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Nutrition Articles

Dining Out: Chinese Cuisine

Restaurant-Specific Strategies


Reflects many different cooking styles, traditions, customs, ingredients and flavors from multiple regions of China. Cantonese, the most popular form in the U.S., features grilled meat, steaming and stir-frying, and flavors are not as intense as other regions, such as Szechuan or Hunan.
Common Ingredients:

High emphasis on a very wide variety of vegetables and complex carbohydrates like rice and noodles. Meat, poultry and seafood are usually sliced and served in smaller portions. Tofu is a popular ingredient in many dishes.
Hidden Dangers:
  • Avoid anything fried, including spring rolls, dumplings, fried rice, crispy beef, egg foo yung and battered pork.
  • One spare rib can contain 1-3 tablespoons of fat.
  • Avoid the crispy noodles served with soups.
  • Soy sauce is very high in sodium.
  • Sweet and sour dishes are usually fried and/or high in fat and calories.
  • Stir fried dishes can be oily and fatty, but can be prepared with smaller amounts of oil.
  • Tangerine or orange beef isn’t as healthy as it sounds (a fried peel with breaded and fried beef).
  • Walnuts can be healthy, but are often caramelized (sugared and fried).
  • Eggplant can soak up a lot of oil during preparation.
  • Beef Chow Mein: 940 calories and 60 g fat
  • Sweet and Sour Fish: 1160 calories and 58 g fat
  • Chicken/Shrimp Omelet: 990 calories and 82 g fat
  • Lemon Chicken. 1,350 calories and 88 g fat

Healthy Finds:
  • Try a one-pot soup. Usually a large portion that can fill you up.
  • Order a side of steamed veggies to mix into your dish.
  • Look for dishes that are braised, roasted, simmered or steamed.
  • Moo Goo Gai Pan
  • Marinated spinach salad has only about 100 calories.
  • Steamed Veggie Dumplings (3): 115 calories, 2.5 g fat.
  • Steamed Tofu and Veggies: 293 calories and 9 g fat
  • Steamed Veggies and Chicken: 490 calories and 12 g fat
  • Chicken Chop Suey: 600 calories and 20 g fat
  • Egg Drop Soup: 93 calories, 5g fat
  • Fortune Cookies: only 20 calories each!

The Big Tip:

You might be able to order “family style” with large dishes that can be divided among several people at the table. This makes it easier to control your portions. Since portions are usually pretty large, you can get away with ordering fewer entrees than you have guests.
Substitution Ideas
 Try This Skip That
 Wonton (or other clear) Soup  Velvet Corn Chowder
 Black Bean Sauce  Sweet & Sour Sauce
 Steamed Rice (185 calories)  Fried Rice (360 calories)
 Steamed Dumplings  Egg Rolls
 Soft Noodles  Fried Noodles
 Hot Mustard  Soy Sauce
 Chicken  Duck
 Dishes with Water Chestnuts  Dishes with Cashews

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Member Comments

  • I guess Chinese will have to be a special treat like maybe twice a year.
  • Just about everything at a Chinese restaurant is full of fat, salt and sugar. Best to make it at home, ingredients are now readily available.
  • I will keep all of this information in mind.
    Once I discovered Nepali food, I've been hooked
  • I think the bottom line is you pretty much cannot eat at a Chinese restaurant :-(

  • I prefer a Mongolian Grill restaurant. I can choose my own items and request they cook it with garlic water. If we do a traditional Chinese restaurant, I get a veggie Moo Goo Gai Pan or Veggie Chow Yuk (large cut veggies).
  • Unfortunately this article doesn't give any portion size indicators for the main dishes it lists...like the Lemon Chicken. Yes a whole plate might be 1300 calories; but a few tablespoonfuls from a Buffet or Family Style certainly isn't! So I disagree with some of the article's "tips" We almost always order family style....skip the rice/fried rice....and enjoy small portions of several dishes....Somethi
    ng like Broccoli and Beef is really nice, or SnowPeas and Shrimp....
  • i positivly adore coconut chicken is there anyway to add a little to steamed or braized chicken without being really bad
  • NJ_HOU
    This article was GREAT! I always stayed away from MooGooGaiPan , thought it was very high in calories Thank you for the education
  • All site I've been to in the past say that the fortune cookie is 50 kcal.
    This article suggested that you "look for dishes that are braised..." I suggest that you ask your server how the braised items are prepared. At the Chinese restaurant I work in, braised = fried.

    LTJ, it depends on where you go for the lemon chicken I guess. Ours is fried and coated in a thick, sticky, sugary sauce and served without veggies, so 1350 cals actually sounds about right. That's one item I make sure to stay away from. ; )
    I had the Moo Goo Gai Pan this weekend it came with chicken it was really good with ton's of veggies. Good find I would recommend.
  • Woo hoo.

    I usually get this amazing vegan Moo Go Gai Pan at our local veg friendly chinese place. If the variety with chicken is a good choice, I'm guessing the version with veggie protein is even better.

    That sort of makes my day. ;)
    Lemon Chicken. 1,350 calories and 88 g fat ?!?!
    If I'm not mistaken, Lemon Chicken is usually a dish with non-fried chicken & veggies in a lemony flavored sauce. How does that yield 88 grams of fat? I love LOVE, LOVE!!! this dining strategies for different cuisine article & I think it would be great to work towards developing an even more detailded version of this important tool so we can all make better choices. For example, many Chinese places advertise that they'll prepare certain dishes (usually stir-fry type ones) without any oil. I'd love to read an article about how that service effects the nutritional content, if at all.
    I often just stick with a small portion of Chop Suey & side of steamed veggies, but perhaps there are more options if made without oil.

    Anyone know of any similar sites/articles that speak to no-oil chinese food cooking?

    THANKS, and again, I love these articles! Thanks sp team!