Life on the keto diet can be challenging as you carefully track macronutrients (carbs, protein, and fat) to turn your body into a fat-burning machine. But eating out isn't something you have to completely eliminate.
What follows is a list of keto-friendly meals at popular chain restaurants, vetted by Jonathan Valdez, registered dietitian and media spokesperson for the New York State Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and Pegah Jalali, MS, CDN, and registered dietitian at Middleberg Nutrition.
Jalali told Business Insider that keto, a high-fat, low-carb, and moderate protein diet, is not for everyone.
"If someone is pursuing keto, they should work with a healthcare professional who understands the diet and can help keep patients safe and thriving," Jalali said. "Keto has many side effects, and if patients want to do it long-term, they need to be closely monitored."
Though the following chain restaurant meals tick the boxes when looking at carbohydrate, fat, and protein content (the recommended ratios of which will differ from person to person), it's also important to note that it's probably best to limit how often you're consuming these items.
"Food quality is really important, especially on keto when the diet is so high in fat as some fats can be very inflammatory," Jalali said. "Restaurant foods tend to be overly processed, not good quality, and high in preservatives which can increase the sodium load."
That said, here are 10 of the best keto meal options at chain restaurants.
Garlic shrimp scampi at Red Lobster
Nutrition facts: 440 calories; 35g fat; 4g net carbohydrates; 24g protein
Valdez recommended adding four tablespoons of olive oil to achieve a more keto-friendly ratio, as the protein content of the base dish is high compared to the amount of fat. As another option, Valdez suggested the classic Caesar salad with half the amount of salmon plus one tablespoon of olive oil, or with half the amount of chicken plus three tablespoons of olive oil.
Asian Caesar salad at P. F. Chang's
Nutrition facts: 410 calories; 30g fat; 17g net carbohydrates; 15g protein
Order this salad without the wonton croutons to cut the carb content, Valdez recommended, and add two tablespoons of dressing to get more calories from fat. As another option, order the Northern-style spare ribs.
Jalali recommended eating a half portion here, while adding one tablespoon of olive oil and a half cup of iceberg lettuce for some added fiber. "One of the biggest side effects [of keto] is constipation, as the diet can be low in fiber and fluids, so choosing high-fiber, low-carb foods is very important," Jalali said. "So is drinking plenty of water."
Chargrilled ribeye (12 oz) at Outback Steakhouse
Nutrition facts: 890 calories; 68g fat; 0g net carbohydrates; 65g protein
Modify this dish by eating half of the steak, adding two tablespoons of butter, olive oil, or canola oil (or a blend of these types of fat), and ordering a side of buttered or grilled low-carb, non-starchy vegetables, Valdez said.
Valdez added that you should request meat servings of around two to three ounces to maintain ideal fat to protein ratios for keto. Jalali pointed to the grilled asparagus as a good vegetable option, and echoed Valdez's suggestion of modifying protein servings for the steaks and seafood on the menu.
Chicken piccata (dinner) at Olive Garden
Nutrition facts: 530 calories; 27g fat; 9g net carbohydrates; 60g protein
Jalali liked the lunch portion of this meal better as it contains half the amount of protein, but added that it still needs a bit more fat and recommended adding one tablespoon of olive oil. Valdez agreed the protein portion is a bit large and that it would benefit from the addition of olive oil, butter, or canola oil, plus a side of steamed broccoli with some added fat from the aforementioned options.
Seared tuna tataki salad at The Cheesecake Factory
Nutrition facts: 490 calories; 29g fat; 13g net carbohydrates; 42g protein
For a more keto-friendly dish, Valdez said to cut the amount of tuna in half and substitute it with more avocado or add an additional three tablespoons of the wasabi vinaigrette.
8 oz. USDA Select sirloin at Applebee’s
Nutrition facts: 280 calories; 12g fat; 0g net carbohydrates; 43g protein
Ask for one to two tablespoons of butter or olive oil on the side, Jalali said, and supplement the meal with fire-grilled veggies or steamed broccoli. Valdez recommended asking for a three-ounce portion or taking half of the steak home, adding grilled onions and sautéed garlic mushrooms as toppers, and adding fat (butter, canola oil, olive oil) to both the main and vegetable side.
Half rack of house BBQ baby back ribs at Chili's
Nutrition facts: 720 calories; 53g fat; 10g net carbohydrates; 49g protein
To compensate for the high protein content here, Jalali recommended eating a half portion and adding a cup of low-carb vegetables to the mix. Valdez's modification similarly cuts the portion size in half and adds five tablespoons of olive or canola oil.
Egg white vegetable omelet (without fruit side) at IHOP
Nutrition facts: 330 calories; 20g fat; 7g net carbohydrates; 28g protein
Substitute egg whites for whole eggs and add olive oil to further increase the fat content. Jalali recommended one to two tablespoons of olive oil, while Valdez said to add three to four tablespoons.
Bacon cheeseburger (green style) at TGI Friday's
Nutrition facts: 580 calories; 43g fat; 10g net carbohydrates; 35g protein
Ordering your burger "green style" cuts carb content by substituting a traditional bun with lettuce leaves. Valdez said to eat half of the meat and add avocado plus two tablespoons of olive oil. Jalali said the cheeseburger is good as-is, but to pay careful attention to condiments, many of which have carbs.
Half California Cobb with ranch dressing from California Pizza Kitchen
Nutrition facts: 470 calories; 38g fat; 6g net carbohydrates; 26g protein
The blue cheese dressing also works here, and you can add beets for additional fiber - though note that they add to the carb total as well. Valdez said to order the salad without the chicken and add another three tablespoons of dressing.