Savvy and health-conscious diners know that when they’re dining out, they need to choose foods with the most nutritional value and the least fat and calories. That advice applies in full to your local Chinese restaurant or buffet, where there are plenty of nutritious and diet-friendly meal options, along with a few items you might want to avoid or consume only in moderation.
Dishes in Chinese restaurants are usually low in saturated and trans fats because they are cooked in vegetable oil and don’t contain cheese. The menus often feature low-fat meats such as seafood and poultry, and there are plenty of meals assembled entirely from vegetables — Buddha’s Delight, for example. Chinese buffets, such as OEC Super Buffet in Goshen, offer the benefit of allowing customers to maximize their nutritional intake by tailoring their meal to their needs through a wide variety of food options.
On the other hand, many Chinese dishes are loaded with sodium — thanks mainly to the use of soy sauce — and are high in calories from deep-frying, sauces and noodles. So how can you eat healthy while enjoying the flavors of Chinese cooking?
Health and nutrition experts suggest choosing a vegetable dish. If you want protein too, choose seafood, chicken or tofu rather than pork or beef. You can ask the kitchen to go easy on the soy sauce, which contains about 1,000 milligrams of sodium per tablespoon, or two-thirds of the U.S. recommended daily allowance. It’s wise to inquire about the preparation of vegetable dishes, because in some cases the vegetables are deep-fried before they are added to a stir-fry.
You can also focus on menu items that are steamed, poached, broiled, roasted, barbecued, braised or stir-fried lightly. If you order something stir-fried, you can ask the kitchen to use a little less oil. If you eat with chopsticks, you’ll consume less oily sauce than if you use a fork.
Stir-fried vegetables aren’t necessarily bad, as long as the chef doesn’t use too much oil. Vegetables are often fried with nutrient-rich seasonings like ginger and garlic.
When you’re eating Chinese, you can also choose lower-calorie options among the many sauces. General Tso’s chicken is not a good option, as the sauce contains cornstarch. Look for sauces like hoisin, mustard or oyster sauce. You can ask for your dish “half sauced,” too.
When it comes to ordering rice, stay away from fried rice. White rice doesn’t have a lot of nutritional value, but its calorie count is about the same as brown rice and there’s not much difference in fiber.
As with any meal, moderation is important. At most Chinese restaurants a single serving is enough the feed two people, so either split the meal with a dining companion or take home leftovers.
Some nutritionists recommend starting your Chinese meal with a soup, which is usually a low-calorie way to start filling up before the main meal arrives. And drink plenty of water to cut the sodium in the meal.
Although no research has shown that consuming monosodium glutamate (MSG) causes harm, there remain claims that it may cause symptoms ranging from nausea to headaches.
MSG has been used for decades to add umami flavor to foods. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says MSG is “generally recognized as safe.” The Mayo Clinic, a national leader in health care based in Rochester, Minn., says “(R)esearchers have found no definitive evidence of a link between MSG and these symptoms. Researchers acknowledge, though, that a small percentage of people may have short-term reactions to MSG. Symptoms are usually mild and don’t require treatment.”
Whether or not a restaurant adds MSG to its dishes, there’s a good chance that it’s contained in the soy sauce on the table.
Eating at your local Chinese restaurant or buffet is far from dining in a nutritional wasteland. With so many vegetables and lean meats on the menu, you can an enjoy a tasty, guilt-free meal.