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Today on Dana’s Low Carb For Life!, we run down the low carb options at the 10 most popular fast food chains, talk about canine nutrition, eat butter by the forkful, and more. Stick around!
Hey, Gang, welcome to episode 16 of Dana’s Low Carb For Life, brought to you by CarbSmart, your smart choice for a low carb lifestyle. Today I’m going to tell you the best menu options at the ten most popular fast food chains, ‘cause I had a reader ask me to! (See? I listen.) I’ll tell you about my anniversary dinner with That Nice Boy I Married, where we ate butter by the forkful. We also have a terrific call in Low Carb Voices, from a listener with a bunch of great ideas for low carb convenience foods. But first, I’m going to talk about canine nutrition – in the context of why this podcast is a day late this week. So why is this podcast late?
I had set aside Monday afternoon to write and record this podcast, which is what I usually do. However, when we got up Monday morning, our big dog Jed had had a bout of unhappy intestinal disturbance, in an extremely disagreeable way, all over the den floor. This was actually the third time this had happened in the past week, and trust me, it grows old fast.
Jed, who is a shep/lab mix, and Dexter the Pug, had not been eating their usual diet. We have habitually fed them what is called the BARF diet – Bones and Raw Food – rather than packaged pet food. There are epidemics of obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay among pets, just as there are in people, and for the same reason – a diet based on cheap carbohydrates. Dogs are not naturally granivorous, yet most dog food has corn, and even expensive dog food usually has rice or oats. Sadly, Americans have been sold a bill of goods, and convinced that they can’t possibly feed their pets a healthy diet without processed, packaged foods. Do you really think no one ever had a healthy dog before the pet food industry was invented? Same for the instruction not to feed your dogs table scraps. That’s good advice if you’re eating the garbage most people eat, but if you’re eating meat and vegetables, there’s no reason not to let your dog lick the plate. And of course, you shouldn’t be eating garbage either.
Anyway, we feed our dogs real food. Specifically, we usually feed them raw eggs and cottage cheese for breakfast, and raw chicken backs, bones and all, for dinner. Pork rinds for snacks – way more nutritious than dog biscuits or, heaven forbid, canine junk food like Pupperoni, Snausages, or Beggin’ Strips.
I know what you’re thinking. “Chicken on the bone? Isn’t that dangerous?” If you read Give Your Dog A Bone, by Dr. Ian Billinghurst, the Aussie vet who is the father of the BARF movement, it is cooked bones that are dangerous. The heat denatures the protein, making the bones brittle. Raw chicken bones are soft enough for dogs to chew up, especially since commercially raised chickens are generally slaughtered between three and four months of age. Billinghurst points out that bones form a substantial portion of the evolutionary diet of dogs. At any rate, we’ve never had a problem – though I will point out that we use a big, scary serial-killer-looking cleaver to whack the pug’s chicken into little bits. It’s not that he can’t chew up his food, you understand. It’s that he’s unwilling to take the time. I’ve done the Heimlich maneuver on a dog – successfully, I should add – but don’t care to need to do it again. Hence, the whacking of Dexter’s chicken.
We buy the dogs chicken backs in 40 pound lots, from a poultry processing plant; currently I’m paying $15 for 40 pounds of backs – which, you may notice, is considerably cheaper than even cheap dog food. Takes a freezer to store them, of course. Unfortunately, our local poultry processor shut down several months back, and I now have to drive to Indianapolis, over an hour either way, to buy chicken backs in cheap lots.
Which explains why, when we ran out of backs during our preparation for the Low Carb Cruise, I didn’t have the time to go get more, and we took to feeding the dogs eggs, cottage cheese, and a grain-free packaged kibble called Innova Evo for supper. Unfortunately, that diet apparently wasn’t agreeing with poor Jed, hence the extreme unpleasantness on my den floor. It also made Dexter the Pug socially offensive in the extreme – think ‘Ate too much sugar free candy” offensive.
Having discovered that That Nice Boy I Married had had the nasty job of cleaning up after Jed before he even had his coffee yesterday morning (I was in the shower, and didn’t know, or I would have helped,) I felt it was imperative to get Jed back on his usual diet ASAP. So instead of writing and recording a podcast yesterday, I drove to Indianapolis and back. I am now the proud possessor of 80 pounds of chicken backs. And we trust Jed’s gut will settle down soon.
