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Navigating Eating Out on a Keto Diet: Tips and Tricks

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Embarking on a keto diet is a commitment to a low-carbohydrate, high-fat lifestyle. While following this dietary approach can bring about numerous health benefits, it can sometimes present challenges when dining out.

With the increasing popularity of the keto diet, it's essential to have a set of practical strategies to navigate eating out while staying true to your goals. In this guide, we will explore valuable tips and tricks to help you make informed choices, communicate effectively with restaurant staff, and enjoy your dining experience without compromising your keto lifestyle.

Whether you're dining at Italian restaurants, Asian eateries, or fast food joints, we've covered you with practical advice to ensure your keto success in any culinary setting.

Researching Restaurants in Advance

One of the most effective strategies for successfully navigating eating out on a keto diet is to research restaurants in advance. Many restaurants now offer online menus, which can be an invaluable resource for keto dieters. Take the time to review the menu, paying attention to the ingredients and preparation methods used in various dishes. Look for options low in carbohydrates and healthy fats, such as grilled meats, seafood, and salads with full-fat dressings.

Communicating with the Waitstaff

When you arrive at the restaurant, don't hesitate to communicate your dietary preferences and restrictions to the waitstaff. They are often knowledgeable about the menu and can provide guidance on keto-friendly options or even accommodate special requests. Don't be afraid to ask questions about ingredients, cooking oils, or substitutions that can be made to make a dish more suitable for your needs.

Choosing Keto-Friendly Options

To stay on track with your keto diet while eating out, it's important to choose options that align with your dietary goals. Here are some tips for selecting keto-friendly meals:

1. Prioritize Protein and Healthy Fats

Opt for dishes that are rich in protein and healthy fats. Choose grilled or roasted meats, such as steak, chicken, or fish, as they are often prepared without breading or high-carbohydrate sauces. Include sources of healthy fats, such as avocado, olive oil, or nuts, to add flavor and enhance satiety.

2. Replace Starchy Sides

Many restaurant meals come with starchy sides like rice, pasta, or potatoes. Instead, ask for non-starchy alternatives like steamed vegetables, a side salad, or additional servings of keto-friendly options like guacamole or cheese.

3. Be Wary of Hidden Carbohydrates

Some seemingly innocent ingredients or condiments can contain hidden carbohydrates that can derail your keto efforts. Be cautious of sauces, dressings, and marinades, as they may contain added sugars or high-carbohydrate thickeners. Request these items on the side or inquire about their ingredients to ensure they align with your dietary goals.

4. Skip the Bread and Grains

When dining out, bread and grains are commonly served as appetizers or accompaniments to meals. It's best to avoid these entirely as they are high in carbohydrates. Request that the breadbasket not be brought to the table, and ask for lettuce wraps or extra vegetables instead of bread when ordering burgers or sandwiches.

5. Customize Your Order

Don't hesitate to ask for modifications or substitutions to make a dish more keto-friendly. Most restaurants are willing to accommodate special requests, such as replacing a high-carbohydrate side with a keto-friendly option or omitting certain ingredients that don't align with your dietary needs. Be polite and clear about your requirements, and most establishments will be happy to accommodate you.

Being Mindful of Hidden Ingredients

While dining out, it's crucial to be aware of hidden ingredients that may contain carbohydrates or unhealthy fats. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

1. Sauces and Dressings

Many sauces and dressings can be loaded with added sugars or unhealthy oils. When ordering, ask for dressings on the side, or opt for simple oil and vinegar combinations. Avoid creamy dressings or those labeled as sweet or honey-based, as they often contain hidden carbohydrates.

2. Marinades and Seasonings

Some marinades and seasonings may contain hidden sugars, starches, or unhealthy oils. If possible, inquire about the ingredients used in the marinade or seasoning to ensure they align with your dietary goals. Alternatively, you can request that your dish be prepared with minimal or no added seasonings.

