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Is Chinese Food Healthy to Eat?

author image Natalie Stein
Natalie Stein specializes in weight loss and sports nutrition. She is based in Los Angeles and is an assistant professor with the Program for Public Health at Michigan State University. Stein holds a master of science degree in nutrition and a master of public health degree from Michigan State University.
Is Chinese Food Healthy to Eat?
Chinese carryout food. Photo Credit anytka/iStock/Getty Images

Even if you don't know how to make Chinese food yourself, you're likely not far away from a Chinese restaurant that provides take-out menus -- and delivery service. Chinese food can be healthy if you eat it in moderation and order carefully so that your meal contains a source of lean protein, dietary fiber and a variety of other essential nutrients.

Choose Lean Proteins

For a healthy Chinese meal, choose lean sources of protein, such as shrimp, skinless chicken breast, fish and tofu. These foods are low in cholesterol-raising saturated fat and provide essential nutrients such as iron and zinc. Avoid fatty meats, such as fatty cuts of beef or pork and chicken with skin, as well as deep-fried foods, which contain extra calories and may have unhealthy trans fats. The American Heart Association suggests ordering steamed dumpling and baked meats instead of egg rolls and fried wontons, as well as asking the chef to prepare stir-fried entrees in less oil than usual if you don't want to opt for steamed, boiled or broiled ones.

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Eat Healthy Carbohydrates

Chinese food can be healthy if you order a meal with plenty of vegetables. Vegetables are good sources of dietary fiber, which is a healthy carbohydrate that may help prevent obesity. Other nutrients in vegetables include potassium, vitamin A and vitamin C. Try a lightly stir-fried entree with chicken or shrimp -- and order steamed vegetables with your meal. Limit your consumption of refined carbohydrates, such as white rice and noodles. Order brown rice instead of white. Also, avoid noodle-based dishes such as chow mein.

Limit Sodium When Possible

While Chinese food can be healthy, it can also be high in sodium, warns the American Heart Association. Salty sauces are high-sodium ingredients in Chinese cooking. One tablespoon of soy sauce has 1,005 milligrams of sodium, while 1 tablespoon of teriyaki sauce has 690 milligrams of sodium. A high-sodium diet can raise your blood pressure, putting you at risk for heart disease and stroke. Healthy adults should have no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day. To limit your sodium consumption, ask the chef to prepare your meals with less sauce. Refrain from adding additional soy sauce at the table, or use low-sodium versions.

Chinese Restaurant Syndrome

Monosodium glutamate is a flavor enhancer and common ingredient in Chinese food. This substance is similar to glutamate, a chemical in the brain. Chinese restaurant syndrome refers to the set of symptoms, including chest pain, headache and sweating, that some people report after eating Chinese food. While studies have failed to show a connection between MSG and these symptoms, according to MedlinePlus, if you suspect you are sensitive to MSG, ask the chef to prepare your food without it.

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