Chinese Food: Healthy Options That Taste Great
Chinese food is often quick, easy, and convenient… but is it healthy? When ordering Chinese food, too often we turn off our healthy radar and eat a meal we later regret. The good news is that not all of Chinese food is deep fried or filled with sugar, salt, and additives. With a keen eye for healthy ingredients, a fiber-rich, protein-packed Chinese food meal can be selected. Furthermore, many Chinese food options exist that are compatible with multiple popular healthy diets.
What Chinese food to avoid
In order to make a healthy selection, it’s useful to consider what pitfalls to avoid.
First, consider the cooking method.
Steamed, baked, or boiled beats battered, deep fried, and sautéed. You are guaranteed to be taking in excess starch, fat, and calories when you choose a cooking method that involves oil. Deep fried dishes are usually associated with the terms “General Tso”, “sweet and sour”, “chow mein”, and “orange”, so choose accordingly!
Second, consider the actual serving size.
Many fast food menus will list calorie content for serving size, but the typical serving size for Chinese takeout meals is 1 cup. Portions are usually much larger, so beware of how many servings you are actually buying!
Third, choose the healthier side item.
Typical take-out meals allow you choice of options like lo mein, fried rice, or egg rolls. As an alternative, choose steamed rice, and opt for brown rice instead of white rice, if it’s available. Brown rice contains triple the fiber and carries a lower glycemic index compared to white, meaning that it will leave you feeling fuller for longer.
Fourth, know your sauces!
Sauces are a sneaky source of salt, sugar, fat, and consequent calories. Many Americanized Chinese meals are swimming in sugary, syrupy sauces that cause an instant blood sugar spike. As a general rule, the thicker the sauces (think General Tso’s), the higher the calories. Opt for light sauces, or better yet, order your sauce on the side.
Here are five options for your next Chinese food meal to leave you feeling full and healthy:
Buddha’s delight checks all the boxes; it is a stir fry chock full of steamed veggies like carrots, broccoli, and bean sprouts, and with tofu as its star protein, it’s a great option for vegetarians and vegans. The sauce is light and savory, cutting down on the caloric punch.
Moo Shu Anything
Moo Shu is traditionally made with pork, but its variations include chicken, shrimp, vegetables, or tofu. Typically it is served with accompanying thin pancakes and hoisin sauce, but for those on a keto diet, these can be skipped to lose the extra carbs.
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Beef and broccoli
Not to be outdone by Moo Shu, beef and broccoli are another great option of Chinese food for those on a keto diet. Stir-fried and packed with protein, the beef typically contains flank steak, which is very lean by nature. Furthermore, this dish is typically accompanied by garlic sauce, a healthier alternative to sweet and sour or General Tso’s sauce. If carbs aren’t an issue, pair this meal with steamed brown rice for a satisfying, well-rounded meal.
Moo Goo Gai Pan
While it’s a slightly Americanized version of an otherwise Cantonese traditional dish, this healthy meal is made up of button mushrooms (the moo goo) and stir-fried chicken (the gai pan). Other veggies may include bamboo shoots, bok choy, and snow peas. One key to the healthy signature of this meal is the light soy, sesame oil, and chicken broth-based sauce.
Low in calories and high in fiber, spring rolls are a great choice for anyone watching their waistline. Spring rolls are typically made up of shrimp and vegetables (though some are strictly vegetable-based), and rolled up in thin rice paper. Veggies might include lettuce, cucumbers, carrots, cabbage, and cilantro, creating a refreshingly light meal that won’t leave you feeling heavy. Heed caution when selecting your dipping, sauce though; many are high in sugar, salt, or oil!
The Bottom Line
Satisfying your Chinese food craving while remaining healthy is very possible! Order your food with intention, paying close attention to fat, salt, and sugar (often in the form of a sauce). Be mindful of serving size and cooking method. Pile on the healthy veggies. Be cautious of hidden calorie bombs in side dishes. Lastly, slow down and enjoy this delicious cuisine!