As you might have guessed, our little bat likes fruit, which means that names like orange or lemon chicken, plum sauce, tangerine chicken, and pineapple duck intrigue her! So of course, Chinese food draws our little bat since it has these dishes! It’s fruit, right? So it should be healthy, right? Wrong, the fruit has a good content of fructose that is already not healthy in large doses, and to make matters worse, fructose is boosted when cooked! Lemon and oranges aren’t even naturally sweet so this means these dishes have a good amount of sugar added to them to create that lovely, syrupy sauce! So this means we cannot eat them? Well, in my opinion saying no doesn’t really work (unless you have health conditions like diabetes, then you need to be extra careful!), it is good to know what is unhealthy so that you can avoid it or balance your diet so that your body can deal with the peaks of sugars, fats or salts you have ingested. However, not denaying yourself from eating your favorite foods occasionally and responsibly, in my opinion, helps to maintain a healthy diet (at least, it’s the diet that worked for me cos it can easily become a lifestyle!), after all eating your favorite food is a good boost to our happiness and that means a boost to our mental health, right?
So Chinese food is not healthy? How can you generalize a whole cuisine in a yes or no answer?! Is any food category healthy? In my opinion, it all falls under the ‘it depends’ category! I mean, if you order a salad that is full of bacon bites, nachos strips, cheese, and fatty dressing is it really considered healthy just because it’s a salad?! So what I will try to do here is categorize the most popular dishes. This will help us choose the right dishes to eat more often and the dishes we need to avoid and take some measures if we eat them. Like for example if we’re eating a sweet and sour sauce, that is traditionally based on sugar and vinegar (unless you try our way healthier version on this link, well it still has a high fructose content but it’s less and healthier sugars), we know that we need to stay away from sugars and fruits for a while after consuming it and do some exercise to burn the extra calories. The same applies to dishes heavy on soy sauce that has a high content of salt, so we need to avoid other salty foods to let our bodies balance the levels again. Deep-fried items, of course, have a high content of fats, while pasta rice, and pastry (like dumplings) have a higher amount of carbs. So now let’s try and sort some of the dishes and see which are the healthiest we can find as well!
Let’s start with the positive and take a look at what is the best choice. Let’s hope your favorite dish is on this list (mine definitely is not!)
- Soups, as always soups are one of the healthiest picks. Most mentioned are Wonton, Egg Drop, or Hot and Sour soups. Chicken and sweetcorn soup has more calories but is also a good option.
- Steamed veggie dumplings are another best option for starters. Of course, if you are on a keto diet they still have the dough so keep that in mind. Pork or chicken aren’t bad options, however, try to avoid shrimp or prawn dumplings, they have almost three times as many calories as a veggie dumpling!! Also, soy sauce is high in sodium, while sweet and sour or sweet chili sauces are high in sugars, so keep that in mind if you’re dipping them.
- Stir-fried dishes are one of the best main courses you can choose, of course, veggie or chicken are the best options. Just be careful of the accompanying sauces, if possible ask the restaurant to either give the sauce on the side or do less sauce, since usually these are loaded with salts, fat, and sugars. If you can have yours on the side you can just drizzle your food rather than drowning it. If you can avoid the beef for this option, the restaurant will choose the fattiest cuts of beef for this dish (they will taste better but aren’t the best for our health).
- Kung Pao Chicken is a spicy option that also can be enjoyed! Chili peppers are a great way to add taste without any problems, they are packed with Vitamin C and provide some health benefits, so if you enjoy hot food, this is good news for you, go for the chili rather than the sweet or salty! (As always, if you exaggerate daily there might be some side effects, however, I believe that can be said about anything that you eat!)
- Buddha’s Delight is probably the healthiest option on the menu, especially if you order it steamed. Just veggies and tofu and usually it is served with a light sauce. It still has soy sauce so still salty, however, you can order the sauce on the side again and just use a drizzle.
- Moo Goo Gai Pan is another dish that you can enjoy often and with a clean conscience. Chicken and veggies again win the day here as well, with spices. Again, ask for a light sauce since this could be heavy in salts and sugars (apparently there are different variations, it is not a dish I am familiar with, unfortunately)
- Chop Suey is another favorite stir-fry dish that is among the best options. As with the other dishes, be careful of the sauce. (Apparently, there might be a light sauce version for this dish, however, it’s another dish I am not familiar with.)
