Sticking to nutrition goals is often hard when you don't have much time in the morning. But with more people trying different diet plans — from the high-fat ketogenic diet to the nutrient-dense Whole30 — fast-food chains are taking note that consumers want more breakfast foods low in carbs. Some are offering totally 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 (which is) 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, most people following a low-carb diet eat no more than 15-20% of their daily calorie intake as carbs. For most people, that equates to about 120 calories of carbs, or about two 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.
McDonald's Egg McMuffin
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 grams of 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 might need to eat with a knife and fork, it can be a game changer for someone watching their carbs when there 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's Breakfast Skillet
“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 in its standard form, 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' Sous Vide Egg Bites
Starbucks rolled out its Sous Vide Egg Bites three years ago and, out of all the chain's breakfast items, they have 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 full serving has two portions. All Egg Bites on the menu, including an egg white version and one with chicken chorizo, have fewer than 15 grams of carbs per serving.
Chick-fil-A's Egg White Grill
With 25 grams of protein and 7 grams of fat, Chick-fil-A's 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."