When it comes to eating out, Americans love Chinese. And Chinese restaurants deserve credit for keeping a lid on saturated and trans fat, thanks to vegetable oil, no cheese, and a host of seafood, poultry, and (hooray!) vegetable dishes. (While the sat fat in some dishes seems high, the unsaturated fat in their oil lowers bad cholesterol more than the oil’s saturated fat raises bad cholesterol.)
But Chinese restaurant food is loaded with salt and—if you’re not careful—delivers a load of calories, thanks to its oil, noodles, and deep-fried batter or breading.
Here’s a guide to a few dozen popular dinner-size dishes from a typical Chinese restuarant menu. The numbers are based on our independent lab analyses, as well as information from two nationwide chains. Just remember that dishes vary from restaurant to restaurant. (Too bad real menus don’t disclose calories, sodium, and saturated fat, as our mock menu does.)
|Appetizers & Soups
Egg Roll (1)
Calories: 200 Sat Fat: 2 grams Sodium: 400 mg
Spring Roll (1)
Calories: 100 Sat Fat: 1 gram Sodium: 300 mg
A thinner wrapper and smaller size give spring rolls fewer calories than egg rolls.
BBQ Spare Ribs (4)
Calories: 600 Sat Fat: 14 grams Sodium: 900 mg
An order is equal to two pork chops. Some appetizer.
Vegetable Dumplings (6 steamed)
Calories: 400 Sat Fat: 3 grams Sodium: 1,100 mg
Pork Dumplings (6 steamed)
Calories: 500 Sat Fat: 6 grams Sodium: 900 mg
Add just 10 calories per dumpling if you get them pan-fried. (All bets are off for calories in the deep-fried wonton appetizer.) Dipping sauce means even more sodium.
Egg Drop Soup
Calories: 100 Sat Fat: 0 grams Sodium: 900 mg
Hot & Sour Soup
Calories: 100 Sat Fat: 1 gram Sodium: 1,100 mg
Calories: 100 Sat Fat: 1 gram Sodium: 800 mg
Soups are bad for your blood pressure (but not your waistline). Think of every ½ cup of fried noodles as a small (150-calorie) bag of potato chips.
Calories: 900 Sat Fat: 11 grams Sodium: 2,200 mg
Yikes! Spinach and other greens are packed with vitamins, but (thanks to the added oil and salt) your waist and blood pressure pay a price for them.
Eggplant in Garlic Sauce
Calories: 1,000 Sat Fat: 13 grams Sodium: 2,000 mg
Eggplant isn’t a vitamin-rich superstar, but it is a vegetable. It also really soaks up the oil, which boosts the calories and saturated fat.
Tofu & Mixed Vegetables (Homestyle Tofu)
Calories: 900 Sat Fat: 9 grams Sodium: 2,200 mg
Blame the deep-fried tofu (bean curd). Ask them to stir-fry it instead.
Szechuan String Beans
Calories: 600 Sat Fat: 6 grams Sodium: 2,700 mg
String beans in chili-pepper-garlic sauce don't sop up as much oil as spinach or eggplant, but the sodium is still ridiculous.
Stir-Fried Mixed Vegetables (Buddha's Delight)
Calories: 500 Sat Fat: 2 grams Sodium: 2,200 mg
A veggie lode. Mix it with a vegetable-poor dish to create two (or three) healthier meals.
Ma Po (Hunan) Tofu
Calories: 600 Sat Fat: 4 grams Sodium: 2,300 mg
A pound of soft tofu (bean curd) with scallions isn’t too bad if—like the samples we analyzed— it comes without the pork that some restaurants add.
||Meat & Seafood
Chicken with Black Bean Sauce
Calories: 700 Sat Fat: 5 grams Sodium: 3,800 mg
Expect ½ to ¾ pound of sliced stir-fried chicken with chunks of green pepper and onion. If only it weren’t so high in sodium.
General Tso's Chicken
Calories: 1,300 Sat Fat: 11 grams Sodium: 3,200 mg
The name may sound exotic, but it’s essentially fried chicken with a smattering of vegetables.
Calories: 1,400 Sat Fat: 13 grams Sodium: 700 mg
It’s like eating three McDonald’s McChicken sandwiches plus a 32-oz. Coke. The culprit? The deep-fried breading.
