Yes, You Can Eat Out On The Keto Diet — Just Use These 6 Tips

mbg Contributor By Elizabeth Gerson
mbg Contributor
Elizabeth Gerson is a former mindbodygreen intern and a student at Stanford University studying Psychology and Communication with a specialization in Health & Development.
Medical review by Jessica Cording, M.S., R.D., CDN
Registered Dietitian
Jessica Cording, M.S., R.D., CDN, INHC is a registered dietitian, health coach, and writer with a passion for helping people streamline their wellness routine and establish a balanced relationship with food and exercise.
Gathering of colleagues over lunch with keto options

Image by Jill Chen / Stocksy

Your friends finally get a spot at that hot new restaurant you've been dying to try, and while normally, you'd jump at the reservation, this time there's a catch: You've gone keto. For two weeks you endured the keto flu, and now you're (finally!) reaping the benefits of ketosis. There's no way you're going to blow it all on one dinner, so how does one go out to eat while on the keto diet?

Staying on track with your diet can feel next to impossible, and this can be especially challenging for those wanting to stick to a keto plan, which calls for a pretty specific set of parameters. But there are ways to eat out and not ruin your hard-earned ketosis!

The keto diet, put simply, is a minimal-carb, high-fat diet. More specifically, the average breakdown of macronutrients should be somewhere around 20 percent protein, 75 percent fat, and 5 percent carbohydrate. By depleting the body of carbs through your diet, you force it to stop running on glycogen and begin producing and using ketones for energy.

These ketones come with a laundry list of benefits that have caused the diet, originally prescribed by doctors in the 1920s to treat patients with epilepsy, to blow up in the mainstream. Keto followers experience decreased inflammation, more consistent levels of energy, better sleep, weight loss, and balanced hormones—it's no wonder the keto diet has earned its place as a darling diet of the wellness world.

Most people, however, have trouble transitioning their bodies from burning carbs to burning fat, notoriously sloughing through a period called the keto flu. For one to two weeks, the keto flu causes fatigue, headaches, sore muscles, and brain fog, but it's followed by a reward of extra energy and focus.

Don't worry, we know FOMO is real. Here are a few tips on how to eat out and still keep those ketones in check:

Get a sneak peek of the menu.

It always helps to be prepared. Before your night out, check out the restaurant's website and see what's on the menu. More often than not, the restaurant will have one or two dishes that either comply with the diet or can be altered to work. You might want to make sure the restaurant is cool with substitutions, so definitely don't be afraid to give them a call beforehand to ask about accommodations.

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Swap the carb.

For most restaurants, a typical plate setup will look something like this: meat, veggies, and a starchy carb like potatoes, rice, or quinoa. Since the keto diet allows for only a moderate amount of protein, your best bet is to nix the carb and double up on the veggies if the restaurant is willing to accommodate. Leafy green vegetables like broccoli, kale, chard, or spinach have the lowest amount of carbohydrates per serving (compare 1 gram of carbs per cup of spinach to 11 grams of carbs per serving of carrots), so they're your best bet since every carb counts. To make sure you get enough fat for the day—after all, fat is now your main source of energy—it always helps to ask for an extra side of olive oil or high-quality butter.

Not all oils are created equal.

Of course, there's a lot of emphasis on consuming a lot of fat on the keto diet. There's less emphasis, however, on what kinds of fat to consume, although this is just as important. You want to aim for healthier fats such as avocado oil, olive oil, coconut oil, and grass-fed butter or ghee. That being said, it's best to avoid highly processed oils like canola, soybean, and corn oil, so asking what your food is actually cooked in can help demystify your meal.

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Beware of hidden sugars.

Sugar will kick you out of ketosis ASAP, so watch out for additions like salad dressing, sauces, high-sugar vinegars, and certain seasonings. Asking for sauces or dressings on the side is always a safe bet. Checking to see if your meal preparation contains sugar may feel a bit awkward, but it could save you from going through another bout of keto flu in the future.

Make your own dressing.

In some cases, restaurants may not have all the accommodations necessary for keto's strict guidelines. If you've vetted the menu beforehand and are still a bit worried, it never hurts to bring your own dressing. A quick homemade salad dressing of oil, apple cider vinegar, salt, and black pepper can mean the difference between dry lettuce leaves and an actually fulfilling meal. Just remember to secure the lid tightly; olive oil isn't the most forgiving in terms of purse or pocket cleanup. If coming prepared isn’t your style or feels too regimented, just ask for a side of olive oil to use as a substitute.

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Look for keto-specific restaurants.

Thanks to its popularity nowadays, certain restaurants have come to the rescue by releasing keto-friendly options to help you stay on track. Chipotle launched its "Keto Bowl," consisting of carnitas, red salsa, shredded cheese, romaine lettuce, and guacamole. Sub shops like Jimmy John's offer to swap the sandwich bread for lettuce as a low-carb option. Any customizable salad shop like Sweetgreen gives you complete control of the menu, so you can actually know what's going on your plate.

Lastly, it's important to remember that while you may be at a dinner or lunch, the most important part of your plans is being present with the people you're with. If your diet is causing you undue stress, it could be time to give it a second look. But if you stick with keto, we assure you: Dining out doesn't have to be as daunting with a bit of prep.

Ready to learn how to fight inflammation and address autoimmune disease through the power of food? Join our 5-Day Inflammation Video Summit with mindbodygreen’s top doctors.

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