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The best keto fast food choices at McDonald's, In-N-Out, Taco Bell and more

You don't have to ditch fast food if you're on the keto diet.

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This story is part of New Year, New You, everything you need to develop healthy habits that will last all the way through 2020 and beyond.

Are you in ketosis right now? The latest of the low-carbohydrate diets continues to grow in popularity as would-be beach bod-havers swap sandwich bread, buns and french fries for bacon, cheese and guacamole. One highly-attractive element of the keto diet plan is that it doesn't restrict calories as much as most other diets, so you can have tasty food -- and eat it, too -- just as long as it's the right type of calories. And fortunately, that includes crave-able comfort foods like meat, cheese and avocado.

If you don't know, the keto diet (more formally known as the ketogenic diet) is the elimination of most carbohydrates and sugar in nearly all forms and a carefully calculated blitz of fat (and protein) meant to send your metabolism into a state of ketosis. When this happens, ketones are created from fat (since there are no carbs or sugar present to supply) and used for fuel at a much higher rate, resulting in rapid weight loss along with spikes in energy, according to adherents of the keto diet.

To break it down a bit further, the average keto dieter looks to keep their carb intake between 15 and 20 grams per day (or less), depending on body type. To put that in perspective, a single apple or banana has over 25 grams of carbs alone, so navigating a keto diet on any restaurant menu can be tricky but you'll have to do even more homework and question-asking at fast-food and fast-casual chains where carb-loaded burger buns and french fries run rampant. 

Though national chains have been somewhat slow to catch up to the fad, Chipotle announced keto bowls early in 2019 and it may not be too long before others follow suit. Until then, we did some digging into the menus of some of the nation's most popular fast food and fast-casual chains to help you pick low-carb options and stay in full ketosis, even during those weeks when meal prep just wasn't an option.

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Wendy's, McDonald's, Burger King, Shake Shack and In-N-Out

Burger joints can be fairly keto-friendly as long as you're willing to give up the buns and french fries and some chains like Shake Shack will even sub a lettuce wrap in for the keto-busting bread. Here are the best low-carb, keto options at burger joints. And even though calorie counting is not a cornerstone of the keto diet, do be conscious of calorie intake, especially at fast food burger joints, as they can have other negative implications on health. 

What to eat

Wendy's Double Baconator has loads of fat and 53 grams of protein with only 2 grams of carbs, when you lose the bun. Go whole hog with a bunless Quarter Pounder with Cheese or Big Mac (or two) at McDonald's, but add extra bacon or cheese, and hold the special sauce (which is, sadly, high in sugar). Go Double Whopper at BK and ask for loads of extra toppings and big pieces of lettuce to wrap it up in. 

As we mentioned, Shake Shack will hook you up with a lettuce wrap to replace its famous potato buns and feel free to load up on Shack Sauce, cheese and bacon and you're still likely to stay under 3 net carbs. At west coast favorite In-N-Out Burger, go for a semi-secret menu item "The Flying Dutchman," which is two patties with two slices of cheese melted in between. And you should definitely get that "Animal Style" with extra spread, pickles and grilled onions. 

A bunless grilled chicken sandwich, which they most have a version of, is another viable option and though you can't have the fries, tots or a Wendy's baked potato on the side, most offer side salads. Just be careful to choose a full-fat, low-carb dressing. And don't even think about opening that packet of croutons, mister.

What to watch out for

Be careful of some sauces and salad dressings that often contain loads of sugar. Ketchup is one of the sneakiest culprits and should be eaten in moderation or not at all, but go nuts with mustard, mayo, onions, pickles and other tasty toppers.

Full milk fat dressings like buttermilk ranch and Caesar are your best options for salads, and while Wendy's beef chilli might seem like a good high fat choice, those carby beans will throw your keto diet off track in a hurry. Also, avoid veggie burgers or Shake Shack's mushroom burger, which are all loaded with breadcrumbs and beans.

