Although "dim sum" might bring steamed dumplings to mind, the City University of New York explains that this modern-day restaurant phenomenon began as a light snack with tea. Nowadays, you can order a variety of dim sum foods, which means that dim sum nutrition also varies quite a bit.
Calories in Dim Sum
It might help to think of dim sum as a Chinese version of tapas. There's extensive history behind the tradition, of course — but the idea of a shared meal of small portions, emphasizing the variety of communal food over individual quantity, holds true.
Steamed Dumplings and Buns: Steamed dumplings and buns are the classic food many people think of when dim sum is mentioned. The USDA lists nutrition for dumplings and buns filled with meat, poultry or seafood together; a single small dumpling contains 23.7 calories, 1.4 grams protein, just under 1 gram fat, 2.3 grams carbohydrate, 0.25 gram fiber, 0.5 gram sugar and 77.3 grams sodium.
Fried Spring Rolls: In some cultures, spring rolls or fresh rolls would be noodles and minced meat or vegetables in a plain rice wrapper. But in a dim sum restaurant, spring rolls are essentially small, deep-fried egg rolls. According to the USDA, a single miniature egg roll with shrimp filling has 35 calories, 0.7 grams of protein, 1.8 grams of fat, 3.9 grams of carbohydrate, 0.3 grams of fiber and 60.1 milligrams of sodium. A meatless (vegetable) egg roll has the same nutrition profile.
The USDA notes that a miniature beef or pork egg roll has 35.9 calories, 1.2 grams protein, 1.9 grams fat, 3.6 grams carbohydrate, 0.3 grams fiber and 49.9 milligrams sodium.
Boiled Chicken Feet: Here's another non-dumpling food you might encounter in a dim sum restaurant. According to the USDA, a 3-ounce serving of boiled chicken feet has 183 calories, 16.5 grams protein, 1.2 grams fat, just 0.2 grams carbohydrate and 0 grams fiber. They also have about 74.8 milligrams calcium, 70.6 milligrams phosphorus, 26.4 milligrams potassium and 57 milligrams sodium.
Lotus Seed Paste Buns: According to the USDA, a single small baked lotus seed pastry has 170 calories, 3.5 grams protein, 2.06 grams fat, 34.6 grams carbohydrate, 1.4 grams fiber and 44.9 grams sodium.
Read more: Gluten-Free Chinese Foods
Choosing Healthy Dim Sum
Although some dim sum items are steamed — generally a healthy way to prepare foods — New York City University warns that many of them are deep-fried, or high in salt and fat but low in healthful nutrients like fiber, or both issues together.
To choose healthier options in a dim sum restaurant, especially if you don't have access to full nutrition information for all the options, consider the following tips:
- Choose steamed portions over fried.
- Bring some friends with you and split dishes so you can enjoy greater variety but smaller portions. This is a good way to reduce your dim sum calories overall.
- Reduce your intake of salty foods earlier in the day, to help you stay under the Department of Health and Human Services recommendation of no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day.
- Order sparingly at first, and take your time to drink tea and savor the food; this gives your body time to realize when it's full. You can always order more, because the waitstaff pushes carts laden with a variety of dishes around the room. If you see something you want on a cart, all you have to do is stop that person and ask for the items you want.
Read more: Diabetic Food Choices at Chinese Restaurants
- City University of New York: "Dim Sum vs Home Cooking"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Chicken Feet, Boiled"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Egg Roll, With Shrimp"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Egg Roll, With Beef and/or Pork"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Egg Roll, Meatless"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Dumpling, Steamed, Filled With Meat, Poultry, or Seafood"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Pastry, Asian, Made With Bean or Lotus Seed Paste Filling (Baked)"
- Asia Society: "What Is Dim Sum?"
- Health.gov: "Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020: Chapter 1. Key Elements of Healthy Eating Patterns"