China's cuisine is as vast as the country itself, ranging from sublime vegetarian dishes to earthy meals using hair-raising animal parts. Here, though, many Chinese restaurants offer a mix of regional and Chinese-American--tasty food but nutritionally all over the map. We analyzed six Chinese entrées from real U.S. restaurants to help point you to healthier choices. Nutrition numbers are estimates: Results vary widely according to portion size. If sodium is a concern, ask the kitchen not to use added salt, and watch your intake the rest of the day. Your fortune: Healthy choices are in your near future.
Smart Chinese Food Strategies
Sodium is a major concern in Chinese-American cuisine--one tablespoon of soy sauce has about 1,000 milligrams. Reach for the low-sodium (about 500 mg) bottle, if you must. Better yet, use Chinese mustard, duck sauce, or chili sauce to boost flavor wihtout as much added salt.
What You Need to Know About Ordering Chinese Food
- Prepare to share: Chinese entrées are huge. Split one, take leftovers home, and keep portion sizes reasonable.
- Keep it lean: Avoid extra fat--choose lean proteins and vegetarian plates, and steer clear of deep-fried dishes.
- Rice counts, too: Remember each cup of brown or white steamed rice adds about 200 calories to your meal.
Splurge Only: Pork Lo Mein
Oil-slick noodles and marbled meat send calories soaring, while more than a day's worth of sodium lurks in the seasoning.
Healthy Choice: Ma Po Tofu
This fiery entrée may be listed with vegetarian items. If not, order it without ground pork to slash calories and saturated fat.
Ask Your Server: Ginger Chicken with Broccoli
Loaded with green veggies and (typically white meat chicken--just watch your serving size.
Healthy Choice: Shrimp with Garlic Sauce
Shellfish and vegetables in zesty, low-fat sauce. Make it better: Ask them to use less oil.
Ask Your Server: Mu Shu Pork
Stick to two filled pancakes of this vegetable-packed dish and cut calories by half.
Splurge Only: Sweet and Sour Chicken
Batter-coated and deep-fried lean protein, smothered in sugar-laced sauce.