3. Fried Foods

Fried foods may be tempting, but they often contain breading or are cooked in unhealthy oils. Look for grilled, baked, or roasted options instead. If you're unsure about the cooking method, don't hesitate to ask the waitstaff for clarification.

Making Smart Choices at Different Types of Restaurants

Eating out on a keto diet is possible at a wide range of restaurants. Here are some tips tailored to specific types of cuisines:

1. Italian Restaurants

Italian cuisine can be challenging on a keto diet due to its heavy reliance on pasta, bread, and tomato-based sauces. However, there are still keto-friendly options available. Look for dishes that feature grilled meats or seafood with olive oil and herb-based sauces. Ask for vegetable substitutions for pasta or skip the pasta altogether.

2. Asian Restaurants

Asian cuisine offers various options for keto dieters. Opt for stir-fried dishes with lean proteins and non-starchy vegetables. Avoid dishes that are breaded or served with sugary sauces. Additionally, request steamed or sautéed options instead of deep-fried dishes.

3. Steakhouse or Barbecue Restaurants

Steakhouses and barbecue restaurants can be a haven for keto dieters. Choose cuts of meat that are higher in fat, such as ribeye or New York strip steak. Accompany your meal with a side of grilled vegetables or a salad with a keto-friendly dressing. Be cautious of barbecue sauces, as they often contain high amounts of sugar. Request the sauce on the side or inquire about alternative options.

4. Fast Food Restaurants

While fast food may not be ideal for a keto diet, there are ways to make it work in a pinch. Look for burger joints that offer lettuce wraps as a substitute for buns. Order burgers without ketchup, and add additional toppings like cheese, bacon, and avocado to increase the fat content. For sides, choose salads with full-fat dressings or opt for grilled chicken pieces.

Preparing for Unforeseen Challenges

Despite your best efforts, there may be times when sticking to your keto diet while eating out becomes challenging. Here are some strategies to help you navigate unexpected situations:

1. Plan Ahead for Social Gatherings

If you're attending a social gathering or event where food will be served, consider eating a small keto-friendly meal beforehand. This will help curb your appetite and reduce the temptation to indulge in high-carbohydrate options. You can also bring a keto-friendly dish to share, ensuring you have a suitable option available.

2. Keep Keto Snacks Handy

Carrying keto-friendly snacks in your bag or car can be a lifesaver when hunger strikes unexpectedly. Nuts, cheese sticks, beef jerky, or low-carb protein bars are convenient options that can help you stay on track.

3. Stay Hydrated

Staying hydrated is essential for overall health and can also help curb cravings. Carry a water bottle with you and drink plenty of water throughout the day. If you're dining out and feeling tempted by high-carbohydrate options, take a moment to drink a glass of water and reassess your choices.

4. Practice Mindful Eating

While dining out, practicing mindful eating is important to prevent overindulgence. Pay attention to your body's hunger and fullness cues. Take your time to savor each bite and enjoy the flavors of your meal. This will enhance your dining experience and help you avoid overeating.

5. Don't Stress Over Occasional Slip-Ups

Remember that maintaining a keto diet is a long-term commitment, and occasional slip-ups are bound to happen. If you find yourself deviating from your keto plan during a meal out, don't stress or feel guilty. Instead, focus on getting back on track with your next meal and making healthier choices moving forward.

Conclusion

Eating out on a keto diet can present some challenges, but it can be a manageable and enjoyable experience with the right strategies and mindset. By researching restaurants in advance, communicating with the waitstaff, and making informed choices, you can stay on track with your dietary goals while still savoring delicious meals outside of your home.

Remember to be mindful, plan ahead when necessary, and stay committed to your long-term health and well-being. With these tips and tricks, you'll navigate eating out on a keto diet confidently and successfully.

Aaron Bernstein, MD, MPH

Aaron Bernstein is the Interim Director of The Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment, a pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital, and an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics.

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