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Panera Bread

Panera Bread

Panera has gotten healthier over the past few years, eliminating harmful chemicals and additives and offering more transparency with its menu. Obviously, the sandwiches are mostly off-imits but there are some workarounds and you definitely have some great keto options for Panera Bread.

What to eat

Sandwiches (with no bread). The dang delicious bread at PB is obviously a keto non-starter but sandwiches like The Cuban and Bacon Turkey Bravo have a lot of high protein/fat ingredients like pulled pork, ham, cheese, turkey and bacon so ask for them on a bed of greens. Unlike most burger joints, Panera keeps fresh avocado on hand (a perfect keto food), so load up on avocado, bacon, (some) nuts and cheese.

Salads can be OK but be conscious that many contain high carb-count dressings and toppings such as tortilla strips, corn or ancient grains that will surely sabotage your hard-earned ketosis. The Green Goddess Salad, with egg, avocado, bacon and tomato is one of your best bets.

What to watch out for

Unfortunately, the soups and sides are mostly a no at Panera for keto folks. Soups made with regular or lower-fat milks are jacked up with sugar to make up for taste. A lot of the soups also contain flour for thickening and the turkey chili contains beans, another keto no-no. Panera offers a bounty of keto-busting sides too, such as a piece of bread (no way), bag of chips (sorry, sister) and fruit or fruit cup (still no).

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Taco Bell

Taco Bell

The key to surviving "the Bell" (besides having Pepto handy) is to avoid beans, corn and tortillas at all costs, which can make things tricky. But fear not: We have ideas for keeping keto at Taco Bell. 

What to eat

Try a Cantina Power Bowl and skip the rice and beans, opting for romaine lettuce, extra protein, guacamole and lots of hot sauce. Don't be afraid of full-fat sour cream and extra cheese; both keto-friendly and oh so good.

What to watch out for

Corn in all its forms is super high in glucose and carbohydrates, so even a few kernels might push you over the edge. Make sure to ask as sometimes corn sneaks into salsas and other menu items. And no chips, tortillas or taco shells.

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Chipolte

Chipotle

As we mentioned, Chipotle has separated itself from the pack early with a line of keto-friendly bowls (one is paleo-friendly too). As a bonus Chipolte generally uses much higher-quality meats and proteins than do their fast food counterparts, partnering mostly with farms that raise animals without added hormones or nontherapeutic antibiotics. Here are the best keto diet options at everyone's favorite Chipolte. 

What to eat

The Keto Bowls, of course. These low-carb options eliminate rice and beans and sub in lettuce with amped-up portions of guacamole, veggies, and meats, of which you have many to choose from including pork carnitas, free-range chicken, steak, chorizo, carne asada (new). You know the drill.

What to watch out for

Rice, beans, and tortilla shells may be obvious items to avoid but watch out for the corn salsa too. Beyond the bowls you can do a salad with lots of good keto-friendly toppings, but sub in salsa or guac for the salad dressing. The other sauces are mostly OK but tomato has a fairly high sugar count so try to eat in moderation. Stay away from any sugary drinks and don't let those cold Coronas in the fridge tempt you either. 

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Subway

Subway

Subway seems like it might be a bust, but don't forget that it has salads now and all of the options you have for sandwich toppings that you can add to your meal. Meats, cheeses, veggies, pickles, jalapenos and lots more. It'll also gladly turn your favorite sandwich into a salad per this blog post like the Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki (pictured above). Here's how to eat keto at Subway.

What to eat

Go with one of Subway's signature salads like the Italian Chopped Salad or Subway Club Salad. Or start with greens and then have a field day with cold cuts, grilled chicken, bacon, mayo or whatever else. Tuna and chicken salad are also good options -- just use full-fat low-sugar salad dressings or just oil and vinegar to finish it. Watch out for those pesky vinaigrettes that often contain added sugar.

What to watch out for

The Subway sauces are a minefield of unwanted carbs (the sweet onion teriyaki has 18 alone). Try to stick with the ranch or Caesar. Meatballs are also a no-go, containing dastardly breadcrumbs.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.