A survey conducted by the Food Marketing Institute found
that 52 percent of Americans consider Chinese food to be healthier
than fast food. However, a study last year by the Center for
Science in the Public Interest brought this belief into question.
The Center's study analyzed the nutritional content of 15
popular dishes from 20 mid-priced Chinese restaurants around
the country. Believe it or not, a 2 1/2 cup portion of Kung
Pao Chicken contained 38 grams of fat, equivalent to two fast
food quarter pounders. Two cups of Orange Crispy Beef was
found to have over 800 calories, equal to about two orders
of large French fries at a fast food restaurant.
Before you avoid Chinese food altogether, you should know
that there are plenty of foods that you can eat while following
a low-fat diet. In fact, authentic Chinese food is very low
in fat and protein, and high in fiber, which may explain why
cholesterol levels of the Chinese population living in China
range from 88 to 165 mg/dL, while cholesterol levels of Americans
range from 155 to 274 mg/dL. In fact, a study conducted several
years ago by Dr. Campbell, who followed the eating habits
of 6,500 Chinese people, found that their diet is composed
mostly of wheat, millet, corn and rice. Less than 15 percent
of their calories come from fat; 7 percent come from protein
(11 percent from animal products and 89 percent from plants)
and 75 percent from carbohydrate sources. Fiber intake averaged
33 grams/day. Unfortunately, Chinese food prepared in American
restaurants contains much more fat, especially dishes that
are described as batter dipped, sweet and sour, deep fried,
served with nuts, or in a sauce, such as Kung Pao Chicken,
fried rice, Chicken Cashew, and fried noodles.
An easy way to choose healthy and low-fat Chinese dishes
is to use common sense. Because most sauces are oil-based,
they account for much of the fat and calories in many entrees.
Lightly stir-fried or steamed vegetables with white rice are
your best choices. Steamed shellfish, such as shrimp, lobster,
and scallops with mixed vegetables and white rice are also
excellent choices due to their low total fat and saturated
fat content. Vegetable entrees, such as eggplant, that include
tofu (bean curd), are also healthy options. If you enjoy sauce-based
dishes, order one steamed vegetable dish and one dish in a
white sauce, and lots of steamed rice. By mixing these together
in equal proportions, the sauce will go further. Adding steamed
rice, which is fat and sodium free, to your entree in equal
proportions, will help balance the fat and sodium of the total
If you like the taste of Chinese food, try cooking with some
of the ingredients and spices at home or doctoring up your
Chinese leftovers by adding more rice and vegetables. Ginger,
either fresh or dried, adds wonderful taste and flavor to
homemade chicken or vegetable dishes. You can stir-fry either
fresh or frozen vegetables at home with much less fat and
add diced chicken, shellfish, or lean beef. By adding 1 tbs.
of sesame oil and 1 tbs. of soy sauce per 2 cups of vegetables,
along with low-sodium chicken broth, you can prepare low-fat,
tasty Chinese dishes.
Also experiment with Chinese vegetables such as scallions,
water chestnuts, baby corn, bamboo shoots, and black beans,
which are all available in larger supermarkets or in Chinatown
markets. Serve white or brown rice, a salad with low calorie
dressing, and fresh fruit or yogurt for dessert.