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Is Chinese Food Healthy?

Ordering in Chinese? You're Better off Making Your Own Chinese Food at Home

While some Chinese dishes may be piled with veggies, your typical Western-made Chinese takeout is unfortunately far from healthy. From fat to calories to plenty of sodium, Chinese food has a lot of nutritional downsides, which, if you eat a lot of it, can negatively affect the health of your family. If you all love Chinese takeout, you can still enjoy it occasionally—or make your own versions at home for slightly better nutrition.

High in Calories

Most Chinese takeout has at least one major calorie bomb, whether it's the breading on chicken balls or sweet-and-sour pork, the fatty sauce used to dress your lo mein or the copious cooking oil in your fried rice. So it's no surprise that Chinese foods are generally very high in calories. A serving of fried rice at a leading national Chinese food restaurant, for example, has 520 calories, while each egg roll has 200 calories. And since most Chinese places actually give you several servings' worth of food in each container, it's not uncommon for your meal to top 1,000 calories or more—too much for you, and way too much for your kids.

Packed With Fat

Nutritional Value for Restaurant Chicken Chimichangas

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Lots of Chinese takeout is prepared via frying, whether that's deep frying breaded chicken or fish, or wok-frying stir fry and fried rice. And, of course, since frying requires added fat, that means these foods are typically high in fat as well. A serving of chow mein at a national Chinese restaurant has 22 grams of fat; a healthy-sounding eggplant and tofu dish has 24 grams; Beijing-style beef packs in 26 grams.

While fat isn't inherently bad for your family, it is a concentrated source of calories. The saturated and even trans fats found in Chinese food, though, threaten your cardiovascular health. Most of your family's fat intake should come from healthy plant-based fats: nut butter, seeds and fish, rather than processed or fried food.

Loaded With Sodium

There's virtually no escape from sodium on the Chinese takeout menu, since essentially every savory dish comes packed with the stuff. Chinese crispy shrimp, for instance, has 800 milligrams per serving—more than half the 1,500 milligrams some adults and older kids should be allowed per day. A serving of chow mein has a staggering 980 milligrams of sodium, and even a healthy side of mixed vegetables packs in 540 milligrams. While eating salty foods occasionally isn't the end of the world—though you may notice some bloating—habitually eating salty fare increases blood pressure for everyone, and increases your family's risk of cardiovascular disease. If your family loves Chinese food, order lower-sodium menu items, and keep your portions in check to avoid eating too much salt.

A Healthier Alternative

Nutrition in Chinese Takeout

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Chinese takeout in moderation is all right, and it's important to teach your children the value of moderation in a diet, but it shouldn't be a staple in your diet.

Instead, try making your own healthier versions at home. Bread chicken breast in a whole-wheat breading to make healthier "chicken balls," and make your own fried rice using brown rice, chicken breast and plenty of vegetables. Experiment with making your own stir-fries at home using healthy ingredients: lean beef, bell peppers, snow peas, onions and a sauce, incorporating fresh ingredients like ginger to serve as healthy weeknight staples in place of takeout.