A blend of broth, rice noodles, herbs and meat (usually beef), pho soup is a common Vietnamese menu item.
And like most restaurant foods, you need to be aware of how it's prepared and watch your portion sizes to make sure you're not overindulging.
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The amount of customization that can be done with a bowl of pho is part of what makes it so great. You can choose your protein (beef, chicken, tofu or tempeh), broth (vegetable, chicken or beef), veggies and noodles you want to add — there are a ton of different options.
This variety is also responsible for pho's nutrition.
Beef Pho Nutrition Facts
A 20-ounce bowl of beef pho contains:
- Calories: 562
- Total fat: 4.7 g
- Cholesterol: 41 mg
- Sodium: 2,375 mg
- Total carbs: 104 g
- Dietary fiber: 6 g
- Sugar: 5 g
- Protein: 23 g
Beef Pho Macros
- Total fat: A 20-ounce bowl of beef pho has 4.7 grams of total fat, which includes 3.2 grams of unsaturated fat, 1.5 grams of saturated fat and 0 grams of trans fat.
- Carbohydrates: A 20-ounce bowl of beef pho has 104 grams of carbs, which includes 6 grams of fiber and 5 grams of sugar.
- Protein: A 20-ounce bowl of beef pho has 23 grams of protein.
Vitamins, Minerals and Other Micronutrients
- Vitamin C: 44% Daily Value (DV)
- Vitamin A: 24% DV
- Iron: 17% DV
- Calcium: 8%
Health Benefits of Beef Pho
Pho supplies several key vitamins and minerals and is an ample source of protein. Pho soup can certainly fit into a healthy eating plan, especially if you prepare it at home, and include some of the healthier protein, broth, noodle and vegetable options.
1. Beef Pho Provides Protein
Protein is an essential macronutrient, which helps grow and maintain our muscles, tendons, blood vessels, hair, nails and skin, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
The macronutrient is also vital for creating enzymes and hormones, all of which help our bodies function properly.
A serving of beef pho provides 24 grams of protein. The Institute of Medicine recommends keeping your protein intake to 10 to 35 percent of your total caloric intake, and pho can help you reach that goal.
If you want to skip the beef and other sources of animal protein, making a plant-based pho is relatively simple.
First, you'll want to use a vegetable-based broth, Laura Ligos, RD, CSSD, tells us. “Next, add in a protein of choice like tofu, tempeh, a soft-boiled egg, and/or mushrooms. Finally, load up on other veggies like onions, bok choy, carrots and jalapeno slices, which all hold up well in pho.”
2. It's an Excellent Source of Vitamins A and C
Pho can be packed with vitamins. A 20-ounce bowl of beef pho provides 24 percent of your recommended daily allowance of vitamin A and 44 percent of vitamin C.
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin that is important for normal vision and helping your heart, kidneys and lungs function properly, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
The vitamin is also an antioxidant that works to protect your body from free radicals like pollution, smoke and UV light from the sun. Vitamin A supports your immune and reproductive systems as well.
Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin and antioxidant — it also helps to protect your body from free radicals, according to the NIH. Vitamin C also supports our immune system, aids in wound healing and increases the absorption of iron in our bodies.
3. Beef Pho is a Great Source of Iron
One of the most notable nutrients in pho soup is iron, although this can vary depending on the protein source and added vegetables and broth.
A serving of beef pho contains 17 percent of the daily value of iron.
Iron is a mineral that our bodies rely on for proper growth and development, according to the NIH.
Our bodies need iron to make hemoglobin, a protein found in red blood cells, which transports oxygen throughout our body. This is why people who are iron-deficient typically feel fatigued.
Beef Pho Health Risks
While pho has some healthy attributes, it has some downsides as well.
Sodium content can vary greatly, again, depending on the type of protein and broth used.
A serving of beef pho has 2,375 milligrams, or about 100 percent of the Daily Value. A high-sodium diet can raise your blood pressure, which leaves you at a greater risk for heart attack and stroke, according to the American Heart Association.
"If you are concerned about your sodium intake as many are with high blood pressure, there are ways to make pho lower in sodium," Ligos says.
"A few options would be to make your own broth (you can do so with water as a base and add salt to your own liking), use meat or proteins that are not salted, use a salt-free seasoning and/or limit the use of additional sauces like hoisin and sriracha."
2. Refined Carbohydrates
A 20-ounce bowl of beef pho has 104 grams of carbohydrates. This equates to about seven slices of bread.
Rice noodles are a refined carbohydrate so there's minimal fiber and nutrients. Case in point: This 20-ounce serving has just 6 grams of fiber.
Our bodies need carbohydrates but you want to choose your carbs wisely. In place of refined carbs like white rice noodles, which have been stripped of the majority of their fiber and other nutrients, opt for whole-grain pasta instead. And stick to one serving of pasta per bowl.
3. Food Allergies
The top nine food allergies are milk, egg, peanut, soy, wheat, shellfish, fish, sesame and tree nuts.
Adding an egg is common when ordering pho so if you have an egg allergy, you'll want to refrain from having it added.
Additionally, fish sauce, sesame oil and peanuts/peanut oil are popular at Vietnamese restaurants so you'll want to ensure they're not used in the cooking, as a garnish, or that your dish hasn't been prepared near these foods if you have an allergy.
4. Drug Interactions
The potential food and drug interactions depend on what you decide to include in your pho.
If you add a high amount of leafy greens, more than you're used to consuming, they could interact with blood-thinning medications like warfarin or coumadin.
To be safe, ask health care provider if the medications you're on interact with any foods or beverages.
How to Order or Make Healthy Pho
While the occasional serving of pho soup at a restaurant can have a place in your diet, there are modifications you can make to your order to make it healthier, or try making your own at home. Here are a few tips:
- Load up on the veggies. "When making pho at home, I recommend adding plenty of vegetables as this will not only enhance the flavor but will also increase the nutrient content of your pho," Ligos shares. When ordering pho away from home, Ligos recommends asking for a variety of vegetable and topping options (like bean sprouts) to make sure you're getting plenty of nutritious vitamins and minerals.
- Switch up the noodles. The best noodles for pho are made of rice, but swapping those rice noodles for noodles higher in fiber, such as whole-wheat, is another way to boost the nutrition of the soup.
- Cut down on salt. "Be careful what broth you use. I recommend either making your own or searching for a low-sodium brand to ensure you can control how much sodium goes into the pho," Ligos says.
- Add all the herbs. Fresh herbs, such as cilantro or basil, deliver a small boost of vitamin A, and a squirt of fresh lime juice adds a bit of vitamin C. Skip the salty hot sauces in favor of fresh jalapeno, which is naturally sodium-free.
- Go for leaner sources of protein. "I also recommend adding some sort of protein whether chicken, beef or tofu to ensure the dish is filling and fully satisfying. You might even consider adding a soft-boiled egg at the end," Ligos shares.
- UCLA: "Beef Pho"
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "How Much Protein Should I Eat?"
- Institute of Medicine: "Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat,Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein and Amino Acids.
- National Institutes of Health: "Vitamin A"
- National Institutes of Health: "Vitamin C"
- National Institutes of Health: "Iron"
- American Heart Association: "Get the Scoop on Sodium and Salt"