The ketogenic or “keto” diet has become increasingly popular in recent years as a way to lose weight and improve health. The diet emphasizes high fat, moderate protein, and very low carbohydrate intake in order to put the body into a metabolic state called ketosis. Many people find sticking to keto challenging due to the restrictions on carb-heavy foods. This leads to the common question – can you still enjoy favorite foods like orange chicken from Panda Express on the keto diet? Here is a comprehensive look at the carb, fat, and protein content of Panda Express orange chicken to determine if it can fit into keto meal plans.
What is the keto diet?
The keto diet aims to restrict daily carb intake, typically to less than 50g per day. By limiting carbs to such a low level, the body is induced into a state of ketosis. Ketosis occurs when the body switches from primarily burning carbs for energy to burning fats. Ketosis causes ketones to be produced by the liver and used for fuel instead of glucose from carbs. This metabolic state has been shown to have many health benefits including:
– Weight loss – Lowering carb intake often leads to reduced calorie intake and weight loss. Ketosis ramps up fat burning as well. Many follow keto specifically for accelerated fat loss.
– Reduced appetite – Ketosis naturally suppresses appetite, leading to less hunger and easier calorie restriction.
– Improved mental focus – Ketones provide an efficient energy source for the brain. Many report improved focus and mental clarity on keto.
– Better blood sugar control – Ketosis can help manage diabetes and prediabetes by lowering blood sugar and insulin levels.
– Other health benefits – Research indicates keto may also help with conditions like PCOS, metabolic syndrome, epilepsy and more.
To achieve and maintain ketosis, carb intake must stay very low, usually below 50g per day. Protein should be moderate, typically around 0.8-1.2g per pound of lean body mass. The rest of the diet comes from healthy fats like olive oil, nuts, seeds, avocado etc. This unique macronutrient ratio of high fat, moderate protein, and low carbs makes following keto not always easy when eating out.
Keto diet guidelines
Here is a quick look at typical keto diet guidelines:
– Carbs: Less than 50g per day, ideally around 20-30g per day from fibrous vegetables and berries.
– Protein: 0.8-1.2g per pound of lean body mass, around moderate amounts.
– Fat: Makes up around 70-80% of total daily calories. Focus on healthy unsaturated fats.
– Calories: Aim for a moderate calorie deficit if trying to lose weight.
– Ketone levels: Nutritional ketosis is defined as blood ketone levels of 0.5-3.0 mmol/L.
– Intermittent fasting: Many combine keto with fasting for better results. Common approaches are 16:8 or OMAD.
Sticking to around 20-50g net carbs daily usually induces ketosis within 1-3 days in most people. Lower carb intake leads to higher ketone levels and quicker results. However, lower carb intake also makes the diet more restrictive and potentially harder to adhere to. Monitoring ketones and finding one’s carb tolerance helps determine ideal carb intake.
Is Panda Express Orange Chicken Keto-Friendly?
Panda Express is a popular American Chinese fast food chain with locations across the country. Their orange chicken is arguably one of their most famous menu items – crispy fried boneless chicken bites coated in a sweet and tangy orange sauce. But does this tempting dish fit into a ketogenic eating plan? Let’s take a look at the nutrition facts.
A standard order of Panda Express orange chicken provides:
Calories and Macros
– 280 calories
– 16g fat
– 13g carbs
– 16g protein
The macros indicate this dish is moderately high in fat from the fried chicken and low in carbs compared to typical fast food meals. 13g of carbs is a reasonable amount for one meal on a keto diet. However, we need to dive deeper into the details.
Total and Net Carbs
The 13g of carbs includes 2g of fiber and 11g of sugar. To determine net carbs, we subtract fiber since it does not impact blood sugar. So the net carbs in Panda’s orange chicken is roughly 11g. This 11g of net carbs is within the limits of a standard keto meal. For most following a keto diet, 11g would be an acceptable amount of carbs for one meal, as long as other meals keep net carbs low.
Analyzing the ingredients list also provides useful clues into the keto-friendliness of this dish:
– Boneless chicken – Protein is the main macronutrient in keto diets and lean chicken is an excellent source.
– Batter – The batter contains flour and cornstarch which contribute some carbohydrates.
– Sauce – The orange sauce is made from orange juice concentrate, sugar, vinegar, soybean oil, garlic, ginger, and chilies. The added sugars mean the sauce is the main source of carbs.
While the sauce adds sweetness and flavor, it does contain added sugars. Those following a stricter keto diet may want to request the sauce on the side and control how much they use to further reduce carb content. Overall, the ingredients align pretty well with a keto-friendly meal.
