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Low Calorie Chinese Foods

author image Michele Turcotte, MS, RD
Michele Turcotte is a registered, licensed dietitian, and a certified personal trainer with the National Academy of Sports Medicine. She has more than 12 years of experience in clinical and corporate settings, and has extensive experience in one-on-one diet counseling and meal planning. She has written freelance food and nutrition articles for Trouve Publishing Inc. since 2004.
Low Calorie Chinese Foods
Chinese food can be low in calories. Photo Credit baifumei/iStock/Getty Images


Like most cuisines, the caloric content of Chinese food meals range from high to low. Because Chinese fare is such a popular take-out option for busy Americans, it's important to keep the calories under control for weight management. Fortunately, Chinese meals are not meat-centered, thus can be fairly low in saturated and trans fat. However, many items are fried and/or oil-laden, which dramatically increases the caloric value.


Spring rolls are smaller than egg rolls and have a thinner wrapper. Usually, they are filled with vegetables and rice. According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest or CSPI, the average spring roll provides 100 to 150 calories and only 5 grams of fat. Chinese soups are also low in calories. One serving of wonton, hot & sour or egg drop soup provides 90 to 100 calories and 2 to 3g fat. Avoid the fried noodles that often come with these soups however. Sprinkling them on top increases both the calorie and fat content.

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Avoid sweet and sour pork or chicken, fried dishes and crispy beef. Large portion sizes can turn a low-calorie meal into a calorie-laden feast. Try shrimp with lobster sauce, which is composed of shrimp in a light wine sauce with egg, mushrooms and scallions. According to CSPI, this entree weighs in at about 400 calories. Panda Express' broccoli beef with mixed vegetables, according to their website, offers 220 calories and 6.5g fat. Broccoli chicken provides about 180 calories and 9g fat. Tofu-based entrees sound healthy but are usually fried. Ask for the tofu stir-fried. For example, an order of P.F. Chang's five-spice tofu with vegetable medley offers 220 calories and 6g fat.


"Buddha’s Feast" is a vegetable side dish that comes either steamed or stir-fried. The steamed option is lower in calories and includes a variety of mixed vegetables, such as snap peas, asparagus, black mushrooms, broccoli, baby corn and carrots. This dish provides, on average, 200 calories and 1.5g fat, according to the Women and Weight website. The stir-fried option provides 370 calories and 7g fat, which is not terrible, particularly if you share the plate. A simple "mixed veggies" side dish, on average, offers less than 100 calories and 1/2g fat.


In general, there are five traditional Chinese cuisines from five different regions in China. Cantonese is the cuisine of southeast China and, in general, is known for lighter fare. While not all Cantonese food items are low-calorie, many tend to be a better choice and include such options as lightly cooked meat and vegetable dishes. Dishes made with fish, other seafood or chicken and lots of vegetables are usually the best choices calorie-wise. Avoid dishes slathered in sauces, as these can be very high in sodium. Also look for key words on the menu that indicate healthier preparation methods, such as steamed, "Jum" which means poached and/or "Kow" which means roasted.

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