WASHINGTON – The typical Chinese restaurant menu is a sea of nutritional no-nos, a consumer group has found.
A plate of General Tso’s chicken, for example, is loaded with about 40 percent more sodium and more than half the calories an average adult needs for an entire day.
The battered, fried chicken dish with vegetables has 1,300 calories, 3,200 milligrams of sodium and 11 grams of saturated fat.
That’s before the rice (200 calories a cup). And after the egg rolls (200 calories and 400 milligrams of sodium).
“I don’t want to put all the blame on Chinese food,” said Bonnie Liebman, nutrition director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which did a report released Tuesday.
“Across the board, American restaurants need to cut back on calories and salt, and in the meantime, people should think of each meal as not one, but two, and bring home half for tomorrow,” Liebman said.
The average adult needs around 2,000 calories a day and 2,300 milligrams of salt, which is about one teaspoon of salt, according to government guidelines.
In some ways, Liebman said, Italian and Mexican restaurants are worse for your health, because their food is higher in saturated fat, which can increase the risk of heart disease.
While Chinese restaurant food is bad for your waistline and blood pressure — sodium contributes to hypertension — it does offer vegetable-rich dishes and the kind of fat that’s not bad for the heart.
However — and this is a big however — the veggies aren’t off the hook. A plate of stir-fried greens has 900 calories and 2,200 milligrams of sodium. And eggplant in garlic sauce has 1,000 calories and 2,000 milligrams of sodium.
“We were shocked. We assumed the vegetables were all low in calories,” Liebman said.
Also surprising were some appetizers: An order of six steamed pork dumplings has 500 calories, and there’s not much difference, about 10 calories per dumpling, if they’re pan-fried.
The group found that not much has changed since it examined Chinese food 15 years ago. That’s not all bad, Liebman said.
“We were glad not to find anything different,” she said. “Some restaurant food has gotten a lot worse. Companies seem to pile on. Instead of just cheesecake, you get coconut chocolate chip cheesecake with a layer of chocolate cake, and lasagna with meatballs.”
The group says there is no safe harbor from sodium on the Chinese restaurant menu, but it offers several tips for making a meal healthier:
— Look for dishes that feature vegetables instead of meat or noodles. Ask for extra broccoli, snow peas or other veggies.
— Steer clear of deep-fried meat, seafood or tofu. Order it stir-fried or braised.
— Hold the sauce, and eat with a fork or chopsticks to leave more sauce behind.
— Avoid salt, which means steering clear of the duck sauce, hot mustard, hoisin sauce and soy sauce.
— Share your meal or take half home for later.
— Ask for brown rice instead of white rice.
- Is Chinese Food Healthy?
- What 8 Diet Experts Order at Chinese Restaurants
- Keep It Steamed
- Double Down on Veggies
- Stick to the Basics
- Practice Portion Control
- End on the Right Note
- Take Back Control
- Pregame with Soup
- Strike a Balance
- WORST BREAKFAST
- WORST LUNCH
- WORST APPETIZER
- WORST DINNER
- WORST DESSERT
- Menu Navigator: Best (and Worst) Choices at a Chinese Restaurant
- 10 Healthiest and Unhealthiest Chinese Takeout Dishes
- What is the healthiest thing to order from a Chinese takeaway?
Is Chinese Food Healthy?
Ordering in Chinese? You’re Better off Making Your Own Chinese Food at Home
While some Chinese dishes may be piled with veggies, your typical Western-made Chinese takeout is unfortunately far from healthy. From fat to calories to plenty of sodium, Chinese food has a lot of nutritional downsides, which, if you eat a lot of it, can negatively affect the health of your family. If you all love Chinese takeout, you can still enjoy it occasionally—or make your own versions at home for slightly better nutrition.
High in Calories
Most Chinese takeout has at least one major calorie bomb, whether it’s the breading on chicken balls or sweet-and-sour pork, the fatty sauce used to dress your lo mein or the copious cooking oil in your fried rice. So it’s no surprise that Chinese foods are generally very high in calories. A serving of fried rice at a leading national Chinese food restaurant, for example, has 520 calories, while each egg roll has 200 calories. And since most Chinese places actually give you several servings’ worth of food in each container, it’s not uncommon for your meal to top 1,000 calories or more—too much for you, and way too much for your kids.