If you have a dog, especially if you have a dog who is a little tubby (or a lot tubby), or has diabetes or dental problems, take a look at Dr. Billinghurst’s book. Amazon doesn’t currently have it in stock, but lists 17 used copies, and no doubt a little web searching would turn up more. Or you could ask your library to get it for you through interlibrary loan – again, it’s Give Your Dog a Bone, by Dr. Ian Billinghurst. Amazon also lists a book called Raw Meaty Bones, Except for Jed’s recent gut trouble, my dogs are extremely healthy, trim and athletic – even the pug. I mean, when was the last time you saw a pug with a waist, for heaven’s sake?
Oh, one more benefit of the BARF diet: Our dogs’ poop turns chalky white and crumbles away within a couple of days. Since we have a big yard, this translates in not having to run around picking up dog poop. We call it the Incredible Self-Destructing Dog Poop, and a fine thing it is, too.
And remember: Raw bones only. Cooked bones are splintery and dangerous.
So Friday was our 16th wedding anniversary, That Nice Boy I Married and I, and we went out to dinner – something we rarely do, since A) the budget is tight, and B) see the part about I’m usually working on recipes! We went to a very good local restaurant called Truffles. We knew, from prior experience, that Truffles served what’s called “beurre compisee” – composed butters, or butter mixed with seasonings. They serve them with bread, of course.
But we are immune to the lure of bread, even crusty, freshly baked bread. When the waiter asked if we wanted bread and butter, we asked about the butter, and were told that the current version was butter mixed with cream cheese and garlic. Who could resist? We told him, “Don’t bother with the bread, just bring the butter – we’ll eat it with forks.” And he did, and we did – probably a good couple of tablespoons full each. Super-yummy; I’ll be trying to duplicate it at home. It would be devastating over fauxtatoes or shirataki. But it was darned nice off of forks! And we got a chuckle out of what the waitstaff must think of us, those crazy people who ordered the butter with no bread.
We also each had a Caesar salad with three kinds of olives and pine nuts, and a big shaving of Parmesan on top. This was fantastic, and will also be very simple to clone; I’ll be making this. Then we had seared duck breast, with sauteed chard and some steamed broccolini. All very good, especially the duck – the skin was brown and crisp, but the inside was still pink and juicy.
With it all, we had a bottle of pinot noir – we ordered from the bottom of the wine list, price wise, but it was quite nice, and certainly better than the plonk we generally drink at home.
We skipped dessert, big surprise.
All told, it was a fine meal. And it followed my usual rule: I try not to go out for something I’d commonly cook at home. I wouldn’t go out for steak, for example – I can make just as good or better at home, and far cheaper. When I go out, I want something interesting and different, something special. Our anniversary dinner fulfilled that demand nicely – and I was down a pound and a half Saturday morning.
Maybe I should eat butter as an appetizer more often.
What can I eat at fast food places?
Jack in the Box
Carl’s Jr. (Hardees)
Let’s start with the hopeless, or nearly so:
The lowest carb thing on the menu, other than salad dressing, is the Crunchy Taco, at 12 grams per. Since this thing only has 170 calories, and 8 grams of protein, I rate it unacceptable. I used to get a taco salad, hold the beans, double the beef or chicken, and simply skip the taco shell, but sadly Taco Bell has started adding tortilla strips and rice to their taco salads, making them completely unfriendly to low carbers. The only real option at Taco Bell is to order the beef or chicken taco filling with shredded cheese and sour cream, in a bowl. Unfortunately, I can’t find word on what the ingredients of those taco fillings are. I skip Taco Bell entirely, and suggest you do the same.
Pizza Hut is nearly as bad. They do have wings, but nearly all of them either are breaded, or come with carby sauces, or both. Their All-American Traditional Wings come in at 0 grams for 2 pieces, so they’re the obvious choice; I have no idea whether they’re tasty or not! Keep in mind that the 0 gram figure may not mean these actually have no carbs. The government allows nutrition charts to list 0 grams of carb per serving if there is less than a half a gram of carb per serving. If you’re having, say, 7 or 8 pieces it’s possible you’ll get a gram or two of carb. Still, that’s not a lot of damage.