Tips for Ordering Keto at Panda Express
If you want to keep Panda Express orange chicken keto-approved, consider these tips when ordering:
– Request sauce on side – Dip or drizzle the amount of sauce needed to control carbs and sugar.
– Sub a veggie side – Swap rice or chow mein for steamed veggies to add bulk without carbs.
– Add extra protein – Chicken and shrimp have little to no carbs, so add extra to help meet protein goals.
– Pair with low carb meal – Order a side salad or broth-based soup for a well-rounded keto meal.
– Avoid breaded items – Skip higher carb menu items like honey walnut shrimp or sweetfire chicken. Stick to grilled proteins.
– Watch portions – Stick to one serving as larger portions pile on more carbs.
Other Keto Fast Food Options
Panda Express is just one of many fast food chains expanding keto-friendly offerings due to the diet’s rising popularity. Here are some other fast food options to enjoy while sticking to a keto meal plan:
Most chains like McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King, and Subway offer low carb salad options. Some things to watch for:
– Load up on low carb veggies like lettuce, spinach, tomato, cucumber, avocado and peppers.
– Add grilled or crispy fried chicken for protein.
– Ask for dressing on the side and use sparingly, stick to vinaigrettes.
– Avoid croutons, taco shells, tortillas strips or fried wontons.
Grilled Chicken Sandwiches
A bun-less grilled chicken sandwich is an easy keto fast food option, for example:
– Chick-fil-A Grilled Chicken Sandwich
– Wendy’s Grilled Chicken Sandwich
– McDonald’s Artisan Grilled Chicken Sandwich
Order without the bun and any high carb sauce or toppings. Enjoy wrapped in lettuce or eat as is.
Burgers and Sandwiches as “Protein Style”
Ordering burgers and sandwiches “protein-style” means replacing the bun with lettuce. Try these popular picks:
– In-N-Out Protein Style Burger
– Five Guys Burger Bowl or Lettuce Wrap
– Jimmy John’s Unwich
– Chipotle Salad or Burrito Bowl
Keto-friendly fast food breakfast includes:
– Jimmy Dean Frittatas
– Starbucks Sous Vide Egg Bites
– McDonald’s Bacon Egg & Cheese McMuffin Without Muffin
– Dunkin Bacon Egg & Cheese on a Lettuce Wrap
– Starbucks Caffè Americano or Cold Brew with Heavy Cream
– Choose grilled chicken rather than crispy or fried
– Add extra cheese, bacon, avocado
– Ask for sauces and dressings on the side
– Swap fries for a side salad or steamed veggies
Is Orange Chicken From Panda Express Keto: The Verdict
Based on the nutrition information and ingredients list, Panda Express orange chicken can fit into a ketogenic diet with some modification. A standard order has 11g net carbs, which is a moderate amount of carbs for one meal. Requesting the sauce on the side makes this dish easier to fit into daily carb limits. Pairing orange chicken with lower carb sides helps balance out the meal too. While not completely keto-approved in its classic form, it can be customized to work for those carefully tracking carbs, ingredients, and macros on a ketogenic eating plan. When ordering at Panda Express or any chain, always check nutrition info and ingredients to make the best choice.
Keto Diet Considerations
Can you eat fast food and still follow a keto diet? Occasionally, yes, but there are some precautions to take:
– Avoid going over 20-50g net carbs daily – It’s easy to overload on carbs with sauces, dressings, and sides so pay close attention to totals.
– Focus on whole food sources – While fast food can occasionally fit into keto diets, eating primarily real, whole foods is recommended for optimal health.
– Limit highly processed ingredients – Items deep fried in industrial seed oils and laden with preservatives do not align with the spirit of the diet.
– Manage portions – It’s easy to overeat high fat, high calorie fast food; be mindful of protein and calorie intake.
– Check labels and ask questions – Fast food nutrition info and ingredients can vary by location.
– Consider food quality – While fast food can technically fit macros, minimally processed meat, produce, dairy, etc are healthier choices.
Following keto long-term ultimately requires a focus on high quality whole foods. But for an occasional treat, popular take out chains are expanding options to enjoy while staying in ketosis. By carefully customizing orders, favorites like Panda Express orange chicken can be worked into a keto eating plan.
The ketogenic diet can be challenging to navigate, especially when it comes to eating out and ordering fast food. But by analyzing nutrition information and ingredients lists, modifying items, and making smart swaps, it is possible to stay in ketosis while still enjoying favorite on-the-go options. Panda Express orange chicken has a moderate 11g of net carbs per serving. Requesting the sauce on the side and pairing with lower carb additions allows this iconic sweet and tangy dish to work for keto meal plans. While fast food will never trump real whole foods for health, with careful consideration for carbs, calories, and quality, occasional drive-thru visits can be part of a sustainable ketogenic lifestyle.