Packed With Fat
Lots of Chinese takeout is prepared via frying, whether that’s deep frying breaded chicken or fish, or wok-frying stir fry and fried rice. And, of course, since frying requires added fat, that means these foods are typically high in fat as well. A serving of chow mein at a national Chinese restaurant has 22 grams of fat; a healthy-sounding eggplant and tofu dish has 24 grams; Beijing-style beef packs in 26 grams.
While fat isn’t inherently bad for your family, it is a concentrated source of calories. The saturated and even trans fats found in Chinese food, though, threaten your cardiovascular health. Most of your family’s fat intake should come from healthy plant-based fats: nut butter, seeds and fish, rather than processed or fried food.
Loaded With Sodium
There’s virtually no escape from sodium on the Chinese takeout menu, since essentially every savory dish comes packed with the stuff. Chinese crispy shrimp, for instance, has 800 milligrams per serving—more than half the 1,500 milligrams some adults and older kids should be allowed per day. A serving of chow mein has a staggering 980 milligrams of sodium, and even a healthy side of mixed vegetables packs in 540 milligrams. While eating salty foods occasionally isn’t the end of the world—though you may notice some bloating—habitually eating salty fare increases blood pressure for everyone, and increases your family’s risk of cardiovascular disease. If your family loves Chinese food, order lower-sodium menu items, and keep your portions in check to avoid eating too much salt.
A Healthier Alternative
Chinese takeout in moderation is all right, and it’s important to teach your children the value of moderation in a diet, but it shouldn’t be a staple in your diet.
Instead, try making your own healthier versions at home. Bread chicken breast in a whole-wheat breading to make healthier “chicken balls,” and make your own fried rice using brown rice, chicken breast and plenty of vegetables. Experiment with making your own stir-fries at home using healthy ingredients: lean beef, bell peppers, snow peas, onions and a sauce, incorporating fresh ingredients like ginger to serve as healthy weeknight staples in place of takeout.
What 8 Diet Experts Order at Chinese Restaurants
There are countless menu items that get a pan-fry treatment before they’re doused in copious amounts of mystery sauce that can be packed with sugar and cornstarch. Thankfully, your neighborhood Chinese restaurant doesn’t have to be off limits! It’s a bit trickier to navigate than the fast food joint where calorie counts are easy to come by, but even your local spot’s menu has some hidden, healthful gems. We’ve asked 8 diet experts how they navigate the Chinese menus they love in order to feel satisfied without ruining a week’s worth of calorie cutbacks. Here, find out their favorite healthy Chinese food orders and suggestions for making your weekend takeout work for your diet!
Keep It Steamed
“I eat steamed vegetable dumplings without sauce. I often pair them with either chicken and broccoli in brown sauce (I ask for a little sauce made without sugar) or steamed shrimp dumplings. The most important thing when it comes to Chinese food is to watch portion sizes. I stick to a small bowl and have, for example, one cup of shrimp and broccoli with a side of four veggie dumplings. If I want a treat, I’ll order a shrimp spring roll with no more than 4-5 of the vegetable dumplings; because my portion is small, I don’t feel bad for having something fried—especially since I don’t do it that often. Plus, the spring roll has a ton of veggies in it!” – Elisa Zied, MS, RDN, CDN, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Author of Younger Next Week
Double Down on Veggies
“For starters, I go for a hot and sour or wonton soup. It is around 100 calories or less, and research shows starting with a broth-based soup helps us eat less throughout the meal—effortlessly! In general, I go fresh instead of fried. I try to skip the fried egg rolls and fried rice and go for vegetable spring rolls, steamed vegetable dumplings, or steamed brown rice. For healthy entrees, I go for a fish or chicken with vegetables or moo goo gai pan–a tasty dish with chicken, mushrooms and lots of other vegetables.” – Patricia Bannan, MS, RDN, author of Eat Right When Time is Tight
Stick to the Basics
“When I dine out, I look for the dish that provides me with an array of colorful vegetables and a healthy source of protein. A good rule of thumb at Chinese restaurants is to eat no more than a fistful of rice and, when possible, opt for brown rice for the added fiber. A mixed vegetable dish is a good choice if it’s steamed and doesn’t include a fatty or sugary sauce; hot and sour soup is not only warming but also low in calories without being short on flavor. For entrees, look for options with a lot of vegetables and a protein that isn’t fried or breaded. Try beef and broccoli, string beans with chicken, or moo goo gai pan.” – Sarah Koszyk, MA, RDN, founder of Family. Food. Fiesta.
