Chinese Restaurants: Calories Galore
Consumer Group Says Menus Contain High-Calorie, High-Sodium Dishes
WebMD News Archive
March 21, 2007 -- Diners trying to cut calories may want to put down the
chopsticks at their favorite Chinese restaurant, suggests an analysis by a
That's because though most Chinese restaurant food offers lots of
vegetables, it is often brimming with calories.
Americans on average get one-third of their calories outside of the house by
eating at restaurants, coffee shops, and street vendors, according The Center
for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).
The group says that Chinese restaurant food has many healthy traits. Few
restaurants offer as many vegetable choices as Chinese restaurants do, and the
food's fat content tends to be unsaturated, not the saturated form that wreaks
havoc on the cardiovascular system.
Still, Chinese entrées -- even the vegetarian ones -- frequently contain
upward of 1,000 calories. That's half of the calories recommended for the
average American adult.
"Dinner portions are still huge," says Michael Jacobson, MD, the
group's executive director. He also decries most Chinese restaurant dishes for
"artery-popping amounts of sodium."
The American Heart Association recommends that healthy adults consume no
more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day. This is about 1 teaspoon of table
salt. Those with certain medical conditions should follow a stricter sodium
The group sent a selection of popular Chinese restaurant dishes for
laboratory analysis. Some of the worst offenders included:
- Orange Beef or Crispy Beef, with 1,500 calories and 3,100 milligrams of
- Lemon Chicken, with 1,400 calories and 700 milligrams of sodium.
- Sweet & Sour Pork, with 1,300 calories and 800 milligrams of
- Eggplant in garlic sauce, with 1,000 calories and 2,000 milligrams of
- Tofu and Mixed Vegetables, with 900 calories and 2,200 milligrams of
Bonnie Liebman, the group's director of nutrition, said diners can make
their meals healthier by requesting steaming instead of frying and asking for
sauces on the side. Most Chinese restaurants make a habit of responding to
customer's special requests, she says.
"If you know what you're doing you can really cut down on these
calories," she says. Liebman recommends Szechuan string beans as an
alternative to eggplant. While still high in sodium, string beans contain an
average of just 600 calories.
The other option is to eat just half an entree and take the rest home for
lunch, she says.
Larry La, a restaurateur in Washington, D.C., says customers frequently ask
for take-out boxes along with their sit-down orders, then save half the food
for the next day.
Sheila Weiss, director of nutrition for the National Restaurant Association,
says the organization does not keep records on the number of Chinese eateries
Wiess argues that Chinese restaurants offer wide choices for healthier
eating. "They make so many different kinds of vegetables available to
consumers and they're prepared in so many different ways," Weiss tells
WebMD. "That can be anything from asking for brown rice instead of white
rice or asking for meats to be prepared in a different way."
The report by the CSPI offered some tips to limit calories and fat in
Chinese restaurant foods:
- Look for dishes that feature vegetables, not meat or noodles. Ask for extra
- Order chicken, tofu, or seafood that is stir-fried or braised; avoid
breaded, battered, or deep-fried items.
- Use chopsticks or a fork -- not a spoon -- to get food from the serving
plate. This helps keep some of the high-fat and high-sugar sauce on the serving
- Don't add extra salt by adding high-salt sauces to your food, such as soy
sauce, duck sauce, and hosin sauce.