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Diabetes: Low-Carb Choices for Fast Food

Reviewed on 8/30/2019

Lettuce-Wrapped Burgers

A juicy cheeseburger should be only an occasional treat.

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.

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.

Egg Combos

Eggs are naturally carb-free.

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?

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:

  • Black olives
  • Cilantro
  • Guacamole
  • Salsa
  • Spinach

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.

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

A large order of fries may have your whole day's allotment for a low-carb diet.

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.

Grilled Chicken

Any piece of chicken -- breast, drumstick, thigh, or wing -- has 0 carbs as long as it's not breaded.

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.

Condiments Comparison

Watch what you dip your fries into or slather on your meats.

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.

Salads

They can make for filling, healthy-carb meals.

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.

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.

Soups

A cup of these soups can have under 20 grams of carbs.

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.

Downsize It

An easy way to cut your carbs is to order the smallest size.

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.

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.

Diabetes: Low-Carb Choices for Fast Food

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