which should pique any keto dieter’s interest. Fresh vegetables and a wide range of healthy cheeses, both hard and soft, are also typically seen in this type of cuisine. One aspect of Mediterranean dining is that, although fresh breads and pita are a staple, they’re rarely combined in the ways you see in American fare. Carbs here are often served as standalone offerings, making them easy to exclude from your plate.

Most Mediterranean restaurants will have fresh fish and seafood available, as well as options for lamb or chicken. You can also enjoy low-carb seasonal veggies like peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, and spinach. Opt for a side salad or grilled vegetables over starchy options like gyros or breaded foods. Make sure to squeeze lemon on your fish or salad and benefit from the herbs used in Mediterranean spices like mint, oregano, and garlic for extra flavor and antioxidants. Choose right, and you’ll get healthy fats filled with monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) and omega-3s.

One potentially surprising element of Mediterranean dining is the health benefits introduced by vinegar, which is a staple of this kind of food. Vinegar improves insulin sensitivity and assists in weight loss efforts. It also suppresses appetite and delays the speed at which sugar enters your bloodstream.

Japanese restaurants and the keto plan

Japanese food tends to be high in fresh seafood, as well as fermented foods like miso and pickled seaweed salad or ginger. These are great options.

Rice is a huge component of Japanese dining, and this is off-limits for keto. You’ll also want to avoid the edamame; 1/2 cup of these delicious soybeans contain about 9 grams of carbs! If you’re a fan of seaweed salad, beware that although the base is very healthy, it’s usually flavored with a variety of flavor-inducing agents that tend to be pretty high in sugar.

Focus on the sashimi rather than the sushi menu to avoid rice, or ask if they’re willing to make rolls with only seaweed wrapping (some will!). If you’d rather not eat raw food, choose the yakitori, which includes grilled meats and veggies. Make sure to stay away from tempura (deep fried and breaded), as well as teriyaki sauces, which tend to have a lot of sweeteners. Instead, ask for miso soup or tamari/soy sauce for flavoring. If you enjoy ramen, you can always ask them to skip the noodles and enjoy a hearty pork broth with all the extra meat, egg, mushroom, and green onions you want.

If you can find it, Konjac ramen is an excellent choice. Unlike traditional ramen noodles, Konjac is made from the root of the elephant yam and is very low-carb (typically 3 grams per 100 grams of noodles).

As far as drink options go, green tea is an excellent option and widely available. If you feel like going for a more adult beverage, sake is on the approved list, but beer tacks on the carbohydrates quickly.

Chinese restaurants and the keto diet

Chinese food can be a great option, as long as you stay away from many of the sauces that will be sweetened with sugars or have hidden thickening agents like potato starches; these can dramatically increase your carb intake without your realizing it. Choose chicken, beef, or tofu options without these added sauces. Instead, opt for steamed or roasted options, as well as fatty cuts of meats like pork belly. Good choices are egg foo young, steamed pork ribs, roasted duck, and steamed veggies like bok choy and broccoli.

Many Chinese dishes are deep-fried — avoid these because the same oil has likely been used to fry every dish with breading, even if what you ordered is (allegedly) virtually carb-free. The upside of this is that steamed food is nearly as popular, presenting a much healthier set of choices. Steamed fish, tofu, and vegetables shouldn’t be difficult to find.

When considering soups and sauces, choose any options that are thinner and clearer, such as egg drop soup, rather than thick liquids that are almost certainly loaded with sugar and/or cornstarch. Sauces you should avoid include sweet and sour, hoisin, duck sauce, plum sauce, and oyster sauce — these sauces are loaded with extra sugar.

Traditional Chinese dishes that employ savory over sugary additives, however, include chicken with mushrooms, curry chicken, moo goo gai pan, and Szechuan prawns. Stir-fried dishes often have some cornstarch, but not nearly as much as those that have been prepared by deep-frying; if you’re dining at a traditional restaurant rather than a buffet, you can ask if the chef will leave the starch out of your stir-fry. Walnut chicken is another favorite dish that is traditionally made without sugar or starch.

If you eat at a Chinese restaurant, just say no to hoisin, plum, oyster, or sweet-and-sour sauces.