Chinese food is a regular cuisine in America, with restaurants found throughout the country. Many items on the Chinese food menu are deep-fried, loaded with sodium and drowned in sauces. However, if you choose wisely you can make some healthy choices. Chinese restaurants serve an array of vegetable and lean protein dishes for you to enjoy. Equipped with the right information, you and your waistline can leave a Chinese restaurant happy.
Learning what words to look for on the menu can help you choose healthier options at a Chinese restaurant. Stay away from breaded, crispy or fried choices, as these are typically high in fat and calories. Look for the words zheng, meaning steamed; jum, which is poached; kao, or roasted; and shao, meaning barbecued. They indicate healthier menu choices. Also, opt for dishes without MSG, or monosodium glutamate.
Appetizers and Soups
Many Chinese restaurants place crispy noodles on the table for you to snack on while you wait for your food to arrive. But skipping a single serving can save you at least 200 calories and 14 grams of fat. Barbecue spare ribs are one of the least healthy appetizer choices, so you are better off forgetting them. Four spare ribs boast around 600 calories and 14 grams of saturated fat. Soups such as hot and sour, egg drop and wonton tend to be safe choices to keep your waistline in check. However, if you are watching your blood pressure, you may want to skip soup. Most soups have at least 800 milligrams of sodium per serving. Choose steamed vegetable or even pork dumplings rather than fried wontons. Spring rolls are a healthier option than egg rolls, weighing in at 100 calories and 1 gram of saturated fat per roll.
Noodle-based dishes such as lo mein and chow mein are high in calories, saturated fat and sodium, so it is best to skip them. Traditional favorites such as General Tso's chicken, lemon chicken, sweet and sour pork and orange beef all have at least 1,300 calories and 11 grams of saturated fat per dish. Instead of these favorites, choose dishes that are rich in vegetables and lean meats. Healthy protein choices include fresh fish fillets, shrimp, scallops, chicken, lean beef and tofu, as long as they are not deep-fried. Vegetable-based entrees can be healthy choices, if they are steamed or stir-fried using a minimal amount of oil. Shrimp with garlic sauce, moo goo gai pan and stir-fried mixed vegetables with tofu, tend to be among the healthier options with 900 calories and 9 grams of saturated fat or less per serving.
Fried rice -- no matter the variety -- is extremely high in fat and calories. Typically a dish of fried rice contains 4 to 5 cups of rice and has at least 1,000 calories and 2,700 milligrams of sodium. Rather than fried rice, opt for steamed rice. One cup of steamed rice has around 200 calories. Based on calories alone, brown and white rice are fairly comparable. However, whenever possible, opt for brown rice, which is higher in fiber, minerals and vitamins.
Avoid sauces that are sugar, flour or cornstarch based, as they are higher in calories. Healthier sauce choices include hoisin sauce, hot mustard sauce, plum sauce, duck sauce and oyster sauce. Although these sauces tend to be lower in calories, they can still be high in sodium, so be mindful. Ask your server if it is possible to halve the amount of sauce used in your dish. Avoid adding additional salt or soy sauce to your dishes, as they are typically quite high in sodium when they arrive at your table. If you are going to add soy sauce, use reduced-sodium soy sauce rather than regular soy sauce.
In addition to choosing healthier items, you can also save calories in other ways. First off, using chopsticks rather than a fork will force you to eat more slowly, allowing you adequate time to realize you are full. You will also leave more oil and sauce behind on the plate. Secondly, you don't need to eat the entire dish at one time. The portion sizes at Chinese restaurants tend to be two to three times the appropriate size. Regardless of whether a dish is among the healthier options, this can quickly make the calories add up. Sharing with a friend or taking at least half the dish home will save fat, calories and sodium.