Practice Portion Control
“I always look for veggies–lots of veggies–in any dish I order. I tend to steer myself towards chicken or tofu instead of beef. Some Chinese restaurants have brown rice, so I’ll request that; but, most important–whether with brown or white rice–is the quantity. It’s easy to eat too much starchy rice. Portions are always too big, so eating less than half is wise. I generally recommend avoiding anything ‘crispy’ (code for fried), ‘sweet and sour’, and anything with peanuts or peanut sauce (healthy fat, but loaded with calories). Chicken with broccoli is a go-to of mine.” – Jennifer Neily, MS, RDN, LD, FAND, Neily on Nutrition
End on the Right Note
“When faced with a takeout menu, I’d go for Buddha’s Delight–with mounds of steamed vegetables and tofu for protein, this vegetarian dish is usually a safe bet. Vegetables are the star of the dish. The veggies are filling and the protein satisfies. Chicken and broccoli is another good option, just be sure to keep your rice portion in check. If you’re dining in the restaurant, take advantage of the hot tea available in most Chinese restaurants. Save room for tea after your meal to cleanse the palate and signal the brain that you’re done eating.” – Marisa Moore, MBA, RDN, LD, Marisa Moore Nutrition
Take Back Control
“First, I always skip the sauce. Chinese restaurants are notorious when it comes to adding excessive amounts of salt to their food. I like to take back some of the control by avoiding added soy and other sauces. Second, I choose the safe foods. These days, most Chinese restaurants offer steamed vegetables and brown rice. I try to fill half the plate with the veggies and fill about 1/4 the plate with brown rice. This will dramatically lower calories and fat of your dish.” – Lori Zanini, RD, CDE, National Media Spokesperson, Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics
Pregame with Soup
“I always order an egg drop soup, broccoli sautéed with garlic and oil, and brown rice (but only eat 1/2 cup). The broccoli provides a lot of vitamin C and not as many calories as many of the meat-based entrees; the egg from my soup provides protein for my meal without a lot of added fat; and the brown rice nutritious whole grains.” – Keri Gans, RDN, author of The Small Change Diet
Strike a Balance
“As I do at any restaurant, I drink two glasses of water while ordering, then look for a soup for an appetizer since the choices (like egg drop soup) are typically lower in calories but filled with protein. For my main, I go for the steamed entrees and ask for sauce on the side so I can control how much I use. Most sauces found in American Chinese restaurants are the source of all the fat and sugar in the dishes. I usually combine 2 tablespoons of the dish’s original sauce with a low-sodium soy sauce to save on calories. Steamed meals should always have a combo of one portion of protein (such as beef, shrimp, or chicken) and non-starchy vegetables (like broccoli, mushrooms, and spinach). Always drink water throughout the meal to balance out the sodium used in many of these restaurants.” – Leah Kaufman, MS, RD, CDN
Get the New Book!
Want to lose 10, 20, even 30 pounds—all without dieting?! Get your copy of Eat This, Not That: The Best (& Worst) Foods in America!, and learn how to indulge smarter and lose weight fast!
More than a decade ago, Eat This, Not That! helped create a healthier food revolution. Back then, it was pretty difficult to find the calorie counts of your favorite restaurant orders. But when we started posting about what was really in some these meals, we started to see some major changes at a lot of restaurants.
Now, many places post nutritional information on their menus and online and it’s not uncommon to find a designated section of the menu highlighting items under 600 calories.
While we may be more health conscious now, there’s still a lot of confusion about what’s actually healthy. So, Eat This, Not That! is back to do it all again.
“Eat This, Not That!” by David Zinczenko
My new Eat This, Not That! book reveals thousands of popular and seemingly healthy foods that have shocking amounts of fat, sugar, salt and calories — often more than a day’s worth. But if you know what to choose in every situation, you can still lose 10, 20, or even 30 pounds without dieting while still enjoying lighter versions of some of your favorite foods.
We hand picked the most shocking orders at national chain restaurants for every meal of the day — from breakfast to dessert — and we found the healthier swaps you can order instead. Saving 300 calories each day may result in more than a half pound loss in just one week and making these swaps is a simple way to cut calories while still dining out.