- Rice is the way to go for your side, especially steamed or brown if it’s available. Avoid fried rice as this will be fried in oil, of course, so that doesn’t help our cause and has often added soy sauce to it. If you manage to opt for brown rice, you will be already counteracting for some of the sugars in the other dishes as this seems to help protect against type 2 diabetes.
Now that we’ve seen our healthiest choices, let’s consider the dishes that should be avoided or counteracted for! (Unfortunately, most of my favorite dishes are in this category, so I try to take them not more than twice a year and be a little careful the week after to balance out the excess intake!)
- Fried Egg Rolls are a starter that fills most of the calory intake for your meal, add some sauce and you should probably stop eating! The pastry soaks up too much oil so, this is one of the worst options on the menu. Filled with veggies they are slightly better than other fillings, however, most of this is pastry so the veggies don’t really help here! It’s basically a fat and carb roll.
- Crab Rangoon are slightly better cos they are smaller, however, the chances are you will eat more than one and they are mostly pastry and cream cheese! So basically it’s another fats and carb bite and therefore another item that is best to be avoided, cos again, they will leave very few calories left for the rest of the meal!
- Sweet and Sour Sauce as I said before is mainly sugar and vinegar, so of course, this is something that should get a red flag whether it’s a dipping or even worse part of the main dish like sweet and sour chicken or even worse sweet and sour pork cos at least chicken is a leaner type of meat!
- Barbeque Spare Ribs are another item that is among the worst options here. Not only is the sauce full of sugars and also salts, but the meat used here is also usually packed with fat as well. Basically, this is a dish that will require eating salads for a week to balance out the extra sugars, salts, and fats!
- Fried Rice falls under this list as well. Changing it to brown rice will improve its health value slightly, however, it is still fried and usually with a variety of fatty meats added to it. The portions are also usually massive so at least try to share this with someone if you want to order this or take it to go so you can eat smaller portions.
- Lo Mein is another carb-packed meal with loads of salt and fats added to it. There should be a vegetable version of this dish, it will make it slightly better, however, still a dish that shouldn’t be eaten in one go. So again, better to share or take most of it to go and split the meal into smaller portions.
- Chow Fun is a similar dish to Lo Mein having more or less the same oil-covered noodles, served with soy and fatty meats, so again, just like the dish before, not a good option for the same reasons!
- General Tso’s Chicken is usually breaded and deep-fried, and then coated in a sugary sauce, so of course, not the best option for our health especially if you are thinking about taking a dessert after your meal!
- Orange Beef is another fatty meat, fried, and doused in sugars, the fruit here really doesn’t make much difference in this dish! Ordering orange chicken instead will at least lower the fats in the meat, however, this is still usually breaded and deep-fried, and of course, the sauce is still full of sugars, so it’s still a very unhealthy dish!
So, should we order Chinese tonight?
Well, ideally I would say no, however, it is a good meal every now and again. If you follow the healthiest options I would say it can be eaten maybe once a week unless you have some medical conditions or you are really trying to lose weight, in that case, your best option is to cook your own food, cos, let’s face it, it’s hard to find really healthy eat-out options. It’s not impossible, but it’s hard and usually very expensive, at least in our country, to find really healthy food from restaurants!
So, can you cook your own Chinese food? Well, little changes to the recipes will go a long way! You can bake rather than fry, use less soy and maybe opt for a low salt version of soy sauce, use honey and fruit instead of actual sugar, and brown rice rather than white rice or noodles. Also, you can choose the cuts of meats you will use and therefore make sure your meat is lean and grilled rather than deep-fried and you can avoid the batter altogether with the meats. Of course, it’s not the same thing, it’s good, however, not the usual experience.
This is a healthy site so I cannot really encourage you to eat deep-fried, salt, and sugar full foods. That being said, I personally find it way easier to keep up a healthy lifestyle by allowing myself to slip up and indulge in the foods I love at least once every two or three months and not more than once a month. Keep the portions reasonably and opt for a cleansing diet the week after. It’s good to be healthy but we need to live a little too, right!? In my opinion, a healthy lifestyle is keeping an eye on the weighing scale and taking tests regularly to check on our cholesterol and sugar levels, just to make sure that whenever we spike our weight or blood levels, we’re getting them back down and not just increasing the levels until they are in an alarming state. Of course, if you have any medical condition and spiking is life-threatening, that’s another issue! In that case, make sure to choose your dishes from the healthiest options if you really need to go to a Chinese takeout! At least here you have a guide so you can make an informed decision!