Fast Food Facts

Is it safe to eat fast food on a ketogenic diet?

Article by Mandy Pagano | 21 Mar, 2021

Fast food joints are the height of convenience. Quick, easy, and relatively cheap food is high on the lists of most busy, time-pressed food patrons and fast food chains have sprung up everywhere to meet that demand. Even amongst the hard-core Ketonian community we regularly see questions along the lines of, "What should I eat at X Fast Food establishment?" The answer to that is probably going to disappoint most, as it is one, mean word: nothing.

It is our very considered opinion that no one should eat at a fast food place. But that's not what's really being sought. To eat, or not to eat isn't the question. The real inquiry is what can we eat at a fast food place, which is a different matter altogether.

Recently, we've seen a slew of meme-style pictures floating around the keto-sphere purporting to show "good" choices at various fast food places. We understand the sentiment behind those pictures; our entire team lead incredibly busy lives, are constantly on the go, and like pretty much everyone else we've found ourselves in the position of needing to eat with very limited options available. It happens, and we all understand that sometimes we have to make the best of less than ideal situations. After all, as we've said a plethora of times, no one expects you to be a hermit and never eat anything you didn't prepare yourself in your home with your ingredients. This is why we've previously featured an entire piece with tips for eating out.

But here's the problem: fast food is almost universally unhealthy food.

We all know this, so let's not pretend we are making a super healthy go of it if we are running through the drive-thru more than once in a blue moon.

We here at Ketogenic Success aren't really in the business of telling people what to do. Everyone has to decide for themself what is best for their ketogenic lifestyle, and they are going to make it all work in real life. Sometimes that may include deciding whether or not to consume fast food. Regardless of what you choose, we absolutely believe you should go into it with your eyes open and be informed about what you're putting into your body.

So, without further ado, here are the biggest, verified known problems with fast food:

Holy Pile of Additives, Batman!

We're sure this isn't exactly stunning, but fast food is chock full of additives. From run-of-the-mill preservatives, to vitamin and mineral fortifications (so they can pretend it's somewhat healthy, because vitamins), to MSG, all kinds of food coloring, and even gluten injections (not even kidding), fast food products have a whole mess of junk added to them to enhance flavor, appearance, texture, and shelf stability.

That bit about gluten injections is no joke. While we were researching this piece, we came across several lists of fast food joints (encompassing almost all of the major chains) that injected gluten into various meat products. From taco meat to nuggets to bacon, gluten is apparently a pretty common addition to quick serve meats, which is kind of a ketonian's worst nightmare.

That's all before we get into any sauces or condiments, most of which contain HFCS (high fructose corn syrup), and various emulsifiers that you might find listed frequently on products like sunscreen or dish detergent, but wouldn't ever find in a home kitchen.

Pardon Me, But I Believe There Is Sugar In My Chicken

Whenever someone orders "healthy" fast food, 99% of the time they're ordering a chicken dish. Usually grilled chicken. And I'm sure they would be stunned to find that their grilled chicken has carbs from the sugar (and a host of other odd and/or surprising additives) that is brined and/or injected directly into the meat.

Don't believe us? Here is a list of the ingredients in a major fast food chain's grilled chicken breast. And, we quote:

Chicken Breast with Rib Meat, Water, Seasoning (Maltodextrin, Salt, Sugar, Autolyzed Yeast Extract, Garlic Powder, Spices, Natural Flavors, Onion Powder, Modified Corn Starch, Chicken Fat, Chicken Powder, Chicken Broth, Disodium Guanylate and Disodium Inosinate, Citric Acid, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Dehydrated Garlic, and Artificial Flavors.), Modified Corn Starch, Soybean Oil, Salt, Sodium Phosphates. Glazed with: Water, Seasoning [Maltodextrin, Salt, Sugar, Methylcellulose, Autolyzed Yeast Extract, Partially Hydrogenated Sunflower Oil, Modified Potato Starch, Fructose, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Garlic Powder, Onion Powder, Dehydrated Garlic, Spices, Modified Corn Starch, Xanthan Gum, Natural Flavors, Disodium Guanylate and Disodium Inosinate, Chicken Fat, Carmel Color, Grill Flavor (from Partially Hydrogenated Soybean and Cottonseed Oil), Chicken Powder, Chicken Broth, Turmeric, Smoke Flavor, Annatto Extract, and Artificial Flavors], Soybean Oil.