Kung Pao Chicken
Calories: 1,400 Sat Fat: 13 grams Sodium: 2,600 mg
The calories may be high (thanks to nuts). But at least you’re getting stir-fried (not battered and deep-fried) chicken and veggies.
Moo Goo Gai Pan
Calories: 600 Sat Fat: 4 grams Sodium: 1,800 mg
Stir-fried vegetables and chicken keep the calories and saturated fat (but not the sodium) relatively low.
Chicken Chow Mein (with crispy noodles)
Calories: 700 Sat Fat: 10 grams Sodium: 2,500 mg
Chow Mein varies. Our numbers are for vegetables and chicken served with rice (not soft noodles). Add 120 calories if you eat the thin, crispy fried noodles that come on the side.
Mu Shu Pork (without the pancakes)
Calories: 1,000 Sat Fat: 13 grams Sodium: 2,600 mg
Two-thirds of the dish is veggies. Add roughly 90 calories for each 8-inch pancake or 60 calories for each 6-inch pancake. Mu Shu Chicken cuts about 200 calories and 5 grams of sat fat.
Orange (Crispy) Beef
Sat Fat: 11 grams Sodium: 3,100 mg
Orange (or Crispy) Beef has roughly ¾ pound of flour-coated, deep-fried meat that isn’t outweighed by the garnish of vegetables. Shrimp or chicken might trim the sat fat, but you’ll still be downing more than 1,000 calories and two days’ sodium.
Beef with Broccoli
Calories: 900 Sat Fat: 9 grams Sodium: 3,200 mg
Although more than half the dish is broccoli, the ½ pound of beef still packs half a day’s worth of saturated fat.
Sweet & Sour Pork
Calories: 1,300 Sat Fat: 13 grams Sodium: 800 mg
More sugar means less salt. Sweet & Sour Chicken may be slightly lower in calories and saturated fat. But either way, you’re eating more oil-soaked breading than meat.
Shrimp with Garlic Sauce
Calories: 700 Sat Fat: 4 grams Sodium: 3,000 mg
Shrimp stir-fried with veggies. The calories and saturated fat—but not the sodium—stay on the lowish side.
Shrimp with Lobster Sauce
Calories: 400 Sat Fat: 3 grams Sodium: 2,300 mg
Shrimp in wine sauce with a sprinkling of mushrooms, egg, and scallions isn’t quite as good as shrimp with snap peas, broccoli, or other veggies. But at least it won’t pad your midsection like battered, deep-fried dishes will.
Calories: 700 Sat Fat: 2 grams Sodium: 2,500 mg
Shrimp stir-fried with vegetables in chili pepper-garlic sauce. It’s likely to be almost
half vegetables, so the calories (though not the
sodium) stay under control. If it’s breaded and
deep-fried or contains nuts, the calories climb.
Chicken Chow Foon
Calories: 1,200 Sat Fat: 7 grams Sodium: 3,400 mg
Like the thinner lo mein noodles, these soft,
wide, rice noodles are a blow to your belly and
blood pressure, and the veggies are
still largely AWOL.
Combination (House) Fried Rice
Calories: 1,500 Sat Fat: 10 grams Sodium: 2,700 mg
Why blow three-quarters of a day’s calories
on 4 or 5 cups of salted white rice, oil,
and meat sprinkled with vegetable bits?
A single version (vegetable, shrimp,
chicken, beef, or pork) still has at
least 1,000 calories.
Combination (House) Lo Mein
Calories: 1,100 Sat Fat: 7 grams Sodium: 3,500 mg
Beef, chicken, pork, shrimp, vegetables,
and oily noodles. Budget fewer calories
for the solo chicken, shrimp, or vegetable
version, but it’s still a load of greasy
Combination (House) Chow Mein (with soft noodles)
Calories: 1,200 Sat Fat: 9 grams Sodium: 3,600 mg
This version of chow mein features soft egg noodles stir-fried with beef, pork, chicken, shrimp, and a smattering of vegetables. It looks like lo mein on the plate...and on your hips and arteries. You can lose a few hundred calories by switching to a single version (chicken, shrimp, or vegetable).
Daily Limits (for a 2,000-calorie diet): Saturated Fat: 20 grams. Sodium: 1,500 milligrams.
Information complied by Danielle Hazard, with help from Kirsten Bokenkamp and Kate Sherwood.
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