One of the first few questions I hear from people thinking about going keto is “how do you go out to eat on a ketogenic diet?” with a questioning look, likely wondering if I live the life of an antisocial hermit with my coconut oil and avocados at home. This is one of the biggest misconceptions of this fabulous diet. You absolutely can maintain a social life and go out with friends while maintaining ketosis. And it doesn’t take a rocket scientist. Here are a few of my takeaways:
Pick a protein
- Almost every restaurant is going to have a fish or meat dish. Pick one that has the protein as the focus, grilled/sauteed/pan-fried/baked/or steamed, and comes with a side of something. This way, if the side isn’t ketogenic friendly you can swap for another, e.g. swap potatoes for broccoli or soup for a salad (hold dressing, stick to olive oil). The more isolated the foods are the better, more swapping power. A soup or curry or salad are more difficult because they tend to have non-keto fixings mixed in the meal.
- Know before you go: if you have a dinner out planned, try to keep your protein count low throughout the day and get plenty of healthy fats in because dinner will likely be heavily protein since this is your best bet when eating out on keto.
- Examples: fish (ideally salmon or tuna), steak, burger no bun, lamb
Stick to low carb veggies
- It’s easy to think you’re eating keto when your plate is full of micronutrient-rich veggies, but if most of your plate is the color of the rainbow you’re likely surpassing your carb limit. Many restaurants offer a side of asparagus or broccoli or sauteed spinach, those are ideal. Avoid sweet potatoes, carrots, corn, potatoes, and peas. Keep veggies minimal, about ¼-⅓ of your plate, with the majority portion coming from protein or healthy fats.
- Know before you go: if you know you’re going out to eat and there are few protein or fat options, eat zero vegetables or fruits and plenty of good fats throughout the day so your carb count stays on point.
- Examples: asparagus, broccoli, spinach, cauliflower, brussel sprouts
Avoid sauces or dressings
Ah the hidden killers. Barbecue, salad dressing, steak sauce, gravy, etc. Who knows what are in these things, the waiter doesn’t and you sure don’t. Look out for “dressing”, “sauce”, “marinated”, “coated”, “creamed” on the menu, or ask your waiter for deets. Cream sauces may be ok but these, like most foods in America, tend to have sugar thrown in there. If you’re in a nicer place you might be safe, where ingredients are more likely to be made in-house with whole foods. No shame in asking if you’re unsure.
If you can’t handle plain protein or veggies, stick to:
- Cream-, olive oil-, coconut-, yogurt-, or butter-based sauces e.g. tampenade, hollandaise, tzatziki, curry. Make sure they’re unsweetened and ideally made in-house.
- Veggie-based, e.g. salsa/pico de gallo, guacamole
When in doubt, go simple
- If there are crazy words you’ve never seen, the waiter can’t be bothered with your keto questions, you’re traveling in a foreign land where no one knows what ‘macros’ means, stick to the basics. Better safe than keto flu in the middle of your Morocco vacation. Order a meal that consists of ingredients you can count on one hand. If you’re still unsure about those <5 ingredients, keep the portion small and give the rest to your yolo friend. This goes back to 1’s point that isolated vs. combined foods are optimal.
Don’t overthink it
- If you stress too much every time you go out, you’ll either stop going out and become the hermit mentioned above or you’ll quit keto. Anxiously scanning each menu item and mentally counting the macro content is not sustainable for anyone involved. Follow the few key themes in this post and you’ll be just fine. Still stressing? Fast or eat a higher percentage of fats for 6-12 hours before or after the meal.
Now you have all the tools you need to survive a dinner out with friends on the ketogenic diet. Stay keto strong friends!