The healthiest Chinese take-out menu options, according to nutritionists

We all have our favorite American adaptations of Chinese cuisine, though they are often far removed from the authentic dishes found overseas. In the United States, menu items like chicken, chop suey and General Tso’s fortune cookies are still loved by many because, unsurprisingly, they taste so good.

“Chinese-American cuisine is comforting, consistent, affordable and filling,” said Rebecca Valdez, who is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, or RDN.

Still, anyone looking to eat healthy would be better off following traditional Chinese, not American, eating habits.

“It’s a common misconception that Chinese food is heavy and greasy and the portions are oversized,” said Valdez, who is Taiwanese American.. “That may be true for American Chinese takeout, but the Chinese don’t eat that way. We eat small amounts of rice in palm-sized bowls, lots of vegetables and some meat. Most of our food is not fried or even cooked in a lot of oil.

Sherene Choua Chinese-American dietitian, said establishments serving these cuisines are having a positive impact in the United States

“While they are often demonized for serving supposedly unhealthy food, I see Chinese restaurants as a celebration and an introduction to sharing Chinese flavors and dishes with white American culture,” she said. . “Our foods can be a bridge to delve deeper into authentic regional Chinese cuisines.”

And while the American version isn’t always authentic, it can still be enjoyed as a blast from your past. RDN Sherry Lin grew up a self-proclaimed “restaurant kid” in a town 30 minutes from Chicago.

“We served all the American Chinese classics, including chop suey, egg foo young and crab Rangoon, things I never saw or ate in Taiwan in my early childhood,” said- she declared. “Now, as an adult, I sometimes crave a foo young patty egg for nostalgia.”

How to order a Chinese meal better for you

Breana Lai Killeen, a Chinese-American dietitian, said diners should know how Chinese food should be ordered and enjoyed.

“Food is usually shared,” she said. “That’s why I always suggest having a balance of dishes for the table. This way you can – and should – enjoy dishes that may be fried or heavier alongside lighter vegetable dishes and steamed meals.

Vicki Shanta Retelny, an RDN and podcast host »Nourishing Notesagreed that healthier choices are always possible at a Chinese restaurant.

“A lot of dishes are made with vegetables and lean protein, and you can order them with whole-grain brown rice,” she said. “As sauces are often high in salt and sugar, order them on the side and drizzle them on yourself. Also choose low-sodium soy sauce.

RDN Amanda Frankeny also had some tips. “No matter what you choose on the menu, it’s always a good idea to stick to a side of vegetables,” she said. “Or try the vegetable bao, a steamed bun with a pile of vegetables sandwiched between the soft bread.”

But you also need to listen to yourself, the experts added.

“Your best bet is whatever you crave, what fills you up, and whatever suits you,” Valdez said.

“If you order your favorite dish, sink your teeth in and don’t look back,” Frankeny said.

How healthy are the most popular dishes?

We asked nutritionists for their top picks of America’s most popular meals, along with ordering suggestions.

Beef with broccoli“I love the broccoli in this dish,” Retelny said. “I always recommend eating more cruciferous vegetables.”

“Beef is a flavorful, nutrient-dense meat that’s higher in fat than lean alternatives like chicken, shrimp or tofu,” Frankeny said. ”But it fits perfectly into a healthy diet, so mixing it with broccoli and a handful of brown or white rice makes the balanced dish that every dietitian dreams of.

Dumplings: RDN Amy Gorin vegetable balls suggested as a great option for vegan and vegetarian eaters.

“Overall, the ingredients for the dumplings are relatively healthy,” Frankeny said. “Each bite is often a mix of protein, fiber, fat, possibly vegetables and grains. You can also dip them in chili sauce instead of soy, and you reduce your sodium intake.

Lauri Patterson via Getty Images

Hot and sour soup“I grew up on hot and sour soup, and it’s still one of the things I use when I want a comforting meal or when I’m not feeling well,” Gorin said.

“Broth-based soups like this are easy to eat, provide nutrients, hydration and a feeling of fullness,” Frankeny said.

Scallion Pancakes“They are a source of carbohydrates, which provide energy,” Frankeny said. “Balance them out with a meal rich in vegetables and protein.”

“It was one of my favorite foods growing up,” Gorin said. “They usually come with a soy dip, so I like to keep the sodium-reduced soy sauce at home and use that when I order takeout.”

wonton soup“This broth-based soup is low in fat and calories, but can be high in sodium,” Retelny warned. “Order a small bowl before the meal and share the wontons with your table.”

Nutritionists share their personal favorites

What do professional healthy eaters order for themselves in Chinese restaurants? Their answers might surprise you.

“It depends on my mood,” Gorin said. “I often order steamed tofu and broccoli with the sauce on the side. But I also love anything with rice noodles in it, and I almost always order a side of greens or steamed or sautéed vegetables. I’m also a sucker for a really good hot and sour soup.

“I order items that I can’t easily make at home,” Valdez said. “So my best choices are the spring rolls, because I like the crispy skin and the cabbage or pork filling.; ho fun, a very comforting fried rice noodle dish; and the cashew chicken, because I like the salty-sweet combination.

“I love ordering vegetarian mapo tofu because it reminds me of my family,” Chou said. “It’s a traditional Sichuan dish, and that’s where my grandparents come from. Szechuan peppercorns and numbing chili oil make this dish unique. I can eat it with rice every day.

Mapo tofu is a spicy dish flavored with Sichuan peppercorns that make your mouth tingle.
Mapo tofu is a spicy dish flavored with Sichuan peppercorns that make your mouth tingle.

“I love ordering steamed chicken and vegetables with brown rice and sauce on the side, or chicken moo shu with plum sauce on the side,” Retelny said.

Killeen’s order “depends on how many people are at the table,” she said. But she added that her family usually gets pan-fried pork dumplings, ribs, stir-fried Chinese vegetables like choy sum, mapo tofu, black bean clams, salt and pepper prawns, beef delight and Singapore noodles.

What about MSG?

While many continue to vilify MSG, which is commonly used in Chinese cooking, recent years have seen significant pushback against this impulse. Some people report short-term reactions like hot flashes, sweating, and headaches after consuming the flavor enhancer, but researchers question the supposed link to MSG.

Valdez pointed to one of the main reasons for some people’s fear: “It’s racist,” she said, directing curious readers to a 2021 newspaper article titled “MSG Is A-OK: Exploring the Xenophobic History and Best Practices of Monosodium Glutamate Consumption.”

“The science is pretty clear,” Killeen said. “RResearch fails to support the link between MSG and side effects reported as “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome.”

“The reason the MSG controversy persists is purely because of xenophobia,” Lin said, “and a society that prefers to blame and identify a marginalized group for their problems or ills, rather than looking at facts put forward. up to date”.

Chou accepted. “Nutritional information is shared through a Western lens, which often demonizes cultural foods,” she said.

“MSG isn’t demonized as an ingredient when used in common ‘American’ foods, but when you pair it with Chinese food, it becomes a dirty additive. It’s easy to demonize a people and a culture when these stories are combined.When we focus only on the ingredient and eliminate racism, it is a flavor enhancer that provides umami that many brands and companies use to create flavor.

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