Denny’s Cinnamon-Roll Pancakes are loaded with sugar. Dennys
Denny’s Cinnamon Roll Pancake Breakfast with two pancakes, two sunny-side up eggs, hash browns and two bacon strips
Nutrition: 1,800 calories, 70 grams of fat (24 grams of saturated fat), 2,670 milligrams sodium, 263 grams of carbs (5 grams of fiber, 186 grams of sugar), 30 grams of protein
INSANE EQUIVALENT: As many calories as 9 Krispy Kreme Glazed Doughnuts
If you want to eat a cinnamon roll for breakfast, just do that. Ordering this cinnamon roll-inspired breakfast from Denny’s isn’t just as unhealthy as eating one Cinnabon cinnamon roll — it’s three times as unhealthy. And that only covers the sugar. With the additional sides of fried eggs, hash browns and bacon, you’re also looking at taking down as much sodium as a family-sized bag of pretzels.
If you still want a little taste of everything (because who doesn’t?) then your best bet is to opt for Denny’s Build Your Own Grand Slam. This plate delivers sweet, salty and savory flavors all in one meal … without blowing up your calorie count. You’ll save 165 grams of sugar by opting for this order over the Cinnamon Roll Pancake Breakfast.
EAT THIS BREAKFAST
Build Your Own Grand Slam with two hearty wheat pancakes, two turkey bacon strips and two eggs cooked over easy
Nutrition: 650 calories, 30.5 grams of fat (9 grams of saturated fat), 1,410 milligrams sodium, 70 grams of carbs (5 grams of fiber, 21 grams of sugar), 27 grams of protein
YOU SAVE: 1,150 calories
This creamy and dreamy dish is a staple on The Cheesecake Factory’s menu, but it’s far from healthy. Cheesecake Factory
Cheesecake Factory Fettuccini Alfredo with Chicken (lunch pasta)
Nutrition: 1,700 calories, 112 grams of fat (64 grams saturated fat, 3.5 grams trans fat), 2,270 milligrams sodium, 113 grams carbs (7 grams of fiber, 8 grams of sugar), 60 grams of protein
INSANE EQUIVALENT: More calories than 3 McDonald’s Big Macs
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We get it, that creamy bowl of pasta is calling your name at The Cheesecake Factory, but let’s take a step back and consider just what goes into this bowl of carbs. We’re not just talking about the butter and cream in the Alfredo sauce. You could enjoy this oversized bowl of pasta or three servings of McDonald’s most popular burger.
Instead, go for the gluten-free soft chicken tacos. You could eat three orders of this healthier dish and still not consume the same number of calories, fat, saturated fat and sodium as the pasta dish. You’ll get a good source of protein and, best of all, a serving of vegetables.
EAT THIS LUNCH
Cheesecake Factory SkinnyLicious Chicken Soft Tacos
Nutrition: 510 calories, 15 grams of fat (3.5 grams of saturated fat), 830 milligrams of sodium, 63 grams of carbs (12 grams of fiber, 13 grams of sugar), 32 grams of protein.
YOU SAVE: 1,190 calories
Outback Steakhouse may be best known for its crunchy appetizer, but this Bloomin’ Onion should definitely be shared as an appetizer. Outback
Outback’s Bloomin Onion
Nutrition: 1,950 calories, 155 grams of fat (56 grams saturated fat, 7 grams trans fat), 3,840 milligrams sodium, 123 grams carbs (14 grams fiber, 18 grams of sugar), 18 grams of protein
INSANE EQUIVALENT: As much fat as 133 Chick-fil-A nuggets
This dish also has as much saturated fat as 11 slices of Dominos Hand-Tossed Pizza With Regular Cheese — that’s the equivalent of a pie and a half!
When hunting for healthy appetizers at Outback Steakhouse, head to the sea rather than the fields. If you absolutely must have a fried appetizer, the Coconut Shrimp is a great alternative to the gargantuan Bloomin’ Onion. You’ll still get that crispy, greasy fix without exceeding your whole day’s worth of calories, fat and sodium.
