Chow mein and lo mein are two popular Chinese dishes. They're similar in that they both feature noodles but they're different in the way the noodles are prepared.
"Chow mein is a dish made by partially cooking and then stir-frying the noodles, often with a source of protein like chicken, beef or seafood with some vegetables," says Michelle Jaelin, RD. "Chow" means "fried" in Chinese while "mein" means "noodle." Sometimes the noodles are deep-fried/fried in oil to get the nice, crispy noodle texture, Jaelin says.
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"Lo mein, on the other hand, involves fully cooking the noodles and then tossing in a sauce with vegetables and a protein source. It can be chicken, beef or seafood," she says, adding that "lo" means "mix" in Chinese.
Because of these differences, the nutrition information varies between the two dishes.
Chow Mein Nutrition Facts
A 1-cup serving of beef chow mein contains:
- Calories: 286
- Total fat: 9.2 g
- Cholesterol: 48.4 mg
- Sodium: 803 mg
- Total carbs: 27 g
- Dietary fiber: 2.6 g
- Sugar: 5 g
- Protein: 23 g
Chow Mein Macros
- Total fat: A 1-cup serving of beef chow mein has 9.2 grams of total fat, which includes 7.2 grams of unsaturated fat, 2 grams of saturated fat and 0 grams of trans fat.
- Carbohydrates: A 1-cup serving of beef chow mein has 27 grams of carbs, which includes 2.6 grams of fiber and 5 grams of sugar.
- Protein: A 1-cup serving of beef chow mein has 23 grams of protein.
Vitamins, Minerals and Other Micronutrients
- Selenium: 54% Daily Value (DV)
- Vitamin B12: 53% DV
- Niacin: 46% DV
- Vitamin B6: 38% DV
- Zinc: 32% DV
- Riboflavin: 33% DV
- Vitamin K: 22% DV
- Folate: 21% DV
- Phosphorus: 20% DV
- Iron: 20% DV
- Thiamin: 19% DV
- Copper: 14% DV
- Choline: 13% DV
- Vitamin E: 10% DV
- Vitamin C: 10% DV
- Potassium: 10% DV
The Health Benefits of Chow Mein
1. Beef Chow Mein Is Rich in Vitamins
Thanks to the beef and added vegetables, this dish has vitamins C, B6, B12, E and K, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate and choline. Our body relies on these vitamins for many functions.
For instance, vitamins C and E are antioxidants, and they protect our body from free radicals like pollution, smoke and UV lights from the sun, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
The B vitamins, such as vitamins B6, B12, thiamin, riboflavin and folate all help our body to metabolize energy, as explained by the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
2. Beef Chow Mein Is Loaded With Minerals
Beef chow mein is rich in minerals like calcium, iron, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, copper and selenium.
One of iron's most important roles is transporting oxygen to all of the parts of our body, as explained by the NIH. Beef chow mein is also extremely high in selenium (providing 54 percent of the Daily Value). This mineral protects our bodies from free radicals and is important for reproduction and a properly functioning thyroid gland, according to the NIH.
"Despite containing significant amounts of vitamins and minerals, beef chow mein is still high calories and extremely high in sodium," says Brierley Horton, RD, a dietitian nutritionist based in Birmingham, Alabama.
“Looking for healthier ways to make this delicious dish, like cooking with lean proteins, overloading it with vegetables and using a low-sodium sauce, can go a long way.”
Lo Mein Nutrition Facts
A 1-cup serving of beef lo mein contains:
- Calories: 108
- Total fat: 1.6 g
- Cholesterol: 6.6 mg
- Sodium: 455 mg
- Total carbs: 17.5 g
- Dietary fiber: 1 g
- Sugar: 3.2 g
- Protein: 5.8 g
Lo Mein Macros
- Total fat: A 1-cup serving of beef lo mein has 1.6 grams of total fat, which includes 1.2 grams of unsaturated fat, 0.4 grams of saturated fat and 0 grams of trans fat.
- Carbohydrates: A 1-cup serving of beef lo mein has 17.5 grams of carbs, which includes 1 gram of fiber.
- Protein: A 1-cup serving of beef lo mein has 5.8 grams of protein.
Vitamins, Minerals and Other Micronutrients
- Vitamin C: 5% DV
- Iron: 3% DV
Health Benefits of Lo Mein
1. It's Lower in Calories
A serving of beef lo mein is much lower in calories and fat compared to beef chow mein. This is likely because the noodles are cooked in water versus primarily being fried in oil, as is done when making chow mein.
You can also make a dish more nutritious by choosing lean sources of protein like chicken or tofu and loading it with vegetables. Using a whole-grain noodle will help increase the amount of fiber, too.
2. It's Lower in Sodium
Chinese food is notorious for being high in sodium. A 1-cup serving of beef lo mein has 455 milligrams. While this isn't considered a low-sodium food, it fairs well compared to other popular Chinese dishes.
By using a low-sodium sauce or even less sauce overall, you can drastically cut down on the amount of sodium. Packing the dish with potassium-rich vegetables like leafy greens, mushrooms and broccoli, can also help to balance out the sodium.
Which Is the Better Choice?
From a nutritional standpoint, lo mein is better than chow mein, hands down.
"Lo mein would be considered more nutritious because the noodles are not fried and there is less oil used in the cooking," Jaelin says. "Lo mein has less than half the calories and fat found in chow mein. It's also significantly lower in sodium," Horton says.
"That said, you can improve the nutrition profile of either dish by making a few simple tweaks. Use a healthy cooking oil and opt for leaner proteins like chicken or tofu. Incorporating a large variety of vegetables and limiting the amount of sauce or using a low-sodium sauce can make a significant impact, too," Horton says.
- MyFoodData: "Beef Chow Mein Or Chop Suey With Noodles"
- National Institutes of Health: "Vitamin C"
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: "B Vitamins"
- National Institutes of Health: "Iron"
- National Institutes of Health: "Selenium"
- MyFoodData: "Beef Lo Mein Pasta Onions Carrots & Bok Choy With Tender Beef In A Savory Lo Mein Sauce Skillet Meal"