A lot of people nowadays are becoming more health-conscious, which is good. Apparently, one of the emerging topics among people who are mindful of their overall well-being is about Chinese food health. While most Chinese dishes are packed with veggies and seems really good, the thing is, are these good for the health?
Chinese food is very popular. Anywhere you go in the world, you will experience their food. It’s like everywhere! While Chinese food looks healthy as it mostly uses vegetables, a lot of people are starting to question if it is indeed really healthy for the body.
Just before we discuss Chinese food health further, let me just share that according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, most Americans love to eat! In fact, they eat nearly one-quarter of their meals outside the comforts of their home. Yes, Americans apparently love eating out, which is not surprising given the kind of lifestyle we have.
Apart from this fact, it has also been found that Americans love eating more ethnic cuisines, which include Chinese dishes. A review published in December 2013 in Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety, says that there are in fact 43,000 Chinese restaurants in the United States. If you come to think about it, that way more than some of the most popular hamburger-based fast-food restaurants in the country.
The authors of the review even mentioned that Americans love eating Chinese food because it consistently tastes good, it is budget-friendly, and most of the Chinese restaurants are very convenient.
If you are not familiar with Chinese cuisine, it is primarily composed of steamed veggies with a few lean proteins. According to Sutter Health, because of such components in their food, Chinese are known to have lower heart disease, obesity as well as diabetes cases.
While that is amazing to know, unfortunately, it has been found that the food eaten by Americans at their favorite Chinese restaurants are far different from traditional Chinese dishes. Sadly, Western-made Chinese food is found to be far from healthy. Precisely why more and more people from Western countries are questioning about Chinese food health.
Some researchers found that Western-made Chinese food contains fat, calories, as well as plenty of sodium, which, if consumed in larger amounts, can negatively affect your family’s health. As a mom, it is our primary concern – ensuring that the food our family takes is not just good, but most importantly, healthy.
Non-Traditional Chinese Food Composition
As mentioned, while traditional Chinese cuisine is believed to be healthy because of its vegetable content and other ingredients, in the Western version of Chinese food, however, there are some concerns raised. Some of which are the following:
– High-Calorie Content
Some studies have found out that most Chinese food takeaway has at least one major calorie bomb – it could be the breading on chicken balls or sweet and sour pork. Another is the fatty sauce used to dress the lo mein or the copious cooking oil used to cook fried rice.
With all these, it is not surprising why Chinese food generally has the high calorie content. In fact, a serving of fried rice at a prominent national Chinese food restaurant contains 520 calories. Meanwhile, each egg roll contains 200 calories.
Since most Chinese restaurants or food places are generous when it comes to servings of food, it is not unusual for you to consume 1,000 calories or more in just one eating, which is definitely too much for your or your family members.
If you are health conscious, you will definitely start to question Chinese food health too after knowing all these. But that does not end there. Here’s more.
– High-Fat Content
Most Chinese food especially the ones for takeaway is done through frying. Some are deep-fried like breaded chicken and fish, while others are wok-fried like stir fry or fried rice.
Since we are talking about frying, it automatically means added fat on your food. Yes, the food in itself is already high in fat, so when you fry them it doubles the fat content. For example, one serving of chow mein (which is delicious, by the way) at a Chinese restaurant contains 22 grams of fat, and eggplant, and tofu dish, meanwhile, contains 24 grams, and a Beijing-style beef packs in 26 grams. You see, these dishes may look and sound healthy, but if you study them closely, they are in fact not that “healthy”.
Although fat is not really that bad for you and your family’s health, what is unacceptable is the concentrated source of calories. When we say the concentrated sources of calories, we mean the saturated and trans fats that are found in Chinese food, which is known to be culprits of cardiovascular health.
Ideally, if you want to keep your food consumption healthy, you must consume healthy plant-based fats like the ones found in nut butter, fish, and seeds. Better ditch processed or fried food as these might just threaten your health in the long run – particularly your cardiovascular health.
