Table at a fast-food restaurant

Did you know that the keto diet was not originally used for weight loss? According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, the "keto" in keto diet is actually short for "ketogenic" and was designed to help patients with epilepsy. However, since its creation, the diet has also been used to treat other health issues like Type 2 diabetes. And, yes, it’s used for weight management (although you should always speak with a health care professional before starting any diet plan).

The secret behind the keto diet is how your body produces energy, as Johns Hopkins explains. Normally, your body’s go-to source of energy is glucose. However, the traditional keto diet restricts the amount of carbohydrates you can take in while allowing you to consume larger amounts of fat and moderate amounts of protein. Greatly cutting down on carbs means the body has less glucose to work with, so it changes fat into ketones, which can be used for energy.

Of course, the keto diet becomes simpler if you always cook for yourself. But what about when you’re out with friends who all want a fast meal? After all, fast-food items like ketchup and wheat-based products like bread are no-nos on a traditional keto diet (per Healthline). But there are options. The following are suggestions to help you stay on the keto diet at fast-food restaurants. However, menus do change over time, and everyone’s dietary needs are different, so you should always double check the ingredients of a particular fast-food selection before ordering.

Wendy’s

Wendy's restaurant logo

In many ways, Wendy’s founder is just as iconic as its red pigtailed mascot. The late Dave Thomas, who appeared in a number of commercials for the fast-food franchise, started the business in Ohio in 1969 (per Wendy’s). And although Wendy’s menu has changed over the years, one of its staple items, square burgers, would seem like a bad choice for the keto diet.

But not so fast. As the Square Deal Blog points out, it is possible to sink your teeth into a Wendy’s burger without destroying your keto diet plan. It all comes down to how you order it. Of course, you’ll need to ask for no bun, which might sound like an odd way to eat a burger. However, you can either cut it up with a knife and fork or request the lettuce wrap version. And you do want to watch what condiments you’re using, but that doesn’t mean you have to eat a plain burger either.

For example, if you want a Dave’s Single, simply ask for no bun, onions, or ketchup for a keto-friendly meal that’s around 5% carbs (per Square Deal Blog). And if you want an even lower carb option, try the Dave’s Double, which is only about 4% carbs if you leave off the bun, onions, and ketchup. But if you’re craving a burger with more toppings, the Baconator (minus the bun) might be a great choice for you since you can have it with avocado, tomato, and pickles.

Subway

Subway restaurant logo

If it wasn’t for a nuclear physicist and a college student, there would be no Subway. As Subway tells it, it all started with Dr. Peter Buck, who wanted to help Fred DeLuca, an enterprising freshman who needed to figure out a way to pay for college. So, the two teamed up and opened the first Subway sandwich shop. Today, that simple idea has expanded to an international chain with more than 40,000 shops. Interesting backstory aside, however, it’s understandable that someone might think a place that specializes in submarine sandwiches wouldn’t be good for the keto diet.

But as WebMD explains, there are keto-friendly options at Subway especially since this chain is known for customizing orders to meet its customers’ wants and needs. For example, there are salads at Subway that are lower in carbs such as its Veggie Delite, Cold Cut Combo, and Rotisserie-Style Chicken ones. And dressings like oil, vinegar, and even Subway’s Caesar one (if you only use 14 grams) are good for the keto diet.

While Subway salads can be keto-friendly, let’s be honest, not everyone is into salad. Fortunately, Subway also offers protein bowls that (depending on which one you order) can fit a keto lifestyle (via WebMD). In particular, the tuna one is loaded with roughly 47 grams of fat and 26 grams of protein. And you can always add bacon, guacamole, or cheese if you want to add a bit more fat to your protein bowl. Just make sure to check the fat, protein, and carb count on a particular item.

