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The #1 Unhealthiest Panda Express Order, According to a Dietitian

Don't fret. This may be the worst item at Panda Express, but there are plenty of healthier choices.
FACT CHECKED BY Olivia Tarantino

Fast food isn't limited to burgers, fries, or fried chicken sandwiches. At a place like Panda Express, fast food is chow mein, rice, teriyaki chicken, orange chicken, beef and broccoli, and many of your other favorite Chinese-American dishes. Not only is their food quick, convenient, and tasty, but Panda Express also offers a ton of healthier options that are lower in calories and fat than many other fast food places. However, even with their more healthful choices, you'll still find a handful of unhealthy orders on their menu as well.

Panda Express's menu is a "build your own" process, where you choose a base and one or two entrees. For a base, you can choose from white, brown, or fried rice, chow mein noodles, or greens, and the entrees include options like Honey Sesame Chicken, Beijing Beef, Teriyaki Chicken, and Chili Crisp Shrimp. Because of the flexibility of their menu, Panda Express makes it easier to craft a more nutritious meal, and even the unhealthiest menu items can be made healthier by choosing the right base or opting for their "Panda Cup" selections, which have smaller serving sizes.

Because of the versatility and wide range of options on the Panda Express menu, we thought it could be helpful to investigate their nutrition information a bit more. To help, we talked with Lisa Young, PhD, RDN, author of Finally Full, Finally Slim, and member of our Medical Expert Board.

Young looked at the nutrition information for all of the menu items and chose what she considered to be the worst side and entree based on calories, total fat, saturated fat, and sodium. She then helped provide a couple of healthier choices you can make to still enjoy a delicious lunch or dinner without fully getting off track of your nutrition goals for the day.

Read on, then check out the 8 Healthiest Dishes to Order at Olive Garden.

The #1 worst Panda Express order is…the Chow Mein and Orange Chicken

Panda Express Orange Chicken and Chow Mein
Panda Express

The combination of Orange Chicken, a dish inspired by a Chinese dish called chen pi niu rou, and classic chow mein stir-fried noodles is nothing short of delicious. Unfortunately, if it's a nutritious meal you're on the hunt for, this one isn't it.

"Panda Express's Orange Chicken and Chow Mein are considered unhealthy due to their high levels of sodium, sugar, and unhealthy fats," says Young.

The Chow Mein and Orange Chicken is packed with:

  • Calories: 1,000
  • Total fat: 43 grams
  • Saturated fat: 8.5 grams
  • Sodium: 1,680 milligrams
  • Carbohydrates: 131 grams
  • Fiber: 8 grams
  • Sugar: 28 grams
  • Protein: 38 grams

For starters, "The orange chicken is deep-fried, which adds a significant amount of unhealthy fats and calories to the dish," says Young, who adds that "the sauce on the Orange Chicken also contributes to its high calorie and sugar content."

When it comes to the stir-fried Chow Mein noodles, Young points out that they are "high in sodium and unhealthy fats."

Ordering the Orange Chicken and Chow Mein now and then won't have much of an effect on your health, but consistently eating fast food dishes high in calories, fat, and sodium "can contribute to health issues such as obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes," says Young.

If you're a fan of Panda Express and want to order food that is both tasty and a bit more nutritious, there are plenty of menu items to choose from.

 The 15 Best High-Protein Fast Food Meals

Some healthier alternatives at Panda Express

Panda Express teriyaki chicken
Facebook/Panda Express

One of the things we love about Panda Express is that it's a convenient fast-food restaurant with plenty of better-for-you choices. Here are a few items you can try when you're wanting a healthier choice:

Grilled Teriyaki Chicken with Super Greens

Their Teriyaki Chicken is a great alternative for when you're craving that sweet and savory flavor you'd get from an Orange Chicken but want something with fewer calories and a lower sodium content. Plus, "The teriyaki sauce is used in moderate amounts which adds flavor to the dish without contributing to excess calorie intake," says Young.

Pairing it with the Super Greens gives you fiber and a bit of protein while keeping your calories, refined carbohydrates, and sodium low.

Ordering the Teriyaki Chicken Bowl with Super Greens will give you the following:

  • Calories: 430
  • Total Fat: 28 grams
  • Saturated fat: 6.5 grams
  • Sodium: 890 milligrams
  • Carbohydrates: 24 grams
  • Fiber: 8 grams
  • Sugar: 14 grams
  • Protein: 47 grams

 The #1 Unhealthiest Olive Garden Order

Broccoli and Beef with Brown Rice

Panda Express Broccoli and Beef with Brown Rice
Panda Express

The Broccoli and Beef Bowl from Panda Express will scratch that Chinese takeout itch without derailing your health goals for the day. The beef is lower in calories and fat, and the broccoli will give you a bit of fiber and helpful vitamins and nutrients.

Whether you choose brown or white rice would depend on your personal nutrition goals for the meal. The brown rice is a bit higher in calories and fat, but it does contain more fiber and protein than the white. The white rice is lower in calories and fat, but because it's a refined carbohydrate, you won't get any natural fiber.

Ordering the Broccoli and Beef with Brown Rice will give you the following:

  • Calories: 570
  • Total fat: 11 grams
  • Saturated fat: 2.5 grams
  • Sodium: 535 milligrams
  • Carbohydrates: 99 grams
  • Fiber: 6 grams
  • Sugar: 8 grams
  • Protein: 18 grams

And for more healthy options, don't miss The 8 Healthiest Menu Items at Panda Express.

Samantha Boesch
Samantha was born and raised in Orlando, Florida and now works as a writer in Brooklyn, NY. Read more about Samantha