Sure, there are veggies in the filling. But egg rolls are anything but healthy. They’re wrapped in dough and deep-fried. The result is an appetizer that packs more than 220 calories and 10 grams of fat in each one. And that doesn’t include the sweet dipping sauce. A few dunks in that can add more than 2 teaspoons of sugar.
Best: Vegetable Dumplings
Sneak in some cabbage or leafy greens with this starter. Just be sure to have them steamed and not fried. Dip them in chili sauce instead of soy, and you’ll cut back on sodium, too. Share them with someone to keep your portion size in check.
Worst: Crab Rangoon
Crab serves up lean protein. But this appetizer has only a little meat. It’s mostly cream cheese, wrapped in dough and deep-fried to create bite-sized calorie bombs. Because they're small, it’s easy to eat more than one. Finish an order of 4, and you’re likely to get more than half the calories and fat you should have in an entire meal.
Wonton, egg drop, or hot and sour? Take your pick. Each typically has fewer than 100 calories per cup. Plus, the broth helps fill you up, so you won’t eat as much of the heavier dishes. One study found that people who started their lunch with broth-based soup ate 20% less than those who didn’t. Hold off on the crispy wonton topping, though. That tacks on extra calories and fat.
Worst: General Tso’s Chicken
Named after a Chinese war hero, this fat-laden dish won’t help you win any weight loss battles. The breaded, fried chicken is smothered in a sugary sauce. One order clocks in at around 1,500 calories and 88 grams of fat, and it delivers more sodium than you should get in a day. Other fried dishes to watch out for: sesame, orange, and sweet and sour chicken.
Shrimp and broccoli. Chicken with snow peas. Pairing a lean protein with a fiber-rich vegetable sets the stage for a nutritious and filling meal. But stir-fries are often drowned in a sauce that’s loaded with salt, sugar, and oil. Ask if the kitchen can make yours with half the sauce , or ask for it on the side and drizzle a small amount on top.
Worst: Barbecue Spare Ribs
No bones about it, these are a high-fat choice. At Chinese restaurants, they’re coated in a salty-sweet barbecue sauce. One order can pack in 1.5 times the sodium you should get in a day, along with 64 grams of fat. They also can have more sugar than a can of soda.
Best: Kung Pao Chicken
In the mood for something spicy? This entree mixes chili peppers with diced chicken and veggies. Have half an order with a cup of brown rice (about the size of your fist), and you’ll keep your meal under 600 calories. Peanuts also give the dish a nutrient boost. They have heart-healthy fiber, unsaturated fat, and antioxidants. But, like many Chinese dishes, this one's high in sodium, so watch how much you have the rest of the day.
Worst: Fried Rice
The main ingredient is white rice, so it doesn’t offer much fiber. That can leave you feeling hungry. And the rice is fried in oil and tossed with salty soy sauce. Order the brown rice instead. Research shows that swapping brown for white rice may help protect you against type 2 diabetes.
Best: Buddha’s Delight
This dish is made with an assortment of vegetables, like mushrooms, cabbage, water chestnuts, and carrots. They deliver fiber and a variety of vitamins. There’s also protein-rich tofu, which can help you stay full and eat less. This mixture is usually stir-fried in a soy, garlic, and ginger sauce. For a lighter dish, you can ask for the steamed version with the sauce on the side.
Worst: Sweet and Sour Pork
There’s a reason the word “sweet” is in the name of this dish. It typically serves up 16 teaspoons of sugar, about the same amount in 3 chocolate bars. If that isn’t bad enough, the syrupy sauce coats chunks of deep-fried pork. Even if you split this entree with someone, you’re still likely to get more than 800 calories and 48 grams of fat.
Best: Ma-Po Tofu
Made from soybeans, tofu is packed with protein: Half a cup has 11 grams. It’s also high in iron and calcium. In this dish, it’s cooked in a bean-based sauce that gets its spicy flavor from chili instead of sodium. Bonus: Chili peppers have vitamins, including A and C. Note that some restaurants also add pork. Ask for the vegetarian version to save calories.
Worst: Orange Beef
Take fatty beef, fry it in oil, then douse it with a sugary sauce. That’s the recipe for a dish that has more calories than 7 fast-food hamburgers. If you’re in the mood for meat, order a beef-and-veggie stir-fry.
Best: Chop Suey
This classic Chinese-American dish gives vegetables a starring role. It’s usually made with cabbage, water chestnuts, and bean sprouts and served with a meat and rice or fried noodles. Order your dish with chicken or shrimp and brown rice. Bonus: Cabbage has antioxidants that may help protect you against cancer.
Worst: Lo Mein
This mound of noodles has about half the carbohydrates you need all day. The noodles are made from white flour, which raises your blood sugar faster than fiber-rich whole grains. Plus, they’re cooked with oil and soy sauce, so you get extra fat and sodium. Can’t pass it up? Order the vegetable version, and only have half the order.
IMAGES PROVIDED BY:
1) Shaiith / Thinkstock
2) Elmik / Thinkstock
3) bhofack2 / Thinkstock
4) ma-no / Thinkstock
5) rez-art / Thinkstock
6) Mizina / Thinkstock
7) budgaugh / Thinkstock
8) EzumeImages / Thinkstock
9) bhofack2 / Thinkstock
10) junpinzon / Thinkstock
11) hanasunrise / Thinkstock
12) yehitskat / Thinkstock
13) Stefan Stanisavljevic / Thinkstock
14) lcswart / Thinkstock
15) rez-art / Thinkstock
American Heart Association: “How Much Sodium Should I Eat Per Day?”
Archives of Internal Medicine: “White Rice, Brown Rice, and Risk of Type 2 Diabetes in US Men and Women.”
Appetite: “Soup Preloads in a Variety of Forms Reduce Meal Energy Intake.”
Cleveland Clinic: “Your Best Bets and Smart Swaps for Eating Ethnic Food.”
Isabel Maples, MEd, RDN, spokeswoman, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Journal of the American Medical Association: “Prospective Evaluation of the Association of Nut/Peanut Consumption with Total and Cause-Specific Mortality.”
National Cancer Institute: “Cruciferous Vegetables and Cancer Prevention.”
Pharmacological Research: “Cruciferous Vegetables and Human Cancer Risk: Epidemiological Evidence and Mechanistic Basis.”
PLoS One: “The Association of Hot Red Chili Pepper Consumption and Mortality: A Large Population-Based Cohort Study."
Sandra Arevalo, RDN, spokeswoman, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
University of California Berkeley Wellness: “Best and Worst Chinese Foods.”
U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service: “National Nutrient Database.”