Taco Bell

Taco Bell restaurant logo

Although the first Taco Bell opened in 1962, there were actually two precursors to this restaurant chain. According to the official timeline, its founder, Glen Bell, opened two restaurants in 1954: Bell’s Drive-In and Taco Tia. Once Taco Bell officially opened, it started being franchised roughly two years later and has grown not only because of its number of franchisees but also in terms of its menu.

Nevertheless, as registered dietician Carissa Galloway told Well+Good, "Keto eaters have it pretty rough at Taco Bell because they can’t have rice, they can’t have beans, and they can’t have tortilla wraps or taco shells." However, Galloway, as well as her fellow registered dietician Jessica Cording, both say ordering a Power Menu Bowl without rice can help you create a keto-friendly meal. In particular, they recommend choosing either steak or chicken, then adding toppings like lettuce, onion, extra cheese, and/or sour cream.

In addition, Taco Bell might be an option for breakfast if you’re on the keto diet. Per Healthline, Taco Bell’s Cheesy Toasted Breakfast Burrito can be modified to fit into a keto lifestyle. After all, this burrito is filled with eggs, bacon, and cheese sauce. The most important thing is to let whoever takes your order know that you want it without the tortilla.

Burger King

Burger King restaurant logo

It’s unlikely anyone could have foreseen Burger King’s future success when it first opened in 1954. Not only is it the second largest fast-food hamburger chain on the planet but it also serves more than 11 million people daily (per Burger King). And, if you’re on the keto diet, it’s still possible to enjoy one of its famous burgers … with a few modifications.

As Hip2Keto explains, variations of arguably one of Burger King’s best known sandwiches, the Whopper, can be made keto-friendly. The trick is to order items like the Whopper with Cheese, the Double Whopper with Cheese, and the Whopper Jr. without a bun. You also want to skip condiments like sauce and ketchup to avoid extra carbs sneaking into your meal. This approach can also help you tweak other Burger King favorites like the Bacon King Sandwich, the Double Bacon Cheeseburger, and the regular Cheeseburger.

OK, but what if just a burger isn’t enough flavor? That’s not a problem, according to Hip2Keto, which points out that toppings like lettuce, tomato, and pickles are all fine under the keto diet. And if you really miss that sauce or ketchup, you might want to try mustard or even something a bit adventurous like ranch or buffalo dipping sauce. As for condiments, KetoConnect notes that toppings are available at Burger King restaurants all day long, so you needn’t worry about whether you’re visiting for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

Arby’s

Arby's restaurant logo

Although quite a few fast-food chains focus on hamburgers, Arby’s menu is all about sandwiches. In fact, per the company website, it’s the second biggest sandwich restaurant brand and today has locations in nine countries. Of course, sandwiches can be an issue for a keto dieter because the bread can add to their carbs. However, that doesn’t mean Arby’s should be on your "restaurants to avoid" list.

As Mr. Skinny Pants explains, by ordering items like the Corned Beef Reuben or the Half Pound Beef N’ Cheddar without the bun, you can still enjoy a meal at Arby’s without ruining your keto carb count. In addition, some Arby’s locations offer salads, which depending on the ingredients, can be a great choice if you’re on the keto diet. Just be careful because condiments like the Bronco Berry Sauce and the Dijon Honey Mustard Dressing can add some serious carbs to your meal.

Although you can have a keto-friendly lunch or dinner at Arby’s, that doesn’t mean every item can be tweaked to fit your fat, protein, and carb needs. For example, mozzarella sticks and jalapeño bites are both loaded with carbs (via Mr. Skinny Pants). You also want to avoid menu items that have fried chicken like the Chicken Tenders. And, of course, fries are definitely out if you want to stick to your keto goals.

McDonald’s

McDonald's golden arches

Although it was Dick and Mac McDonald who created the first McDonald’s restaurant, it was Ray Kroc who franchised the operation; and it didn’t take long for it to take off. According to McDonald’s history, it was roughly four years after Kroc met the McDonald brothers that McDonald’s sold its 100 millionth burger. And although certain menu items have come and gone (like the grilled chicken), that doesn’t mean you can’t eat at McDonald’s if you’re on the keto diet.