EAT THIS APPETIZER
Outback’s Gold Coast Coconut Shrimp (small size)
Nutrition: 360 calories, 17 grams of fat (9 grams of saturated fat, 1 gram trans fat), 650 milligrams of sodium, 41 grams of carbs (21 grams of sugar), 12 grams of protein
YOU SAVE: 1,590 calories
Shrimp is a great source of protein but not if it comes with too many extras like carbs and sugar-laden sauce. TGI Fridays
TGI Friday’s Sizzling Street Noodles
Nutrition: 1,520 calories, 39 grams of fat (6 grams saturated fat), 6,970 milligrams sodium, 230 grams of carbs (13 grams of fiber, 44 grams of sugar), 73 grams of protein
INSANE EQUIVALENT: As much sodium as 15 small bags of Rold Gold Pretzels
If you’re looking for an Asian-inspired meal at this fast-casual chain, swim up river and grab the salmon instead of the shrimp noodles.
Even though the restaurant’s glazed salmon is still 900 calories, there are added benefits to choosing this meal. Salmon is a top source of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids: a heart-protective type of fat that most of us don’t get enough of. Plus, making this swap will save you the sodium equivalent of 10 bags of pretzels.
EAT THIS DINNER
Nutrition: 900 calories, 36 grams of fat (6 grams saturated fat), 2,390 milligrams sodium, 107 grams of carbs (7 grams of fiber, 16 grams of sugar), 41 grams of protein
YOU SAVE: 620 calories
This rich cake might look beautiful but one giant slice has as many calories as a tub of ice cream. PF Changs
P.F. Chang’s Great Wall of Chocolate
Nutrition: 1,700 calories, 71 grams of fat (30 grams of saturated fat), 1,410 milligrams of sodium, 259 grams of carbs (14 grams of fiber, 190 grams of sugar), 17 grams of protein
INSANE EQUIVALENT: As much sugar as an entire carton of Breyers Chocolate Ice Cream
If there’s one wall that needs to be taken down, it’s P.F. Chang’s Great Wall of Chocolate. One slice of this monstrous cake contains about seven times the sugar content than the lowest-sugar dessert on the restaurant’s menu.
For some perspective, the Vietnamese Chocolate Lava Cake, which contains 70 grams of sugar, still has 120 grams less sugar than the Great Wall of Chocolate (and fewer than half the calories). However, both dishes far exceed the recommended average of 25 grams of sugar for women or 35 grams of sugar for men set by the American Heart Association.
EAT THIS DESSERT
P.F. Chang’s Vietnamese Chocolate Lava Cake
Nutrition: 800 calories, 49 grams of fat (27 grams saturated fat), 340 milligrams sodium, 88 grams of carbs (5 grams of fiber, 70 grams of sugar), 12 grams of protein
YOU SAVE: 900 calories
Daniel Frauchiger, Switzerland / Getty
Ordering Chinese takeout is easy. Ordering healthy Chinese takeout takes a little more thought. But finding the healthiest food from your favorite Chinese restaurant shouldn’t be hard—hi, that defeats the whole purpose of ordering in—so we’ve put together something of a healthy Chinese food options cheat sheet for you. We asked registered dietitians how they navigate the menu when there’s just no way they’re cooking tonight. The themes we heard over and over again? Watch out for sauces that go overboard on the sodium, steamed is healthier than fried (duh), and load up on veggies.
What if your favorite dish doesn’t make this list? Well, there are a couple ways to think about it. If you’re ordering out of sheer convenience and determined to make the healthiest choices possible, use this advice as a guide to meet this goal. If you’re ordering because you’re seriously craving something in particular…order it, enjoy the hell out of it, and don’t waste your time feeling guilty about it.
These 17 healthy Chinese food options are what registered dietitians order for themselves, and we have to admit, we’re getting hungry just looking at them. Let this list inspire your next takeout order. Who knows, you might even discover a new favorite.
1. Shrimp and Vegetables With Black Bean Sauce
“You get lean protein from the shrimp, and lots of antioxidants, fiber, and even a bit of water from the veggies,” says Keri Glassman, M.S., R.D., C.D.N., and founder of Nutritious Life in NYC. She always orders her sauce on the side, so you can control how much is on there.
TheCrimsonMonkey / Getty2. Beef and Broccoli
This classic dish gets a thumbs-up for its filling power. “I like beef and broccoli with brown rice,” says Rebecca Scritchfield, R.D. “You don’t need too much beef to feel full.” Chicken and broccoli is a good option, too.
3. Mixed Vegetables
You’re probably not surprised that vegetables made the list. Patricia Bannan, M.S., R.D., recommends ordering steamed or even lightly stir-fried veggies on the side—the more, the better.
