Similar because they both contain noodles, chow mein and lo mein are actually different dishes. Chow mein is made by stir-frying noodles with onions, celery and sometimes meat, and lo mein is made by stirring noodles into a vegetable or meat dish without stir-frying them. Because of these differences, the nutrition information varies between the two dishes.
The Basics: Calories and Fat
A 100-gram portion of the average restaurant chicken chow mein contains 85 calories and 2.8 grams of fat, of which about 0.5 gram is saturated. The same amount of restaurant vegetable chow mein has 43 calories and about 1.7 grams of fat, of which about 0.3 gram is saturated. Both of these chow mein options are better, calorie-wise, than a 100-gram portion of vegetable lo mein, which contains 121 calories and 2.4 grams of fat, of which 0.5 gram is saturated. The lower your diet is in saturated fat, the lower your risk of heart disease, high cholesterol and stroke.
Chow or lo mein with meat contains more protein than vegetable options. For example, a 100-gram portion of chicken chow mein contains about 6.8 grams of protein per order, which is 15 percent of the 46 grams of protein women need each day and 12 percent of the 56 grams men require daily. The same amount of vegetable chow mein, for comparison, has 1.4 grams of protein per order. A 100-gram portion of vegetable lo mein contains about 4.8 grams of protein despite not containing any meat.
A 100-gram portion of chicken chow mein supplies 1 gram of fiber, and the same amount of vegetable chow mein delivers 1.2 grams. You'll get 1.3 grams of fiber in 100 grams of vegetable lo mein, which is 5 percent of the 25 grams of fiber women need each day and 3 percent of the 38 grams men require daily. Fiber helps your digestive system work properly and can help prevent constipation. Eating plenty of fiber might also help lower cholesterol, which can decrease your risk of heart disease.
Essential Vitamins and Minerals
A 100-gram portion of chicken chow mein supplies 0.7 milligram of iron, which is 8 percent of what men need each day and 4 percent of the 18 milligrams women require daily. Iron is essential for normal oxygen transport. The same portion of vegetable chow mein delivers about 0.4 milligram of iron, and a 100-gram serving of vegetable lo mein supplies 1 milligram. All three dishes supply a good dose of niacin, a nutrient that helps your body turn food into energy. You'll also get plenty of vitamin K, a nutrient that helps your blood clot, from any of the three dishes. You'll get smaller amounts of potassium and vitamins A and C.
And the Winner Is ...
In terms of protein, chow mein or lo mein with meat is the way to go, but meat also adds saturated fat to the dish. Sodium is another concern because a diet too high in sodium can increase your risk of heart attack and stroke. In terms of sodium, a 100-gram portion of chicken chow mein is the winner, though it still contains 311 milligrams, which is 21 percent of the 1,500 milligrams the American Heart Association recommends as the daily upper limit. A 100-grams portion of vegetable chow mein contains 344 milligrams, and 100 grams of vegetable lo mein has 430 milligrams. Nutrient-wise, all three dishes are fairly similar, but the more vegetables the dish contains, the more fiber, potassium and vitamins A and C you'll get.
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Restaurant, Chinese, Chicken Chow Mein
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Restaurant, Chinese, Vegetable Chow Mein, Without Meat or Noodles
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Restaurant, Chinese, Vegetable Lo Mein, Without Meat
- American Heart Assocation: Knowing Your Fats
- American Heart Assocation: Sodium and Salt
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Protein
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Iron
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Niacin
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Vitamin K