Of course, hamburgers themselves can be a good choice for a keto diet, but not if they’re on a bun, as Hip2Keto reminds us. However, you can get menu items like a Quarter Pounder with Cheese and a McDouble without the bun, making them instantly keto-friendly. In fact, you can even order a Big Mac, although it will add a couple more grams of carbs to your total for the day. And keep in mind that these and other burgers like McDonald’s double cheeseburger, regular cheeseburger, and standard hamburger come with keto appropriate fixings like pickles and (except for the Big Mac) mustard.

Although McDonald’s burgers can be customized to fit your keto needs, there is one small difficulty you might run into depending on how you like to eat your bunless burger. Per Hip2Keto, not every McDonald’s offers lettuce-wrapped burgers. Yes, you can still get lettuce with your order, but it might be shredded. So, you might need to dig in with a knife and fork.

El Pollo Loco

El Pollo Loco restaurant

Since El Pollo Loco translates to "the crazy chicken," it’s not surprising that this fast-food chain with over 480 locations across six states — Arizona, California, Louisiana, Nevada, Texas, and Utah — is known in particular for its chicken dishes (via Forbes). But when it comes to the keto diet, El Pollo Loco boasts a unique menu item: The World’s First Keto Burrito.

According to the El Pollo Loco website, this burrito is Keto-certified. This means that the product must meet certain specifications regarding things like its carb content and its ingredients (via Keto Certified). But just because certain foods are not allowed under the keto diet doesn’t mean that The World’s First Keto Burrito doesn’t have a variety of ingredients. Made from a special keto-OK tortilla, El Pollo Loco’s keto burrito is packed with chopped chicken, slices of avocado, cotija cheese, red cabbage, organic super greens, pico de gallo salsa, and creamy cilantro dressing. And if any of those foods aren’t your thing, you can always customize your burrito to, for example, not have red cabbage or avocado.

In addition to The World’s First Keto Burrito, El Pollo Loco also offers the keto-friendly Double Chicken Avocado Salad on its Pollo Fit Menu. Like the keto burrito, this salad comes with pico de gallo salsa, avocados, cotija cheese, and organic super greens, as well as lettuce and corn. And, again, it’s customizable, so you can, for example, add creamy cilantro dressing.

Firehouse Subs

Firehouse Subs restaurant

With a name like Firehouse Subs, you’d assume that this fast-food chain has a link to firefighters — and you’d be right. Its founders, Chris and Robin Sorensen, came from a family that included both police officers and firefighters (per Firehouse Subs). Now, almost three decades after its creation, Firehouse Subs has more than 1,200 locations, all with customizable menu items that can fit a keto lifestyle.

As Hip2Keto explains, the way to make certain meals at Firehouse Subs keto-friendly is specifying "in a bowl" when you order. For example, if you want a Large New York Steamer Sub, simply ask for it with no bread or mayo and served in a bowl. And in case you’ve never had this Firehouse Subs menu item, it contains corned beef brisket, pastrami, provolone cheese, lettuce, and Italian salad dressing. Plus, if you order it in a bowl, it’s served on a bed of lettuce, making it like a hearty salad.

Another option at Firehouse Subs for the keto dieter is the Large Premium Roast Beef sub, but again, with some alterations. Just like with the Large New York Steamer, you want to ask for it in a bowl and to hold the bread and mayo. In addition, Hip2Keto recommends no onions but to keep the provolone cheese, tomato, iceberg lettuce, dill pickle spear, and, of course, the roast beef. And if you really miss the mayo, you can always substitute it for spicy mustard or oil.

Chipotle

Chipotle restaurant logo

If you thought Chipotle was a restaurant chain that’s unique to the United States, think again. As stated on its website, it maintains stores in the United Kingdom, Germany, Canada, and France. And while some of Chipotle’s menu items contain rice, tortillas, and taco shells (all of which can up your carbs and ruin your keto diet), that doesn’t mean keto dieters shouldn’t consider Chipotle when dining out.