– Packed with Sodium Content
Apart from calories and fats, most Chinese food available in national food restaurants is loaded with sodium. In fact, there is no escape from consuming sodium when you opt for the Chinese menu – particularly the takeaway ones. Apparently, every savory Chinese dish is packed with sodium.
One example if atypical Chinese crispy shrimp. While it looks and tastes good, the thing is, it contains 800 milligrams of sodium per serving, which is more than half of 1,500 milligrams per servings that are allowed to be consumed per day.
In addition, a serving of your favorite chow mein contains an astounding 980 milligrams of sodium. While you think a mixed vegetable dish is healthy, well you are wrong. Apparently, it contains 540 milligrams of sodium, which is still high.
Eating salty foods on an occasional basis is fine, but habitual eating salty dishes is a totally different story. Eating too much salty food can increase blood pressure, as well as an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
Chinese food health can really cause a little concern to a lot of people particularly the health-conscious ones. Don’t get me wrong though, personally, my family and I love Chinese food, and you know, there are so many Chinese food choices and not all of them are a cause of concern.
I do not mean to say stay away from Chinese food. Basically, what I wanted to point out is, when eating Chinese dishes at your favorite Chinese restaurant, make sure to get menu items instead that have lower calorie, fat or sodium content. Also, do not forget to keep your portions in check to avoid eating too much of these.
Healthy Chinese Food
If you are concerned about Chinese food health, as I have mentioned above, not all Chinese takeaway dishes are bad. There are in fact some that are really healthy. Usually, the healthy ones are either steamed or are filled with vegetables, as well as a lean source of protein like shrimp, chicken, and fish.
When ordering food, you may also opt to ask to have the sauce on the side to help save sodium and calories. You may also ask your server to prepare your food with less oil and salt, and particularly no addition of MSG (monosodium glutamate).
Anyway, some of the Chinese food healthy options include:
- Wonton soup
- Steamed dumplings
- Shrimp and vegetable stir-fry
- Chicken and vegetable stir-fry
- Steamed dishes
- Steamed rice
- Shrimp and Vegetables With Black Bean Sauce
- Beef and Broccoli
- Moo Shu Vegetables
- Moo Shu Chicken
- Moo Goo Gai Pan
- Steamed Dumplings
- Brown Rice With a Scrambled Egg
- Chicken Lettuce Wraps
A Healthier Alternative
If you love Chinese food, but at the same time, trying to make better food choices for you and your family’s improved health and overall well-being, it would be better to eat Chinese dishes in Chinese restaurants in moderation. Also, it would be great if you teach your family members especially your children the value of moderation in a diet to ensure good health.
Now, if you really are so into Chinese food, the best alternative from eating out or takeaway is to cook Chinese dishes at home. You can cook a healthier version of your favorite dishes. For instance, when cooking chicken balls, use chicken breast and whole-wheat breading. As with your fried rice, instead of using white rice, use brown rice instead and add chicken breast and plenty of vegetables.
Now, to give you an idea, here are some healthy Chinese food recipes that you can prepare for your family at home:
Egg Fried Rice
Source: BBC Good Food
250g long grain rice
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 onion, finely chopped
4 eggs, beaten
2 spring onions, sliced, to serve
- Cook the rice following pack instructions, then drain, spread it out to steam-dry and set aside.
- Heat 2 tbsp of the oil in a large wok over high heat, then add the onion and fry until lightly browned around 5 mins. Add the rice, stir and toast for about 3 mins, then move to the side of the pan.
- Add the remaining oil, then tip in the egg mixture. Leave to cook a little, then mix in with the rice – stir vigorously to coat the grains or, if you prefer the egg chunkier, allow to sit for a little longer before breaking up and stirring through. Tip into a serving bowl and scatter over the spring onion to serve.
Sea Bass with Sizzled Ginger, Chilli & Spring onions
Source: BBC Good Food
6 x sea bass fillets, about 140g/5oz each, skin on and scaled
about 3 tbsp sunflower oil
large knob of ginger, peeled and shredded into matchsticks
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
3 fat, fresh red chilies deseeded and thinly shredded
bunch spring onion, shredded long-ways
1 tbsp soy sauce
- Season 6 sea bass fillets with salt and pepper, then slash the skin 3 times.