That's in a chicken breast.

Chicken. Breast.

See, when most people think of ordering chicken breast, they think of the meat from the breast of a chicken. What they're not thinking about is maltodextrin, methycellulose, and modified potato starch. We may not be chicken biology experts, but we're still pretty sure you're not going to find any autolyzed yeast extract in a fresh chicken breast.

Here is another doozy for you, found in the ingredients list for the grilled chicken "nuggets" from another popular chain:

Grilled chicken (whole breast filet, seasoning [water, apple cider vinegar, soybean oil, yeast extract, salt, modified corn starch, palm oil, dehydrated garlic, dehydrated onion, corn maltodextrin, sea salt, natural flavor, sugar, chicken stock, cane molasses, chicken fat, spice, natural flavor {including smoke}, dextrose, lemon peel, citric acid, red bell pepper, orange juice concentrate, grape juice concentrate, natural flavor, paprika, vinegar, xanthan gum, ascorbic acid, and spices]).

Yes, Virginia, there is sugar in your chicken. And a whole pile of other stuff that isn't chicken. To be perfectly frank here, with as many ingredients as are listed above, it's stunning that fast food grilled chicken continues to taste like flavorless rubber.

Where's The Beef?

You might have heard about the controversy bubbling around whether or not there was any actual meat in the taco meat at a well-known chain. We regret to inform you that, while the chain bragged about their meat being 88% beef (seriously, they were proud of that... and it's still kind of up in the air as to whether or not the percentage of beef they claimed their meat contains is even true), there were other things in it that should make a ketonian cringe. Like oats, for example.


Beef, Water, Seasoning [Isolated Oat Product, Salt, Chili Pepper, Onion Powder, Tomato Powder, Oats (Wheat), Soy Lecithin, Sugar, Spices, Maltodextrin, Soybean Oil (Anti-dusting Agent), Garlic Powder, Autolyzed Yeast Extract, Citric Acid, Caramel Color, Cocoa Powder (Processed With Alkali), Silicon Dioxide, Natural Flavors, Yeast, Modified Corn Starch, Natural Smoke Flavor], Salt, Sodium Phosphates. CONTAINS SOYBEANS, WHEAT

We don't know about you, but we are not excited about having to try and guess whether or not the meat on our plate is actually, you know, meat instead of some weird concoction of oats, soy, and silicon dioxide.

Hopefully, pulling back the curtain on some of these problems will help to highlight in your mind why eating fast food isn't good idea, and not just because we are ketonians, but because it's full of additives that are bad for everyone.

We would like to emphasize that these are just the things that have been publicly verified. There are many other claims that are also highly concerning. For example, there have been rumors for years that fast food chains regularly spray or soak their vegetables with either sugar water, or some kind of preservative concoction containing propelyne glycol (so much for that "healthier" fast food salad). While we could not find any solid verification of that, when considering that it took a lawsuit to get the admission about the presence of oats in the ground beef, we're giving that fast food salad the side-eye from now on.

Another concerning fact that we do know is that most of these places are cooking their foods in highly inflammatory soybean or vegetable oils, some or all of which are at least partially hydrogenated (i.e., trans fats). We also know that there is a high risk of cross contamination at fast food establishments, because many foods are heated in the same oil as those breaded items that are deep fried. These facts, by themselves, should be enough of a red flag to at least give you pause before you place your order.

We've mentioned before that ingredients matter and we should largely be eating real food. Sometimes it can be a challenge, and even the members of our team are guilty of grabbing an egg and sausage patty or some lunch meat and cheese from one of these establishments. But at the very least, we encourage you to avoid the fast food drive thru and counter as much as possible, as frequent consumption of these kinds of frankenfoods can seriously hinder progress and be deleterious to maintaining good health.

Part of making good keto decisions means we have to sacrifice a measure of convenience, and much as it pains most of us to admit it, for the average ketonian this probably means fast food is largely out. What can you eat at that fast food joint? The answer to that really depends on you. Whatever your decision, make it an informed one.

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