Chinese food is often thought to be at the top of the list when it comes to ultimate comfort foods. No one can deny how Chinese food is what you always want to order from takeout or grab when dining out after a tough day or when you're just in need of something super delicious, salty, crispy, and flavorful.
Yet, some Chinese food options can be not-so-great for your health, especially when you consider the sodium milligrams in an average dish, as well as the high amounts of carbs and saturated fat, both of which are not great for your heart health, blood pressure or blood sugar levels. Order a dish with noodles or a side of rice? You're going to add in even more carbs, guaranteed.
Plus, lots of protein dishes, like chicken or beef, are fried and drenched in sauce, meaning they are loaded with unhealthy fats and ingredients that contain salt, sugar, and other sneaky properties that can turn a basic meat and vegetable dish into a diet disaster. Yet, some picks are better than others, though.
The worst dish you can order is…
General Tso's Chicken
"General Tso's Chicken is a very popular dish to order at a Chinese restaurant but it's far from healthy when talking about Chinese cuisine. This dish is breaded, fried, and smothered in a sugary, salty sauce," she says.
And that sodium content can take you back a whole day's worth or more in just that one dish. According to Harris-Pincus, there are almost 2,400 milligrams of sodium in one serving, which is a full day's worth. (And if you're looking for more tips, we've got you covered, as your ultimate restaurant and supermarket survival guide is here!)
If turn to some insight from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), we often get most of our sodium from dining out or eating unhealthy, packaged foods, rather than whole foods. So, it makes sense this dish would have more anyway than a grilled or roasted chicken you make at home. And add on the frying texture, sauces, and sweet ingredients, and that sodium skyrockets.
Plus, "it's absent the usual array of mixed veggies to balance out the dish. One order contains 1,578 calories, a whopping 88 grams fat, and 62 grams of sugar, which is the equivalent of almost three days' worth based on American Heart Association recommendations," Harris-Pincus says. Yikes!
What should you eat at a Chinese restaurant instead?
If you love the flavor of this beloved dish, there's still a way to enjoy it without compromising your health.
"Ask for steamed chicken with mixed veggies with General Tso's sauce on the side. Add a couple of tablespoons worth to your dish and if the restaurant has brown rice, that's a bonus," Harris-Pincu says.
This meal will have a fraction of the calories, sodium, and sugar and you'll benefit from more fiber as well. That fiber will also boost satiety so you will be more inclined to stop at one portion and not overeat, so add in veggies (high fiber!) and go with brown over white. Why does the type of rice matter? Well, one study showed that people who chose brown rice instead of white rice lost more weight and felt fuller longer. Plus, their blood pressure was lower too. A double whammy!
Getting the sauce on the side is also a great tip as it lets you choose how much you want to eat, so your food doesn't arrive drenched. This helps with avoiding the sky-high amount of calories and sodium. Use a few forkfuls and that should be about it to spread throughout the dish.
Plus, go with chopsticks over a fork or spoon if you have them. This can help slow down your eating which is better your blood sugar levels so you can register hunger cues better and not consume as much. Now, you're all set!