Medically Reviewed by Christine Mikstas, RD, LD on August 30, 2021
A juicy cheeseburger should be only an occasional treat. Ditch the high-carb buns or ask for the meat patties wrapped in lettuce. You’ll keep the flavor and protein, but little to no empty carbs. If bread is a must, try eating your burger with just one bun instead of two. Go easy on ketchup, mayo, and other condiments.
Skip the Sodas
It’s easy to drink your carbs. Regular soft drinks, sweetened teas, and milkshakes can soak up your daily carb allowance. Opt for water (you can flavor it with lemon or other fresh fruit). Try your specialty coffee drink with almond milk, which has half the carbs of a 2% cow’s milk.
Eggs are naturally carb-free. They also pack protein to help ward off a growling tummy. So order eggs on their own, or mixed with spinach, tomatoes, and other veggies. Go with all egg whites and you’ll also save on cholesterol. Just watch out if they’re served along with muffins, croissants, pancakes, and other high-carb companions.
Toss the Tortilla
In the mood for Mexican or Southwestern fare? Try a salad bowl instead of burritos. Feel free to load up on health-friendly ingredients like:
Go easy on black or refried beans, sour cream, and chips.
How Low Is Low-Carb?
It’s when you limit yourself to less than half of the daily recommended 130 grams of carbohydrates. So you eat just 20 to 60 grams each day by cutting out unhealthy and processed carbs. They raise your blood sugar levels more quickly than protein and fats do. Cutting back may help keep your insulin levels steady, your type 2 diabetes in check, and lower your blood pressure.
Take a Pass on the Fries
Talk about a carb bomb. A large order of fries may have your whole day’s allotment for a low-carb diet. Onion rings or waffle fries aren’t much better, either. Order a healthier side like a salad, fruit, or yogurt.
Any piece of chicken -- breast, drumstick, thigh, or wing -- has 0 carbs as long as it’s not breaded. So go with poultry items that say “grilled” instead of “fried,” “crispy,” or are coated with buttermilk.
Watch what you dip your fries into or slather on your meats. Ketchup has more carbs than mayonnaise. Regular mustard is a better pick than honey mustard. And hot or chili sauces usually have less sugar and carbs than barbecue sauce.
They can make for filling, healthy-carb meals. Chicken salad, Greek salad, and strawberry caprese salad all have under 20 grams of carbs. If you’re in a sub or sandwich shop, ask if they can turn your order into a salad. Skip the croutons. Ranch dressing usually has a third fewer carbs than balsamic vinaigrette and half as much as Italian dressing. Use only as much dressing as you really need.
Kung Pao Chicken
American Chinese food is known for lots of carb-heavy sauces. But this popular dish of chicken, peanuts, vegetables, and chili peppers has just 14 grams of carbs. Look for entrees without sticky glazes. Take a pass on chow mein and other noodles, rice of any kind, and the fortune cookies. Many fast foods are high in salt, sugar, and fat, so eat home-cooked meals whenever possible.
Chicken noodle. Vegetable. Broccoli cheddar. A cup of these soups can have under 20 grams of carbs. And when you slurp them before a meal, you tend to get fuller faster. Tip: Broth-based soups are usually lower in calories and carbs than creamy soups.
An easy way to cut your carbs is to order the smallest size. One large fries can have more than twice the carbs as a small serving. Ditto for sodas and milkshakes.
What to Watch For
Low-carb doesn’t always mean healthy, especially at fast-food chains. When it comes to carbs, avoid “empty” ones from processed foods and go for healthy carbs from fresh fruits, whole grains, and vegetables. And if you eat low-carb all the time, you may miss out on important nutrients like fiber, magnesium, and some vitamins. You also might feel tired or get muscle cramps or headaches. That’s because carbs are your body’s top source of energy.
IMAGES PROVIDED BY:
4) Flickr/Michael Saechang
American Diabetes Association: “What Can I Eat? Fast Food Tips.”
Current Obesity Reports: “What Are We Putting in Our Food That Is Making Us Fat? Food Additives, Contaminants, and Other Putative Contributors to Obesity.”
Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice: “Efficacy of low carbohydrate diet for type 2 diabetes mellitus management: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials.”
Harvard Health Publishing: “What's the scoop on bone soup?
International Food Information Council Foundation: “Going Low-Carb? Here’s What Your Diet Will Be Missing.”
JAMA Internal Medicine: "Changes in Sodium Levels in Processed and Restaurant Foods, 2005 to 2011."
Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Mayo Clinic: “Low-carb diet: Can it help you lose weight?”
Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion: “Appendix 7. Nutritional Goals for Age-Sex Groups Based on Dietary Reference Intakes and Dietary Guidelines Recommendations.”