In 2019, Chipotle introduced "Lifestyle Bowls" to its menu, which included a special Keto Salad Bowl (via USA Today). Predesigned to meet the needs of a keto-friendly meal, this bowl contains chicken, freshly shredded cheese, guacamole, crispy super greens, and tomatillo-red chili salsa. And if you want to make changes, you can, for example, switch out the chicken for another keto option: steak. Interestingly, the creation of this new menu item spotlighted how Chipotle’s menu had always been friendly to different diets, including keto.

Chris Brandt, Chipotle’s chief marketing officer, said in a statement at the time that the fast-food chain’s customers were often creating "lifestyle-specific bowls" on their own and that observation is what led to the creation of the "Lifestyle Bowls" (via USA Today). So, if you’re not in the mood for the Keto Salad Bowl, you can also customize your own keto-friendly meal creation — just as some customers had been doing all along. And to help you, Chipotle’s website has a nutritional calculator.

Carl’s Jr.

Carl's Jr. restaurant bag

Even if you travel internationally, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll find a Carl’s Jr. location. After all, this nearly eight-decades-old business has restaurants in 28 countries (per Carl’s Jr.). And in 2020, the fast-food chain expanded its menu to include several keto-friendly options.

To commemorate National Keto Day (January 5), Carl’s Jr. in 2020 introduced lettuce-wrap versions of its Jalapeño Thickburger, Guacamole Bacon Thickburger, and Original Thickburger (via QSR Magazine). All three of these meals are made with 100% Angus beef patty, as well as tomatoes, red onions, and fresh iceberg lettuce. Other ingredients (which vary from item to item) include pepper jack cheese, American cheese, Santa Fe sauce, guacamole, pickles, and mustard.

It’s important to note that, currently, Carl’s Jr. no longer lists these three items as optional lettuce wraps on its website. However, as per Keto Connect, you can still order the Thickburgers, as well as other Carl’s Jr. items, as lettuce wraps. Note, however, that they are not referred to as Thickburgers on the Carl Jr.’s website, although the URLs still use the term "Thickburger." And one last word of caution: The Original Thickburger as a lettuce wrap could come with ketchup and mayo, which other sources cited in this article have recommended eliminating from other fast-food restaurants to truly turn an item keto-friendly. So, depending on your carb quota, you might want to make some alterations to your meal.

Sonic Drive-In

Sonic Drive-In restaurant

Sonic Drive-In is a unique fast-food experience in that you park your car, order the food, and eat it right there (if you choose to). Originally called the Top Hat Drive-In, the brand officially became Sonic in 1959 and according to its official story (of "service at the speed of sound"), Sonic and its more than 3,500 locations serve over 3 million customers every day. Unique dining experience aside, though, Sonic’s hot dog and burger offerings can indeed be keto-friendly — if you make a few tweaks when you order.

As Hip2Keto explains, the Sonic Bacon Double Cheeseburger can work as a keto diet meal if you lose the bun and the ketchup. Similarly, you can alter an All American Dog from Sonic’s hot dog menu to fit your keto diet by asking for no bun, ketchup, and relish. In addition, the Classic Grilled Chicken Sandwich (minus the bun) is a good choice and comes with keto-friendly toppings like tomato and lettuce. And don’t forget the Chili Cheese Coney (again without the bun) can also be a good meal, but the chili does contain some carbs, so you might want to skip this one depending on how many fats, proteins, and carbs you’ve eaten on a particular day.

Besides lunch and dinner, Sonic also has a keto-friendly breakfast item: The Bacon Breakfast Burrito. Of course, you can’t have it with the tortilla, but it is possible to get this item bread-free in a bowl. Plus, if you’re not feeling like having bacon, you can swap it out for other keto-OK foods like grilled chicken or sausage.