All foods can fit into a healthful diet that focuses on variety, moderation and physical activity. Chinese food can be a healthful option for smart consumers who are strategic when ordering. Follow federal guidelines when dining at a Chinese restaurant: Eat lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins, and limit fat, sodium and added sugar.
Calories provide energy to fuel the body. However, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, eating too many calories leads to weight gain, obesity and chronic diseases. Avoid overeating by sharing entrees and exercising portion control, filling up on naturally low-calorie foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, and balancing high-calorie dishes with lower-calorie counterparts. Look for dishes that are steamed, boiled, grilled and baked because they have fewer calories than those that have been deep fried, fried and sautéed. The American Dietetic Association also recommends eating slowly because it takes at least 20 minutes for the brain to receive satiety cues from the stomach, and fast eaters often overeat.
The USDA says too much fat, especially saturated fat, increases the risk of heart disease. Fat is also high in calories. Lean proteins such as tofu, chicken breast, fish and seafood have less fat than beef, pork and lamb. Egg drop soup and hot and sour soup are lower-fat appetizers than fried egg rolls, fried dumplings and spareribs. Accompany meals with steamed rice instead of fried rice, which is cooked with oil, and limit crisp salad toppings such as wonton chips, crispy noodles and shrimp chips that have been deep fried. Remove visible fat or skin from meat and poultry before eating as these are high in saturated fat and cholesterol.
Many of the sauces used to flavor Chinese food are high in sodium, and too much can cause high blood pressure in certain individuals. High-sodium sauces include soy sauce, oyster sauce, plum sauce, sweet and sour sauce, hoisin and duck sauce. Reduce the sodium content of Chinese food by asking that dishes be prepared with half the sauce, requesting low-sodium soy sauce and refraining from spooning extra sauces over entrees and rice.
Chinese restaurants might use monosodium glutamate, or MSG, to flavor dishes. The Food and Drug Administration recognizes MSG as a safe ingredient; however, many anecdotal side effects of MSG exist, including headache, flushing, sweating, numbness, tingling, burning, heart palpitations, chest pain, nausea and weakness. People who experience reactions to MSG should ask that dishes be prepared without MSG.
Vegetables and Fiber
Chinese restaurants offer dishes with lots of vegetables. Vegetables are naturally low in calories, are fat-free and are a good source of nutrients and fiber. According to the USDA, high-fiber diets decrease the risk of heart disease. Consider ordering vegetarian Chinese dishes and filling up on those before ordering meat dishes. Another good source of fiber is brown rice, which many Chinese restaurants offer upon request.
- American Dietetic Association: Eating outrel="nofollow"
- American Dietetic Association: Healthy Chinese foodrel="nofollow"
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Chinese Restaurant Syndromerel="nofollow"
- United States Department of Agriculture: Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005rel="nofollow"
- Penn Medicine: Chinese foodrel="nofollow"
- Chow Mein with prawns with chopsticks image by Elzbieta Sekowska from Fotolia.com
This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.