The Garlic Parmesan wings, Baked Hot Wings, and Baked Mild Wings are 1 gram per 1- piece serving, so they’re a good choice, too.
Other than that, Pizza Hut is carb-fest, of course. If you’re with people who will only settle for pizza, you could insist that one pie, or at least half of one pie, be made with extra cheese and plenty of low carb toppings. Then simply peel off the cheese and toppings and scarf them down, leaving the crust. I’ve done this many times.
Domino’s Pizza is much the same, with a couple of differences: They have fewer varieties of chicken wings, and I couldn’t get their stupid nutritional chart to come up. Their “boneless wings” are breaded, so skip ‘em. (And what the heck is a “boneless wing,” anyway? I have chickens, and can assure you they all have bones in their wings. Those are dry, bland, and boring chicken breast strips, I’ll bet you a copy of my latest cookbook.) They do have real wings, but only one variety, and I haven’t a clue whether they’re breaded, or how sugary the sauce is.
Again, if you’re with people who insist on pizza, get an extra cheese pizza with plenty of low carb toppings, eat the toppings, and toss the crust.
Subway is hugely popular, and would seem nearly hopeless for us, but the truth is it’s not a bad choice. Why? Because they have plenty of salads. In addition, they will put the filling of any sandwich on a bed of lettuce for you, turning it into a main-dish salad.
Among the best choices at Subway are the oven roasted chicken breast salad, with 9 grams of carb, and the roast beef salad and the grilled chicken with baby spinach salad, with 10 grams of carb apiece, Skip the Veggie Delight salad; it’s low carb, but has only 3 grams of protein. (The highest protein is the grilled chicken and baby spinach, making it the best choice all the way around.) Subway lists only two dressings – fat free Italian, at 7 grams per serving, and Ranch, with only 3. Go with the ranch.
KFC introduced their grilled chicken a few years back, sing glory, hallelujah! It’s now one of my favorite choices when I’m on the road – on the road being about the only situation in which I bother with fast food. The grilled breasts, thighs, and legs all are listed as 0 carb; for some reason I don’t pretend to understand, the grilled wings come in at 1 gram. I’m fond of wings, but I’d skip it. The Double Down – the infamous KFC “sandwich” with two chicken breasts in place of the bread – runs only 4 grams of carb if you get the grilled chicken version, so it’s a good choice, too. The other versions of the Double Down start at 18 grams of carb, and only go up from there. Get the grilled.
KFC also has a grilled chicken caesar salad. Exclusive of dressing and croutons, it’s 6 grams of carb per serving. Don’t get the crispy chicken caesar by mistake, it’s much higher carb! There’s also a caesar side salad that’s acceptable, at 2 grams without the dressing or croutons. Skip the cole slaw – it’s 20 grams! The lowest carb dressing at KFC is the Marzetti’s Light Italian, at 2 grams a pouch; the Caesar runs 4 grams. Most of their “dipping sauces” are high carb, too, but the ranch is only 1 gram per package.
There’s only 1 hot side dish at KFC fit for low carbers, and that’s the green beans, at 3 grams per serving. My favorite meal at KFC is two grilled thighs and a leg, plus two sides of green beans. I haven’t tried the Double Down, because I’m not a white meat fan.
The rest of the places listed: McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King, Jack in the Box, and Carl’s Jr – which is pretty much the same as the Hardee’s chain when you get away from the west coast – are burger joints. They have other stuff, and I’ll go through it, but you can always get a burger without the bun. If you feel like it, you can add a side salad to that order, plunk the patty on top, and eat them together. This makes a filling if uninspired meal. I personally favor the McDonald’s Angus Bacon Cheese burger, because it has, you know, bacon and cheese; also some red onion, of which I am fond. The winter of ‘09-‘10, I commuted to Chicago and back once a week for classes. After class, I’d head south, and by the time I got south of Chicago and stopped for a late supper, it was after 10, and the dining room at McD’s was closed; only the drive through was available. I’d get an Angus Bacon Cheese burger, park in the lot, take off the top bun, and use the bottom bun as a napkin. I’d slide the patty forward as I took bites, using the bun to keep my fingers clean. Again, not a gourmet meal, but it fueled me for the drive home.