4. Extra Vegetables
Rather than ordering a separate dish, see if the restaurant will bulk up your current order with extra veg. “Ask for extra broccoli, carrots, or snow peas in any dish,” suggests Sarah-Jane Bedwell, R.D., L.D.N. “These are three veggies that Asian restaurants typically have on hand.” This tactic is one of her favorites for filling up her plate.
The traditional Chinese diet is a healthy one, with lots of vegetables, stir-fries with small chunks of meat or fish, and soy foods. But that’s not always evident in the typical fare in a Chinese restaurant in the United States, where the meal is likely to be heavy on greasy meats and swimming in sauces with lots of calories. Even the vegetables are usually in a fatty, sugary sauce. If you’re looking to eat healthy, do you have to give up Chinese takeout? Of course not. “While there are definitely loads of options at Chinese restaurants that are heavy on greasy meats and swimming in sauces, it is doable to choose a healthy meal,” says Patricia Bannan, RDN, author of Eat Right When Time is Tight and a dietitian in Los Angeles.
1. Ask for brown rice. Most restaurants give you the option, and white rice is a blood-sugar disaster waiting to happen. Don’t eat the whole bowl or container of rice; spoon a half cup onto your plate and leave the rest. You can also do as a Chinese native would: Put a small amount of brown rice in a small bowl and hold the bowl up, using your chopsticks (or fork) to eat a little rice in between bites of your main dish. You can also skip the rice altogether, and fill up on fiber-friendly vegetables instead.
2. Start with soup. Wonton, egg drop, or hot-and-sour soup are good choices. A small bowl of soup will take the edge off your hunger and not make a big dent in your calorie intake. Another good appetizer choice is steamed vegetable dumplings—steer clear of pan-fried ones.
3. Look for light options. When it comes to entrées, “opt for a steamed entree option such as chicken or tofu and mixed vegetables,” says Bannan. “This eliminates the extra fat and calories from being deep fried or cooked in a heavy amount of oils and sauces.” Peruse the options from the “health” menu. Here is where you’ll find similar low-fat choices. Another good choice is moo goo gai pan (chicken with mushrooms). If you like stir-fries, ask the waitperson to have yours prepared with less oil and more veggies. And “ask for a side of your favorite sauce or soy sauce to control how much you add, which can also control the amount of added sodium,” adds Bannan. “I always ask for the low-sodium soy sauce, which is available at most Chinese restaurants.”
4. Make sure you order plenty of vegetables. If you really want to make the meal healthier, order a plate of steamed vegetables and add them to other dishes. Or ask for sautéed vegetables or Szechuan-style string beans.
5. Take advantage of the bean curd (tofu). Include a heart-healthy dish like bean curd with sautéed Chinese mixed vegetables (ask for sautéed bean curd, not deep-fried).
6. Plan to take home leftovers. Portions are often large. Think of about a cup of a dish (without rice) as a serving.
7. Just Say No
- Crispy noodles
- Egg rolls
- Fried wontons
- Fried rice
- Pan-fried noodles
- Lo mein
- Crispy beef or chicken
- Sweet-and-sour pork, chicken, and other meat dishes
- Szechuan spicy fish
- General Tso’s chicken
- Kung pao chicken
- Spicy eggplant
- Ordering Italian
- Ordering Mexican
- Ordering Fast Food
China’s cuisine is as vast as the country itself, ranging from sublime vegetarian dishes to earthy meals using hair-raising animal parts. Here, though, many Chinese restaurants offer a mix of regional and Chinese-American–tasty food but nutritionally all over the map. We analyzed six Chinese entrées from real U.S. restaurants to help point you to healthier choices. Nutrition numbers are estimates: Results vary widely according to portion size. If sodium is a concern, ask the kitchen not to use added salt, and watch your intake the rest of the day. Your fortune: Healthy choices are in your near future.
Smart Chinese Food Strategies
Sodium is a major concern in Chinese-American cuisine–one tablespoon of soy sauce has about 1,000 milligrams. Reach for the low-sodium (about 500 mg) bottle, if you must. Better yet, use Chinese mustard, duck sauce, or chili sauce to boost flavor wihtout as much added salt.
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What You Need to Know About Ordering Chinese Food
- Prepare to share: Chinese entrées are huge. Split one, take leftovers home, and keep portion sizes reasonable.
- Keep it lean: Avoid extra fat–choose lean proteins and vegetarian plates, and steer clear of deep-fried dishes.
