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You don’t have to stray from your keto or low-carb diet just because you’re dining out. These tips will help you make smart carb choices.

Kimberly Holland
July 03, 2018

If you’re new to the ketogenic (keto) diet, the idea of dining out may seem overwhelming. Truth is, keto is one of the easiest diets to maintain when you’re eating outside your home. In today’s food allergy and sensitivity landscape, many restaurants are more than willing to work with unique diet requests, so don’t be afraid to ask.

Follow these guidelines for eating out on the keto lifestyle:

Skip the starches

Banish the bun. Many sandwiches and burgers will work just fine for keto eaters if you skip the carb-rich buns or bread. Ask for a cheeseburger wrapped in lettuce or served naked. It’s basically just a hamburger steak, after all. Check that the protein isn’t fried or dipped in a carb-rich coating. Substitute fried chicken for grilled in sandwiches, for example.

Pass on the potatoes and rice. If you’ve found grilled chicken with veggies and potatoes on the “light’ menu, ask them to double the steamed veggies and skip the starchy side. The restaurant may even be willing to sub the potatoes or rice for a salad. You can load it up with healthy fat-rich olive oil for a deliciously easy keto meal.

Say ta-ta to tortillas. Fajitas are an easy keto-friendly option when you’re at your favorite Mexican restaurant. Just ask them to hold the tortillas and substitute guacamole salad for the rice or side of black beans. Likewise, most taco fillings are keto-friendly, so just eat the meat and toppings and skip the shells. If the tortillas are too tempting, ask them to just serve the filling on a bed of lettuce.

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Be smart about sauces

Since you’re not in the confidence of your own kitchen, you have to use your strongest carb-detecting skills. Spreads, gravies, and dipping sauces are often completely keto-friendly, but they can be a sneaky source of flour and sugar. White gravies, for example, use flour as a thickener in almost every case. Hollandaise gets the thumbs up; cocktail sauce does not. Flavored mayonnaises and aiolis are always a safe bet; sriracha has sugar, but it’s okay in small doses.

Ask the server if the sauces served with your dish have either ingredient. If they aren’t sure, sub for something you know is safe, like ranch or blue cheese dressing or aioli. If you think it’s safe and just want to taste it first, ask for it on the side.

Add a healthy fat

With keto, you always need to look for ways to add more fats to your meal. After all, keto isn’t just a low-carb diet plan; it’s primary focus is eating lots of fat throughout the day.

Thankfully, it’s easy to find delicious ways to boost your fat content in restaurant meals. Ask for melted butter to drizzles over veggies. You can also ask them to make your side of steamed veggies “loaded” with sour cream, cheese, and bacon. For burgers or pieces of grilled chicken, ask for a fat-rich sauce like salad dressing, mayonnaise, avocado slices, or a side of guacamole.

If you’ve got a side salad, ask for extra-virgin olive oil. If you’re not sure the oil is really EVOO, go for a creamy option like ranch, blue cheese, or Parmesan. Some restaurants use soybean or sunflower oils in place of EVOO. They’re OK, but they sometimes contain a greater proportion of omega-6 fats. Too many omega-6s can lead to inflammation. Plus, the flavor isn’t as rich and powerful as true EVOO.

Ditch dessert

You might be tempted to fork into a piece of Death by Chocolate cake if everyone at the table is splitting a slice. Sure, a bite won’t set you back entirely, but it could set you up for some serious cravings later.

Provide yourself with a safe keto-friendly dessert out. Order coffee with cream, and sip slowly while everyone dines on dessert. If you want a bit of sweetness to end the meal, ask for a cup of berries with a side of cream. Mash them together for a sweet pudding-like treat.

You can also ask if the restaurant serves a cheese plate for dessert. Many come with keto-friendly berries, so you can still nibble but not splurge on sweets.

Be creative

Some restaurants may pose a serious problem unless you’re able to get very creative with your options. Italian restaurants, for example, may not have much that doesn’t come on a bed of pasta. Many Italian sauces, like bolognese, however, are totally keto friendly. Ask for a bowl or cup of sauce to be served like soup with a side of steamed veggies. Sprinkle with a hefty bit of Parmesan for a delicious option.

At pizza joints, you may struggle to find an option that doesn’t come on a crispy crust, but pizza toppings get the keto thumbs up. Scrape the toppings off, and let someone else finish off the crust. Better yet, search their appetizer menu for keto-friendly options like chicken wings or creamy spinach dip. Eat with celery or carrots instead of carb-loaded chips.

Safe requests for keto-eaters when dining out

Mexican: Order fajitas without tortillas; double the guacamole salad to replace rice or beans.

Italian: Get the antipasto platter if they offer one. These often come with cured meats, olives, cheeses, and sometimes even seafood. Salads are often safe and may come loaded with olives, meat, and cheese. Ask them to hold the croutons or crispy toppings. In a pinch, grilled chicken or steak with a side of steamed veggies will work.

American: Burgers are a go-to keto-friendly option. Ask them to hold the bun and serve as a fork-and-knife meal. Instead of fries, ask for a salad or side of veggies if they have them. Chicken wings with a side of celery or carrots and a cup of ranch or blue cheese is also a safe bet.

Pizza: Check out the appetizer menu for a keto-friendly option like a dip you can eat with celery or carrots or salad. Wings are also a great options, but only if they’re not coated in a crispy crust.

Seafood: The sky's the limit here. Just make sure the sides aren’t starch-filled. Substitute rice, potatoes, or any pasta with steamed or roasted veggies and a side of melted butter.

Japanese: Hibachi gets the keto thumbs up. Just ask them to hold the rice and double up on the ginger salad.

Sushi: Hand rolls are your best bet because they’re easy to eat without the rice.

Thai: Coconut soup is a good option, as long as they don’t include tofu or rice. Likewise, coconut curries are a great source of fats; hold the rice, and ask if they’ve added any sugar. Larb is often keto friendly—it’s even served in lettuce cups. Satay can be approved as long as the sauce has no added sugar.

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