6 Tips for Eating Healthy at a Chinese Restaurant



You don’t feel like cooking tonight, and you’re in the mood for Chinese. Of course, you want to eat healthily, and some Chinese food, especially food on buffets falls short from a health standpoint.


Fortunately, there are ways to enjoy Chinese food without completely blowing your resolution to eat healthier. Hopefully, you did make that resolution! The key is to pick the lower calorie, lower fat items – and know how each is prepared. Here’s how to choose healthier Chinese dishes when dining out.


Skip the Deep-Fried Stuff


Wontons, eggrolls, spring rolls and Crab Rangoon are all popular items on Chinese menus and buffets, but watch out for the calories and fat in these crunchy creations. One eggroll has 170 calories or more with little nutritional value. Eat a couple of those with a deep-fried wonton or two and you can do some serious dietary damage – before you get to the entree.


Skip the deep-fried appetizers, and ease into your meal with a bowl of soup instead. Sweet and sour and egg drop soup is low in calories, but they’re loaded with salt and MSG. A bowl of wonton soup is a reasonable choice with about 120 calories.


One advantage to eating soup is it’s filling so you’re less likely to “pig out” when the main course arrives. If you’re watching your salt intake, as you should be, try the seaweed salad instead. Don’t front-load your meal with too many calories before you get to the entrée.


What about Entrees?


Hungry for General Tso’s Chicken? Proceed with caution. This “heart attack on a plate” averages around 1400 calories and 40 grams of fat. Orange and lemon chicken aren’t much better with over 1,000 calories in each.


The common theme is all of these items are fried and are a significant source of fat and calories. Avoid entrees that are fried or “crunchy” and order ones that are braised, steamed or stir-fried instead.


One commendable feature of Chinese restaurants is the number of vegetables they offer. Most have green beans, broccoli, snow peas and asparagus and some have Bok choy, a healthy type of Chinese cabbage.


Ask for stir-fried chicken with a vegetable like snow peas or broccoli – light on the sauce, and you’ll leave feeling full but virtuous because you made a healthy choice.




If you’re watching your carbs, ask for the rice on a separate plate and only use half of it to reduce the carb load. Ask for brown rice instead of white rice. Brown rice is higher in fiber and a healthy choice. It’s also absorbed more slowly due to its fiber, which means it won’t raise your blood sugar as much.


Steer clear of fried rice. It will do your waistline no favors. Skip the lo mein and noodle dishes too. They’re a source of carbs, calories and oil with little nutritional value. Ask the server to serve your entrée over steamed cabbage instead of rice. You’ll save on calories and carbs and get the benefits of the anti-cancer compounds in the cabbage.


Be a Sauce Detective


Watch the sauces at Chinese restaurants. Some Chinese add far too much and many are high in fat and have added sugar or corn syrup. Stick with healthier ones like black bean sauce, hot mustard sauce, or oyster sauce – and ask for it on the side.


Other Healthy Chinese Restaurant Choices


Many Chinese restaurants offer tofu as a meat substitute which is a good option if it’s not deep fried or soaked in a heavy sauce. Take the time to ask how an item is prepared, and tell them to go light on the oil and serve it with the sauce on the side.


Entrees that feature shrimp or scallops with a light sauce are other good options. Sip on unsweetened green tea with a meal to boost metabolism. It’s a good alternative to soft drinks.


Skip the Fork and Pick Up the Chopsticks


If you eat with chopsticks, you’ll eat at a slower pace. This will give satiety hormones a chance to kick in before you’ve eaten too much. It takes about 20 minutes for your body to signal your brain you’re full.


Leave the Fortune Cookie Behind


It’s not that fortune cookies are so high in calories, but they typically contain hydrogenated oils, another word for trans-fat. That’s not something anybody needs more of.


The Bottom Line?


You can enjoy a meal at a Chinese restaurant – but choose wisely. The good news is most smaller Chinese restaurants don’t mind preparing items the way you request. Don’t be afraid to ask.


Kristie Leong M.D.

Dr. Kristie Leong and Dr. Apollo Leong are physicians helping you to lead a healthy lifestyle by sharing nutrition and fitness tips and keeping you abreast of the latest health news.