Carl’s Jr./Hardee’s does a lettuce wrapped burger that is perfect for us, and a nice generous patty it is, too. Carl’s Jr.com lists the “low carb burger” as having 9 grams of carb with 1 gram of fiber, including lettuce, tomato, pickle, onion, and condiments. Sounds very nice. Interestingly, the Hardee’s version of the same burger is listed as having just 5 grams of carb, with 2 grams of fiber, leaving me wondering what the difference is.
The other common choice at these fast food restaurants is a main dish salad, some of which are definitely lower carb than others. Let’s go over them. Please keep in mind that fast food menus change frequently; this information is current as of May 2011, but you can always look up new menu items at the fast food websites, and fast food restaurants often have nutritional information available in the store.
First of all, restaurants nearly always offer a choice between grilled and crispy chicken. “Crispy” means “breaded or battered and fried.” Get the grilled, every single time. It should also be a no-brainer to leave off stuff like croutons and Chinese noodles.
McDonald’s currently has two grilled chicken salads: The Bacon Ranch Salad and the premium Chicken Caesar Salad. The Bacon Ranch has 260 calories, with 12 grams of carb and 3 grams of fiber, for a usable carb count of just 9 grams. If you look at the nutrition info, you might be shocked to see 5 grams of sugar. Don’t assume that this means that McDonald’s has added sugar to the salad, though I don’t know for sure that they haven’t either. But remember, vegetables have some naturally occurring sugars in ‘em. I find this an acceptable choice. Not very interesting, but acceptable.
The Premium Chicken Caesar salad with grilled chicken has 220 calories, with, again, 12 grams of carb and 3 grams of fiber. (By the way, just so you know, with the crispy chicken this gets bumped up to 20 grams of carb. Don’t do it!)
McD’s also has a Premium Southwest Salad with Grilled Chicken right now, but it’s problematic. It includes tortilla strips, “Southwest vegetable blend,” which includes corn and black beans, and cilantro lime glaze. This means that the Southwest Salad weighs in at 30 grams of carb, even with the grilled chicken. The menu lets you calculate the salad without those carby ingredients, and sure enough, leaving them off knocks it down to ten grams, but it’s not really a Southwest Salad then, is it? I’d skip it altogether.
I couldn’t find the dressings listed at the McDonald’s website; you might want to ask the nice counter people if you can read the nutritional info on a couple of packets before making a choice.
You should know that McDonald’s lists the ingredients of their grilled chicken breast (and everything else) on their website, and the breast does have a lot of additives, including gluten and soy products. I find those less worrisome than the fact that they’re also made with liquid margarine, which includes hydrogenated oils.
As I record this, Burger King has only one grilled chicken salad on the menu: the Tendergrill Chicken Salad. It has 9 grams of carbohydrate; fiber grams are not listed. BK has a choice of dressings – the light Italian has 6 grams of carb, the ranch has only 2 grams. The honey mustard has 8 grams, but what did you expect of something with “honey” in the name? The Caesar dressing has 5 grams. The fat free ranch has – are you ready? 15 grams of carb. Go with the regular ranch.
Wendy’s has a BLT Cobb Salad; I’d prefer this to the McDonald’s or BK salads, since it includes crumbled bacon, chopped egg, and blue cheese, all of which are swell by me. If you get this salad with the avocado ranch dressing, the classic ranch, or the Lemon Garlic Caesar – three grams each – you’ll be looking at 15 grams, with three grams of fiber, for a usable carb count of 12 grams.
Wendy’s also has a Spicy Chicken Caesar, but you don’t want the spicy chicken! It has 15 grams of carb, just in the chicken. Get the grilled chicken breast, at 1 gram, and leave off the croutons, and you’re looking at 15 grams total, 5 grams of carb, for just 10 grams of usable carb – that’s including the lemon garlic caesar dressing.
