For a special night out recently, my husband chose a Chinese restaurant he had been wanting to try. If you’re new to keto, that might sound like a daunting task — the fried rice, the noodles, the dumplings, the wonton soup. But it wasn’t. I ordered shrimp and vegetables in a keto-friendly sauce, and it was simply delicious.
I knew what I wanted to order, but I also asked the server about what the sauce was made of. Sauces can go either way — they may be filled with good fat, or they can be loaded with sugar, flour and other starches used for thickening.
As it turns out, one of the owners was a woman in her 80s who looked decades younger than that, so of course, I asked her what sauce she preferred! Her skin, by the way, was simply beautiful, and that has much to do with the diet in the Asian cultures and likely the collagen that’s consumed in a variety of their dishes.
When you’re leading a keto lifestyle, you may find yourself in this kind of situation all the time — faced with a menu staring at you with all kinds of carb-rich options. But you don’t have to avoid eating out, and you don’t have to avoid special social situations with friends and family. You just have to search a little (and perhaps make a few special requests) to enjoy the outing, while still keeping your meals keto.
This is important, because so many women cut themselves off socially, especially when they’re starting a new diet or lifestyle because they’re afraid that they won’t be able to stick to their new behaviors. But maintaining your social connections are so important for your overall health, and I don’t want you to think that you have to give up opportunities to be with friends and family — whether it’s to celebrate a special occasion or simply a way to get together.
I have a simple guideline I follow when eating out: “Hold the bread, rice, and beans but more veggies, please!” Simply replacing carb-rich sides with vegetables will usually do the trick. And that’s something you can apply to almost any situation.
Now, I get it. It can be tough. So many restaurants have traditions that revolve around carbs — a bread plate, chips and salsa, and so on.
Here’s what you can order, no matter what kind of restaurant you’re visiting. (And while I limit my alcohol intake, it is okay to have an occasional glass, and if you do when you’re going out, I recommend red wine, because of its content of resveratrol, the anti-aging compound.)
Eating out at a Mexican restaurant is a great first step for a newly keto person. At many places, you can order a bowl or salad without the rice or beans, add a meat of your choice, double up on the veggies, add extra cheese and tack on guac or sour cream. You can follow this with tacos or burritos as well; just replace the tortillas with a side of veggies and enjoy the delicious fillings without the carbs. Fajitas with the veggies are a good choice as well. Just skip the chips and have a spoonful or two of tasty guacamole.
Is there a type of cuisine more associated with carbs than Italian? Pasta and pizza galore. But don’t worry, you can still eat keto there. For one, most places have salads or antipasto platters that receive the keto nod of approval. Choose something loaded with olives, cheese, and meat or seafood (hold the croutons). Add olive oil and vinegar to get in those essential fats and to enhance the flavors. Another option is to order a steak or a fatty fish such as salmon, with a salad and/or veggies.
When you think of Chinese food, the first thing that comes to mind is probably noodles, right? The truth is there is so much more to this cuisine that you may be missing out on and being keto would allow you to experience something new. For an appetizer, order a clear, thin soup such as egg drop or some sort of bone broth with veggies. These soups are not only delicious but are also full of collagen, which keeps you looking youthful. For an entrée, you can order steamed food, such as steamed fish with veggies, or a meat and vegetable dish made in a thin, savory sauce. A thin sauce is key as it means that there are no more than a few grams of added sugars. If you are ever unsure about whether a sauce is keto friendly, simply ask what the ingredients are. You can always substitute a sauce by adding soy sauce and chili oil to your dish.
You can follow similar guidelines as in Chinese foods, but with Thai food, you have another type of dish to choose from: curry. Thai curries are made with coconut milk, which is both a good fat and keto-friendly. Choose a savory curry to ensure minimal added sugars and make sure the meat, fish, or tofu is steamed rather than deep-fried. Skip out on the rice and, instead, eat the curry like a soup.
A lettuce-wrapped burger is an increasingly common request made at both fast-food and sit-down restaurants. You can add on toppings and condiments such as cheese, bacon, mustard, mayo, onions, tomato and avocado slices (or guacamole) for a more filling, flavorful meal. You can also replace the side of fries with a salad. Another option: wings, which are usually covered in a sauce made from vinegar and hot red peppers, as long as they’re made without breading or a batter. These are usually served with carrots and celery. (Note: try to limit carrots to no more than half a cup, as they’re higher in carbs than most vegetables).
This is not an all-inclusive list by any means, and as you become more experienced with keto you will be able to think of creative ways in which to make dining out work for you, keto friendly restaurant or not. If you’re ever in a pinch, you also should feel free to tell your server you have dietary restrictions and you would like a piece of grilled chicken (or fish) and a side of vegetables.