Sticking to nutrition goals is often hard when you're on the go. But with more people trying different diet plans — from the high-fat ketogenic diet to Whole30 — fast food chains are taking notice. Some are offering new items, while others are sharing meal hacks and swap options for diners.
If you're trying to cut carbs, it's important to understand what truly qualifies as a low-carb meal. Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, creator of BetterThanDieting.com and author of "Read It Before You Eat It - Taking You from Label to Table," told TODAY Food that the term can be confusing because it's subjective. "Unlike low sodium, which is less than 140 milligrams of sodium per serving, and low calorie, less than 40 calories per serving, low carb is in the eye of the beholder and really has no formal FDA-approved definition," she said.
Generally, however, people following a low-carb diet eat no more than 20% of their daily intake as carbs. For most people, that equates to about 120 calories of carbs, or about four slices of bread.
While following a low-carb plan isn't for everyone, paying attention to the nutritional profile of your meals is a good habit to pick up, especially when you're dining out.
Here are five high-protein, lower-carb fast-food offerings.
Dunkin' may be known for its sweet doughnuts but the chain recently rolled out two new breakfast items for egg lovers. This week, Dunkin' rolled out new bowls (they're served in paper cups) with different egg scrambles. The new Egg White Bowl is made with egg whites, spinach, roasted potatoes, cheddar cheese and caramelized onions. At 250 calories, this bowl has 14 grams of protein, 250 calories, and 19 grams of carbs.
For a meatier meal, the Sausage Scramble Bowl with scrambled eggs, pork sausage, cheddar cheese, peppers and onions. Though it has more fat than the egg white option and more caloric with 450 calories, the sausage bowl has 21 grams of protein and just 11 grams of carbs.
McDonald's doesn't really do low-carb but easily customers can customize breakfast sandwiches. Ordering a McMuffin sandwich sans the muffin will cut about 30 carbs from the dish. ”Their breakfast entrées generally served on an English muffin with one egg, a slice of American cheese, and ham or sausage can be requested without the bun," said Taub-Dix. Though this "trick" changes the hand-held sandwich into a meal you need to eat with a knife and fork, it can be a game changer for someone watching their carbs when they're aren't many options around. An Egg McMuffin, without the bread, has 160 calories, 3 grams of carbs, 11 grams of fat and 12 grams of protein.
“Taco Bell is one of the best fast food chains for tasty, low-carb foods,” Lisa Richards, a certified nutritionist and the creator of the Candida Diet, told TODAY. She recommended the chain's Breakfast Mini Skillet. This dish has 16 grams of carbs, 11 grams of fat and 5 grams of protein and is 180 calories. It's made with eggs, cheese, potatoes and pico de gallo as standard, but it can easily be ordered without the potatoes. Added Richards, "You can boost the healthy proteins and fats by adding steak or guacamole — or both!”
Starbucks rolled out its Sous Vide Egg Bites almost two years ago and they're still the chain's breakfast items with the lowest carb count. The Sous Vide Bacon and Gruyere Egg Bites have 9 grams of carbohydrates, 19 grams of protein and 20 grams of fat. Each "bite" is 150 calories but a serving has two portions. All Egg Bites on the menu, including egg white version and one with chicken chorizo, have fewer than 15 grams of carbs per serving.
With 25 grams of protein and 7 grams of fat, Chick-fil-A Egg White Grill is the chicken chain's answer to the famous McDonald's McMuffin, but it has more protein and is less caloric. Instead of Canadian bacon, this multigrain English muffin sandwich has a skinless chicken breast, topped with egg whites and a slice of American cheese. With the bread, the sandwich has 300 calories but Chick-fil-A knows that many of its diners are carb-conscious consumers. With that in mind, the breakfast sandwich can be ordered sans the muffin for 0 net carbs.
When it comes to ordering a low-carb breakfast at any restaurant, Taub-Dix said the key is really all about improvisation. Although it might be a little messy, "to cut carbs, you can unwrap and de-bread any sandwich."