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Restaurant 101: Chinese

Eating out can make it challenging to stick to a healthy diet. Even if restaurants display calorie counts on their menus, dishes can still come loaded with fat and sodium. Chinese restaurants offer several lighter options that you can enjoy without breaking the nutrition bank. Find out what those are.

Appetizers

Restaurant 101: Chinese

Order:Veggie potstickers and dumplings, wonton soup, or salad.

Potstickers and dumplings are usually lightly pan-fried before they’re steamed. This means they have less fat than their deep-fried counterparts. Also, you can request them to be steamed only and not cooked with any oil. Pick the veggie option to cut back on saturated fat. Ask for a side of spicy mustard dipping sauce instead of the sodium-packed soy sauce.

Wonton soup is a low-calorie and filling starter. Although traditionally made with pork wontons, a one-cup serving has a relatively low amount of saturated fat. If you are wary of sodium content, skip this and choose one of the other options.

Salad of some kind is offered on almost every menu though the exact option may vary. Common examples are bean sprout salad, eggplant salad and imperial walnut salad. Dressing may be mixed in, but try asking for it on the side if possible.

Skip: Egg rolls and anything fried.

Entrées

Restaurant 101: Chinese

1. Choose an entrée with a vegetable in the name. For example, “chicken with snow peas” or “chicken lettuce wraps” are better options than “Kung Pao chicken.” You can also order a side of steamed veggies to mix into your entrée. Veggies bulk up the nutrition without bulking up the total calories.

2. Ask for a lean protein such as chicken, fish, shrimp or tofu. The traditional “beef with broccoli” can always be made with tofu instead. Order fish and use this as an opportunity to increase your intake of heart-healthy omega-3 fats.

3. “Easy on the sauce, please.” Most Chinese restaurants can add as much (or as little) sauce as you’d like for your entrée. Regardless of the dish, reducing the amount of sauce will cut back on sodium and fat while still providing adequate flavor. In addition, you can always ask for the sauce on the side so you’re in control of the quantity used.

4. Skip any entrées with the words “crispy,” “breaded,” or “fried” in the name. Ask the restaurant if they can prepare the dish in a steamed version instead.<

5. Avoid entrées with walnuts and cashews. Fried dishes can be expected to have large amounts of fat. However, dishes with nuts such as “cashew chicken” and “walnut prawns” can also have a surprising amount of fat. Although the fats in nuts are generally considered healthy, when they are added to other proteins and stir-fried in oil, they can pass the threshold of moderation.

Sides

Restaurant 101: Chinese

Steamed brown rice is the go-to option for a whole grain side dish and a good source of fiber. Fried-rice dishes are cooked in extra oil and are high in sodium from the soy sauce. Chow mein noodles are usually made from refined carbohydrates that are empty calories.

If you’re eating with a friend and want to find the balance between taste and health, order one side of steamed brown rice and one side of fried rice to share.

This blog was originally published on October 8, 2013. It was last updated on May 22, 2017.

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