Chinese restaurant menus are notorious for having items that are battered and deep-fried and loaded with salty, sugary sauces. Many dishes often feature hefty amounts of oily noodles or fried rice along with fatty meats. However, if you're watching your weight or just trying to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet in general, not all Chinese food has to be off limits. Let's take a look at some lighter Chinese fare.
1. Hot & Sour Soup or Wonton Soup
A cup of one of these savory starters will only set you back about 80 to 100 calories. An added appetite-squashing attribute: research has found that if you eat a broth-based soup before a meal you end up eating less food in total.
2. Veggie Spring Rolls
For a light appetizer, steer clear of fried eggs rolls and opt for veggie spring rolls instead, which contain about 80 calories per roll on average.
3. Steamed Vegetable Dumplings
One steamed veggie dumpling contains a lean 40 calories. Enjoy two delicious dumplings before your main meal for only 80 calories.
4. The Buddha's Delight
Loaded with steamed veggies and protein-packed tofu. This delightfully low-calorie dish will leave you satisfied on as little as 200 calories.
5. Chicken with Broccoli
One cup of chicken and broccoli has a reasonable 280 calories. To lower the calorie count even further, request the sauce on the side and use just a little. A broccoli bonus: this cruciferous vegetable is one of the most nutrient-dense foods you can eat. It's chock-full of vitamin C, vitamin A, calcium, fiber and antioxidants.
6. Moo Goo Gai Pan
This super-tasty Chinese food favorite is made from lightly-sautéed vegetables, button mushrooms, spices and sliced or sometimes cubed chicken. A whole cup of this fiber-filled dish has about 275 calories. Wow! Even if you were really hungry and ate two cups of the scrumptious stuff, you'd still be taking in just 550 calories--far fewer calories than a much smaller serving of many other dishes listed on that take-out menu.
7. Shrimp with Lobster Sauce
Shrimp is a super-lean protein and although lobster sauce sounds sinfully decadent, it actually only has about 50 calories for one-fourth of a cup. This entire dish contains only about 450 calories--not too shabby!
8. Shrimp with Garlic Sauce
A full order of this dish houses about 700 calories, and if you split it in half and share it with a friend or save some for a second meal, your total calorie count stays around 350. Plus, it's very filling because of all the fiber from the veggies and lean protein from the shellfish.
9. Steamed Shrimp or Chicken with Vegetables
When they're not breaded and deep-fried, both shrimp and chicken are lean sources of high-quality protein. Protein helps you stay full for longer and is important for building and maintaining muscle mass.
10. Any Steamed Veggies & Lean Protein
Any dish consisting of steamed vegetables and lean protein (chicken, scallops, shrimp, fish, lean beef or tofu) with sauce on the side is a low-calorie choice. It'll fill you up without filling you out.
11. Don't Forego the Fortune Cookie
Enjoy a perfectly-portioned, classic, after-meal treat for a mere 30 calories.
The Bottom Line
Chinese food doesn't have to be a diet disaster. Opt for dishes that are full of steamed or lightly stir-fried veggies (ask them to use very little oil) and lean proteins (shellfish, fish, chicken, tofu, lean beef). Use chopsticks to help slow your eating, allowing your stomach ample time to send signals to your brain that you are full.
Kari Hartel, RD, LD is a Registered, Licensed Dietitian and freelance writer based out of St. Louis, MO. Kari is passionate about nutrition education and the prevention of chronic disease through a healthy diet and active lifestyle. Kari holds a Bachelor of Science in Dietetics from Southeast Missouri State University and is committed to helping people lead healthy lives. She completed a yearlong dietetic internship at OSF St. Francis Medical Center in Peoria, IL, where she worked with a multitude of clients and patients with complicated diagnoses. She planned, marketed, and implemented nutrition education programs and cooking demonstrations for the general public as well as for special populations, including patients with cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, obesity, and school-aged children.