- Rice counts, too: Remember each cup of brown or white steamed rice adds about 200 calories to your meal.
Splurge Only: Pork Lo Mein
Oil-slick noodles and marbled meat send calories soaring, while more than a day’s worth of sodium lurks in the seasoning.
Healthy Choice: Ma Po Tofu
This fiery entrée may be listed with vegetarian items. If not, order it without ground pork to slash calories and saturated fat.
Ask Your Server: Ginger Chicken with Broccoli
Loaded with green veggies and (typically white meat chicken–just watch your serving size.
Healthy Choice: Shrimp with Garlic Sauce
Shellfish and vegetables in zesty, low-fat sauce. Make it better: Ask them to use less oil.
Ask Your Server: Mu Shu Pork
Stick to two filled pancakes of this vegetable-packed dish and cut calories by half.
Splurge Only: Sweet and Sour Chicken
Batter-coated and deep-fried lean protein, smothered in sugar-laced sauce.
10 Healthiest and Unhealthiest Chinese Takeout Dishes
So, as the Healthy Eating editor, I’m supposed to champion all things nutritious. But I have a confession: I love Chinese food. Should I be ashamed? Must I repent to the cashier at Whole Foods?
All joking aside, being able to navigate through a basically unhealthy Chinese takeout menu without giving up your healthy lifestyle is important because the techniques and strategies used can be applied to any fast-food restaurant experience. It’s important to remember that every menu has healthy alternatives, and Chinese takeout menus are no exception. Sticking to stir fried instead of batter fried, starting with a soup and replacing thick sweet sauces with a hit of hot sauce are all ways to lighten your out of the house dining experiences.
I can already sense your skepticism, but let me address your doubts here and now: I will not simply recommend dishes from the “diet” column or variations on “The Buddha’s Delight.” There are tasty Chinese takeout dishes that don’t come loaded with fat, calories, or guilt. But there are also some that should raise a mental red flag and that you should just flat-out avoid.
Not all Chinese food is created equal. Each restaurant has its own style, ingredients, and dish composition. Oh, and just so I don’t forget, always ask for extra hot sauce, which can add low calorie excitement to any plate of food. Here are the healthiest, and unhealthiest, Chinese takeout dishes.
What is the healthiest thing to order from a Chinese takeaway?
Takeaways may be cheap and convenient, but unfortunately they’re not often all that healthy. Some takeaways can contain more than the daily recommended allowance of salt and fat, which can lead to health problems such as diabetes and heart disease.
Here are some tips on foods to avoid and healthier options when ordering your Chinese takeaway.
Deep-fried and battered
Anything that’s battered or marked as ‘crispy’ on the menu means it’s deep-fried. Watch out for starters such as prawn crackers, prawn toast and spring rolls, because these are generally deep-fried.
Anything in batter will be high in fat. Sweet and sour pork is usually battered. Special and egg-fried rice are also best avoided.
Steamed and stir-fried
Steamed dishes are the best option. Stir-fries are also fine because they’re usually lower in fat and include vegetables.
Other lighter Chinese foods include hot and sour soup or wonton soup: these savoury starters will only set you back about 80 to 100 calories. Research has also found that if you eat a broth-based soup before a meal you end up eating less food in total. Steamed vegetable dumplings are also a great starter option with one steamed veggie dumpling containing just 40 calories.
Chicken and broccoli has a reasonable 280 calories. To lower the calorie count even further, request the sauce on the side and use just a little. Broccoli is also one of the most nutrient-dense foods you can eat. It’s chock-full of vitamin C, vitamin A, calcium, fibre and antioxidants.
Seafood and chicken
Shrimp with garlic sauce is another fabulous option. Shrimp is a super-lean protein and although lobster sauce sounds sinfully decadent, the entire dish contains only about 450 calories – not too shabby!
When they’re not breaded and deep-fried, both shrimp and chicken are lean sources of high-quality protein. Paired with any steamed or stir-fried vegetables, they make a fantastic healthy choice from the menu.
Finally, don’t forget the fortune cookie at the end of your meal. This slightly sweet treat will set you back just 30 calories.
So eating Chinese food doesn’t have to be a diet disaster, as long as you make some careful choices. Don’t forget to use chopsticks to help slow your eating, allowing your stomach ample time to send signals to your brain that you are full.