Everyone loves takeout from time to time. Personally, I save Friday nights for pizza or Chinese food. I always end up feeling bloated, and like I ate too much, but nonetheless, I decided to research which of these options is healthier.
Depending on the dish, Chinese food can be healthier than pizza, especially if it’s a simple protein and vegetable dish. Chinese food usually is higher in sodium and calories, while pizza is higher in saturated fat and cholesterol. Avoid eating too much in one sitting to eat healthier.
There’s a lot of factors that come into play that determine whether pizza or Chinese food is healthier. In this article, I’ll tell you everything you need to know about ordering healthier take-out.
Why Pizza and Chinese Food are Unhealthy
Neither of these two popular takeout foods looks particularly healthy. But have you ever stopped to think about why? What is it, specifically, that makes pizza and Chinese food less healthy than alternatives?
There’s a few reasons pizza isn’t the healthiest dish on the takeout menu. Most of it has to do with the ingredients. Pizza dough is almost always made from white flour, which has virtually no nutritional value and is high in carbohydrates. Pizza also is covered in cheese, which is high in saturated fat, cholesterol, and sometimes sodium.
The toppings on your pizza also really matter. A pizza covered in fatty, protein-rich pepperoni will be a lot less healthy than one with vegetables, or that is served plain.
There’s a lot more variety in Chinese food – it’s not just crust, sauce, and cheese. Some Chinese foods are a lot healthier than others, but there are a few common characteristics.
Most Chinese food is high in sodium, and it often is highly caloric too. Eating too much sodium can be bad for your blood pressure and lead to hypertension, and an excess of calories won’t do your waistline any favors either.
Many Chinese (or really, Chinese-American) dishes lack nutritional value. Sesame Chicken, for example, is just deep-fried chicken served in an extremely sugary sauce, with little or no vegetables in sight. It’s not hard to see why that would be unhealthier than, say, a vegetable stir-fry.
Which is Healthier: Pizza or Chinese Food?
While Chinese food, especially deep-fried dishes, can be high in sodium and calories, some Chinese dishes are definitely healthier than pizza.
I mentioned that pizza tends to be high in cholesterol and saturated fat because it has so much cheese. Interestingly, these two unhealthy nutrients are found in much smaller quantities in Chinese food. While Chinese food can be high in fat, it usually is not saturated fat and is better for you. Chinese food also has much more protein.
Still, that General Tso’s Chicken isn’t fooling anyone. Deep-fried dishes tend to be low in nutritional value, caloric, and high in fat, regardless of whether they’re Chinese, Italian, Mexican, or from someplace else.
So which is healthier, pizza or Chinese food? It’s a hard question to answer because it all depends on what you order. Besides, sometimes the healthiest thing you can do is eat a smaller meal and save some for tomorrow. I’ll give you some tips on what you should – and shouldn’t – order to keep your Friday night takeout as healthy as possible.
How to Eat Healthier Pizza and Chinese Food
While neither pizza nor Chinese food is going to win any health awards for the foreseeable future, there are some things you can do to make these foods as healthy as you can.
It all comes down to the toppings. These make the biggest difference in having a healthy vs. unhealthy pizza. For a healthier pizza, try eating it plain or with some vegetable toppings like mushrooms, onions, spinach, or peppers. Stay away from fatty meats like bacon, pepperoni, or sausage.
The crust is also a big source of carbohydrates, and it contains virtually no other nutrients. Opt for the thin crust rather than the deep dish for a healthier meal.
Cheese is a huge source of cholesterol, saturated fat, and sometimes sodium. While it does contain some healthy nutrients like calcium, you’re better off limiting the cheese. Don’t ask for extra cheese on your pizza. To be even healthier, you could order “half-cheese” and add on a spoonful of parmesan.
You’ll also want to stay away from stuffed crust pizza. There’s already plenty of cheese and sauce on the rest of the pizza.
Fortunately for Chinese food lovers, you have a lot more options to keep it healthy. First, I’d recommend steering away from deep-fried dishes like General Tso’s, Sesame, or Orange Chicken. You could try something stir-fried or sauteed instead. Get the steamed dumplings instead of the fried ones.
Instead of getting an all-meat dish, go for a simple vegetable and protein dish like Beef and Broccoli. Make sure you eat some broccoli, too – my mom always hated it when I’d only eat the beef from this dish. You could even ask for extra broccoli or other vegetables if you want to be extra healthy.
The sauces in Chinese food tend to be high in sugar, salt, or both. A solution to this is to get the sauce on the side and dip your food in it. It will taste the same but be a whole lot less unhealthy. In general, try your best to avoid salty Chinese foods, as they’re way over the amount of sodium your body needs.
Lastly, take care choosing your rice. Brown rice is a whole grain and has a lot more nutritional value than its white rice counterpart. But in both cases, rice is high in carbohydrates. You can stay healthy by not eating as much rice or avoiding it altogether.
Limit How Much You Eat
Whether it’s pizza or Chinese food, there’s one easy way to eat healthier takeout: eat less. There’s no need to eat a whole pizza in one sitting, and most Chinese entrees are actually meant to be two servings.
This may seem obvious, but the simplest way to cut back on calories, cholesterol, fat, and sodium are to limit how much you eat and save some for later.
Your wallet will thank you, too. Save some food for lunch tomorrow, and you’ll get two or more meals out of one purchase. It adds up over time, especially if you order takeout often.
Other Healthy Takeout Options
Pizza and Chinese food are two of the most popular, beloved takeout options for Americans today. But of course, they’re not the only options. Next time you’re ordering takeout, consider some of these healthier options too:
- Thai. Thai is often considered to be a healthier, lighter version of Chinese food. The cuisines are quite similar, but Thai food usually will be a little less oily and use more vegetables. Like Chinese, it all comes down to what you order, so avoid deep-fried dishes.
- Japanese. Japanese food is another alternative to Chinese. It’s more different from Chinese food compared to Thai, but Japanese dishes tend to be savory, have more vegetables, and are prepared in healthier ways than Chinese dishes.
- Mexican. Okay, I know Mexican probably doesn’t seem like the healthiest food ever. But it all depends on what you order. If you want a cheesy alternative to Italian food or pizza, Mexican has some great options. Just stay away from the chimichangas, which are deep-fried burritos.
If you want to order takeout while being health-conscious, don’t worry – you can still order delicious Chinese food or pizza.
While some Chinese food is a little healthier than pizza, the selection of dishes matters. For healthier Friday night takeout, avoid meaty toppings on your pizza and deep-fried Chinese dishes, and make sure to save some for tomorrow.