How to Order the Healthiest Chinese Food

What to look for, what to skip, and tips for placing a healthier order the next time you take out from a Chinese restaurant.

orange and soy-glazed beef stir-fryThe traditional Chinese diet is a healthy one, with lots of vegetables, stir-fries with small chunks of meat or fish, and soy foods. But that’s not evident in the typical fare in a Chinese restaurant here, where the meal is likely to be heavy on greasy meats and swimming in sauces with lots of calories. Even the vegetables are usually in a fatty, sugary sauce. If you’re looking to eat healthy, do you have to give up Chinese takeout? Of course not. Here’s how to order carefully.

1. Ask for brown rice. Most restaurants give you the option, and white rice is a blood-sugar disaster waiting to happen. Don’t eat the whole bowl or container of rice; spoon a half cup onto your plate and leave the rest. You can also do as a Chinese native would: Put a small amount of brown rice in a small bowl and hold the bowl up, using your chopsticks (or fork) to eat a little rice in between bites of your main dish. You can also skip the rice altogether, and fill up on fiber-friendly vegetables instead.

2. Start with soup. Wonton, egg drop, or hot-and-sour soup are good choices. A small bowl of soup will take the edge off your hunger and not make a big dent in your calorie intake. Another good appetizer choice is steamed vegetable dumplings—steer clear of pan-fried ones.

3. Look for light options. When it comes to entrées, order from the “health” menu. Here is where you’ll find steamed chicken and vegetables with sauce on the side and similar low-fat choices. Another good choice is moo goo gai pan (chicken with mushrooms). If you like stir-fries, ask the waitperson to have yours prepared with less oil and more veggies, and get the sauce on the side.

4. Make sure you order plenty of vegetables. If you really want to make the meal healthier, order a plate of steamed vegetables and add them to other dishes. Or ask for sautéed vegetables or Szechuan-style string beans.

5. Take advantage of the bean curd (tofu). Include a heart-healthy, low-GL dish like bean curd with sautéed Chinese mixed vegetables (ask for sautéed bean curd, not deep-fried).

6. Plan to take home leftovers. Portions are often large. Think of about a cup of a dish (without rice) as a serving.

7. Just Say No

  • Crispy noodles
  • Egg rolls
  • Fried wontons
  • Fried rice
  • Pan-fried noodles
  • Lo mein
  • Crispy beef or chicken
  • Sweet-and-sour pork, chicken, and other meat dishes
  • Szechuan spicy fish
  • General Tso’s chicken
  • Kung pao chicken
  • Spicy eggplant

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