Many people love indulging in some Chinese food every now and then and who can blame them? Chinese food tastes good, and there’s a wide variety to choose from with this Asian cuisine.
However, it’s not a secret that the delicious dining option does often come loaded with calories. And for those on a diet, it can seem like a difficult task to find a balance between being able to enjoy their favorite foods while staying on a healthier nutrition plan.
Is Chinese Food Healthy?
While Chinese food is not inherently unhealthy, as with any other cuisine, there are certainly many unhealthy options on the menu. And oftentimes, Americanized Chinese food is different from that in China. Americanized Chinese dishes often are based on fried foods with heavy sauces high in fat, sodium, and sugar, according to FitDay.
According to an updated 2015 report from Fox News, the consumer group, Center for Science in the Public Interest, reported that the typical Chinese restaurant menu is full of options lacking in proper nutrition, and Chinese food calories often are high. The study found that a plate of General Tso’s chicken is “loaded with about 40% more sodium and more than half the calories an average adult needs for an entire day.”
Rice comes out to about 200 calories per cup, while egg rolls contain 200 calories and 400 milligrams of sodium. But it’s not just the calories in Chinese food to blame — It’s the American restaurants across the board that need to cut back on calories and salt, the group’s nutrition director, Bonnie Liebman, said in the article.
As with any other cuisine and any other restaurant in America, there often is a plethora of unhealthy options, but you don’t need to succumb to the excess salt, fat, and calories.
What to Keep in Mind
There are ways to have your cake and eat it, too — or in this case, your Chinese food. If you’re on a diet or watching your calorie intake, it is possible to find or make low-calorie Chinese food. Healthy Chinese food is not an oxymoron, and Chinese food does have nutritional value. Instead, you need to know what ingredients to look for and what to keep in mind before you cook or order your favorite foods.
First, watch out for sauces that go overboard on the sodium, and ask for light sauces when available. You can typically find the nutritional values listed on the bottle or packet that the sauce comes in. Avoid fried foods and opt instead for steamed, a method of cooking that reduces the amount of oil and, therefore, calories. And, as always, load up on vegetables.
Finally, listen to your body — it will tell you when you are full. If you begin a meal very hungry, you’re going to be more likely to want to “shovel” as much food as you can in your mouth at once. Eat slowly, taking sips of water in between to wash everything down. You’ll likely find that you’ll be fuller with less food intake — plus, you can save the rest of your dish for later!
10 Healthy Chinese Food Options
Cooking your own Chinese food gives you more control over the ingredients and the amounts used, but you can order smart when taking out, too. If you’re ordering Chinese food take out, some of the best Chinese dishes actually can be among the options for healthy take out. Here are a few of the healthiest Chinese food options to get your “clean eating” food list started.
Are we surprised by this first option? We have all heard “eat your vegetables” throughout our lives, but it’s true — the more vegetables, the better! Try ordering some steamed or lightly stir-fried veggies to supplement your meal.
According to MyFitnessPal, egg drop, hot and sour, and wonton soups all pack on the flavor but are light on calories — less than 100 calories per appetizer portion. A light appetizer also can help you avoid overeating.
The great thing about this starter is that you can indulge while also getting in your servings of leafy greens. Ensure that they’re steamed and dipped in chili sauce rather than soy to cut back on sodium. Ensure that you’re watching your portion size, as these can be easy to snack mindlessly on.
This is one of the healthiest Chinese food dishes available. You can mix shrimp and broccoli or any lean protein with a fiber-rich vegetable. WebMD warns that stir-fries are often drowned in a sauce that’s loaded with salt, sugar, and oil. “Ask if the kitchen can make yours with half the sauce, or ask for it on the side and drizzle a small amount on top,” WebMD suggests.
Chicken Lettuce Wraps
These are the perfect way to get both your lean protein and vegetables in one meal. It’s a bonus that they’re also fun to eat.
Kung Pao Chicken
A great alternative to General Tso’s or sweet-and-sour chicken, Kung Pao chicken packs the spice and comes loaded with vegetables but skips the fried chicken.
This vegetarian dish is packed with plants and is all about texture — and comes with a leaner calorie profile. “Crisp snow peas and cabbage, crunchy water chestnuts, springy mushrooms, and a crisp-tender combination of bell peppers, carrots, and onions all come together in a light, soy sauce-based broth,” MyFitnessPal states.
Tofu is made from soybeans and therefore packed with protein. According to WebMD, half a cup of tofu has 11 grams of protein. It’s also high in iron and calcium, and chili peppers have vitamins.
Moo Shu Chicken
This dish is majority vegetables and low in carbohydrates, so long as you limit the number of pancakes or substitute with lettuce for wraps.
Another dish heavy on vegetables, chop suey, is usually made with cabbage, water chestnuts, and bean sprouts and served with meat and rice or fried noodles. Cabbage also is rich in antioxidants.
Just because you’re on a diet or watching your nutritional intake doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy your favorite foods! Remember to substitute fried foods for steamed, make room for plenty of vegetables, and go easy or light on sodium- and sugar-packed sauces.