Chinese food has a long-standing reputation for being a healthier alternative to traditional fast food, like pizza, cheeseburgers, or fried chicken. Yet, many doubt whether Chinese food could be a healthier choice.
While some Chinese food dishes are healthier than fast food, not all of them are. Many Chinese takeout options are full of preservatives, salt, oil, and fat. Those who prefer healthy Chinese food should opt for egg foo young, egg drop soup, or beef and broccoli.
There are many other healthy Chinese good options to eat instead of fast food. In this article, we will explore how Chinese food measures up to fast food, healthy options to eat, and unhealthy options to avoid. If you are interested in learning more, then keep on reading!
Chinese Food is Not Always Healthier Than Fast Food
With all of the hidden calories, fat, and salt in food, it’s hard to know whether your meals are as healthy as they seem. As briefly mentioned earlier, Chinese takeout can be healthier than fast food, but it is not in many cases.
Fast Food Vs. Chinese Food
Both fast food and Chinese food have healthy options and not-so-healthy options. This is why it’s impossible to determine whether Chinese food as a whole is healthier than fast food. When choosing your meal on a Friday night, you should compare specific dishes to gauge how healthy they are.
For instance, a Big Mac meal from McDonald’s has a whopping 1,100 calories, along with 1,225 milligrams of sodium and 44 grams of fat. One order of chicken from General Tso’s chicken has 1,500 calories and 88 grams of fat. That’s double the fat of a Big Mac and many more calories. The healthier option, in this case, is the Big Mac meal.
Let’s take the comparison a step further and look at a healthier Chinese food option. The Broccoli chicken entree at Panda Express is only 180 calories with 9 grams of fat and 630 mg of sodium. This is a much healthier option than both General Tso’s chicken and McDonald’s Big Mac.
If you go to a fast-food restaurant and choose to order a salad (without fried meat on top) instead of a burger and fries, it will be healthier than nearly all Chinese food options.
As you can see, there are both healthy and unhealthy options at both Chinese restaurants and fast-food restaurants. It’s up to you to choose the right meal.
Note: Food quality varies from restaurant to restaurant. One restaurant may use more oil or salt on a certain dish than another does, and this will change the nutritional content of the food.
Problems with Some Chinese Food
While many Chinese food dishes appear healthy and come with vegetables on the side, you’d be surprised at what is in many of them.
The following list will explore many of the unhealthy ingredients you’ll find in Chinese takeout.
- Salt: Many Chinese food dishes are loaded with salt. Salt is added to fried rice to make it flavorful. It’s also added to sauces and soups to make them palatable. Moreover, soy sauce is added to Chinese food after it’s prepared, adding another layer of salt. Eating high volumes of salt can lead to high blood pressure.
- Oil: One of the appeals of Chinese cuisine is the excessive oil added to the food. Stir-fried options are full of oil, and so are the deep-fried egg rolls and chicken. Oil may also be added for no reason but to make the food look more enticing to the customer. With excessive oil comes calories and weight gain.
- Cholesterol: Many Chinese appetizers and entrees, like pork skin and organs, are full of cholesterol. Unsuspecting customers eat food without being aware of the negative health consequences of eating certain food items.
- High temp cooking: Stir-fried and deep-fried foods cooked at high temperatures are common in Chinese cuisine. When food is cooked at a high temperature, this creates potentially harmful substances called advanced glycation end products (AGEs). The jury is out on whether these substances cause cancer, but medical professionals advise that these substances can cause inflammation and tissue damage.
The above health concerns do not apply to all Chinese food. Some items on the menu at a Chinese restaurant will have these issues, and others will not.
How Chinese Food Can Be Healthy
Though there are some unhealthy aspects of Chinese cuisine in general, some Chinese food is much healthier than fast food. Continue reading this section to find out about the merits of Chinese food.
- Diverse cooking methods: If you want to eat something that isn’t deep-fried, you can easily find a delicious option at a Chinese restaurant. Blanched meats, steamed vegetables, and braised meat are healthier than deep-fried foods.
- Relatively low sugar content: Chinese food can be high in sodium, but it is not usually high in sugar. This is not to say that there are no sugary Chinese food options (like orange chicken, for example). However, most Chinese food options are low in sugar.
- Healthy pairings: Lots of Chinese dishes are paired with vegetables, which is great for health-conscious eaters. Though adding vegetables doesn’t cancel out bad eating choices, it’s good to have a healthy option.
Chinese Dishes to Avoid and What to Eat Instead
Now that you know of some things to look out for with Chinese food, let’s go over some Chinese dishes you should avoid and what to eat instead. The following section will explore these several unhealthy options and some alternatives.
Orange chicken is one of the most popular Chinese food entrees in the United States. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who hasn’t at least tried the tasty chicken. Unfortunately, it’s as unhealthy as it is delicious.
There are two main problems with orange chicken, and these include:
- High calories: The average order of orange chicken is at least 1,000 calories. Add to that the fact that restaurants serve starch, in the form of rice or noodles, as a side for the chicken, and you’ve got a really unhealthy meal.
- High sugar: Orange chicken is high in sugar. To make that chicken so delectably sweet, cooks have to add a mountain of sugar to its sauce. In an order of orange chicken, there are 66 grams of sugar.
Eating orange chicken regularly can be dangerous to your health. So, if you want to be healthy, put orange chicken on your list of Chinese food items to avoid.
Instead of orange chicken, opt for beef and broccoli, which is filling and has less than 300 calories and only 16 grams of fat.
A world-renown favorite among Chinese food lovers everywhere, lo mein is one of the most unhealthy Chinese foods you can eat. The tasty, greasy noodles are full of fat. One serving of the stuff has 32 grams of fat.
Replace this side with vegetables or a small container of steamed rice for a healthier meal.
Crab rangoons are undeniably delicious, but they are also extremely unhealthy. These tiny appetizers pack an unhealthy punch with more than 700 calories and 28 grams of fat for a bag of 6. Instead of crab rangoons, indulge in some steamed dumplings, which only have about half the calories and a fraction of the fat.
Now you know that you should consider specific entrees and appetizers, rather than the cuisine type, to determine whether it’s the healthier option. We hope that this article serves as a helpful guide to steer you towards healthier food.