Wendy’s also has an apple pecan chicken salad, but I’d skip it. Even with the grilled chicken and the lowest carb dressing, it has 37 grams of carb. They suggest their pomegranate vinaigrette with this salad, but at 16 g of carb per serving (8 grams per packet), this is a dressing you’d best walk past. Skip, too, the Baja Salad – it includes Wendy’s Chili, which is quite high carb. Even without the tortilla strips, you’re looking at 38 grams. However, the Baja salad includes guacamole, and I’m just nuts about guacamole. I find myself wondering if you could order this with grilled chicken in place of the chili – never hurts to ask.
Carl’s Junior has a few salads –
The Hawaiian grilled chicken salad includes pineapple, wonton strips, and a Sesame Asian dressing, which is generally sugary. As a result, you’re looking at 36 grams. Skip it.
Their original grilled chicken salad has 23 grams, but if you leave off the croutons it should be substantially lower. Sadly, the Carl’s Junior website doesn’t let you see the carb counts on individual components, so I don’t know for sure, but there’s nothing terribly carby in there; I’d eat it.
The Cranberry, Apple, Walnut Grilled Chicken Salad, however, is intrinsically carby, what with all that fruit, plus glazed walnuts – 29 grams. Leave off the cranberries and the apples and it’s hardly the same thing, though it still would have feta. I just don’t see a point, though.
More interesting to me are the many burger varieties at Carl’s Junior. How about a guacamole bacon burger? Or a portobello mushroom burger? Or even a jalapeno burger? They also have turkey burgers in several varieties, if you prefer turkey to beef. So long as you leave off the bun, you should be okay. Except the teriyaki burgers – teriyaki sauce is sugary.
Interestingly, the Hardee’s part of the chain doesn’t list any grilled chicken salads, so it looks like you’re having a burger. They, too, have a number of versions, but don’t include the guacamole version – I suspect that the fact that Carl’s Junior offers it has to do with their being a big deal in California, where avocados are cheap.
Jack in the Box has a grilled chicken salad. Without the dressing it’s 14 grams of carb, with 4 grams of fiber, or 10 grams usable carb. It’s listed with the light balsamic dressing, but that’s thirteen grams. Go with the Bacon Ranch, for 3, instead.
That’s the only useful salad choice at Jack in the Box. There’s a southwestern salad, but it includes corn and beans, plus corn sticks. It’s nice to know, however, that this means you can get spicy southwestern dressing at 3 grams per serving. The Chicken Club Salad is listed with crispy chicken. If they’ll make it with grilled chicken, it should be fine, though quite similar to the regular grilled chicken salad – ah, I see the difference: Bacon. Ask ‘em to put the grilled chicken on the club salad, or ask for bacon bits for the grilled chicken salad. Same difference.
So there you go! I know, I know, I didn’t get to your favorite, ‘cause it’s Arby’s or Quiznos or something. You’ll just have to be patient; this show’s over a half-hour already! And I want to get in an episode of Low Carb Voices, ‘cause I just LOVE this call. It’s from Tamara in Iowa, with a bunch of ideas for convenience foods. Give a listen:
Wow, Tamara! GREAT ideas. It’s especially nice that the salami is available at Sam’s, since that’s nation-wide. As for your putting your cheese under your leg, I have done odder things in pursuit of good food. I say go for it. And I freeze cranberries, too, though I usually just throw the bags of whole cranberries in the freezer, and cook ‘em when I think of it.
Thanks so much!
This week’s question for Low Carb Voices is What’s your favorite picnic or barbecue food, other than just plain meat? Not that there’s anything wrong with just plain meat, but we can all think of that ourselves. So what’s your favorite low carb barbecue or picnic food that’s not just plain meat? Call (412) 385-DANA, that’s (412) 385-3262, and let us know!
If you have any friends you think might like the show, please steer ‘em to the show page at Dana’s Low Carb For Life, and if you like it, how about leaving a review at Itunes? We’d love it.
Don’t forget to check out the blog at Hold the toast.com, and join my facebook fan page at Dana Carpender’s Hold the Toast Press (and remember Carpender is spelled with a d where the t ought to be.) And remember, 300 15 Minute Low Carb Recipes is now available at Amazon.com, or order through CarbSmart.com along with your other stuff. Oh, and hey! I just noticed that CarbSmart is now offering $4.95 flat rate shipping to California and Nevada residents, so enjoy that, you westerners, you!
That’s it! Remember, till next week, stay low carb for life!