- Heat a heavy-based frying pan and add 1 tbsp sunflower oil.
- Once hot, fry the sea bass fillets, skin-side down, for 5 mins or until the skin is very crisp and golden. The fish will be almost cooked through.
- Turn over, cook for another 30 seconds – 1 minute, then transfer to a serving plate and keep warm. You’ll need to fry the sea bass fillets in 2 batches.
- Heat 2 tbsp sunflower oil, then fry the large knob of peeled ginger, cut into matchsticks, 3 thinly sliced garlic cloves and 3 thinly shredded red chilies for about 2 mins until golden.
- Take off the heat and toss in the bunch of shredded spring onions. Splash the fish with 1 tbsp soy sauce and spoon over the contents of the pan.
Chinese Poached Chicken and Rice
Source: BBC Good Food
a large piece of ginger, 1 tbsp finely grated, the rest sliced
3 garlic cloves
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 tbsp soy sauce, plus 2-3 tsp (optional)
8 chicken legs
3 tbsp sesame oil
2 bunches spring onions, chopped
4 pak choi, halved
cooked long-grain rice, to serve
- Put the sliced ginger, the garlic, peppercorns, and half the soy in a large pan with the chicken legs. Add enough water to cover, and season with a little salt. Bring to the boil, then reduce to a low simmer, put on the lid and poach for 30 mins.
- Meanwhile, heat a pan and add the sesame oil and spring onions. Soften for 1 min, then remove from the heat and stir in the grated ginger and remaining soy sauce to make a relish.
- When the chicken is ready, remove from the pan, set aside 4 of the legs and chill for tomorrow. Add the pak choi to the poaching liquid and cook for 3-4 mins. Strain the poaching liquid to remove the ginger, garlic, and peppercorns, reserving the liquid. Pull the skin from the remaining 4 chicken legs and discard. Tear the meat into thick pieces. Serve in bowls with rice, the pak choi, a ladle of the hot chicken broth, the spring onion relish and extra soy sauce, if you like.
Lightened Shrimp Fried Rice
Source: Food Network
1 1/2 cups jasmine rice
1/2 cinnamon stick
1 pound large peeled and deveined shrimp, halved lengthwise
One 1 1/2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced into matchstick pieces (about 1/4 cup)
2 tablespoons dry sake
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 large eggs
2 large egg whites
1 cup snow peas, halved
2 carrots, thinly sliced on an angle
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 small red onion, halved and sliced root to stem
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
2 scallions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
- Prepare the rice according to package directions, adding the cinnamon stick with the water. Fluff the rice, discard the cinnamon stick and set aside to cool.
- Toss the shrimp with half of the ginger, 1 tablespoon of the sake, the vinegar and pepper flakes in a medium bowl. Let marinate 10 to 15 minutes. Mist a large nonstick skillet with cooking spray and heat over medium-high heat until very hot. Add the shrimp with the marinade and cook, stirring, until just opaque, 2 minutes. Transfer to a large plate and set aside.
- Mist the same skillet and return to medium-high heat. Lightly beat the eggs and egg whites and add to the skillet. Cook until scrambled, breaking up with a spatula and transfer to the same plate as the shrimp.
- Return the skillet to medium-high heat, mist with nonstick spray and add the snow peas, carrots, garlic, onions, and remaining ginger. Cook, stirring, until softened and crisp-tender, 5 minutes. Transfer to the same plate as the shrimp and eggs.
- Return the skillet to medium-high heat and add the vegetable oil. Add the cooked rice, toss with the oil and pack in the skillet in a firm layer. Cook, without stirring, until the bottom of the rice is browned and crusty. Stir the rice and pack it in another layer. Repeat the process until the rice is well toasted and browned, and stopping if the rice seems to be getting dry. Add back the shrimp, eggs, and vegetables along with the remaining 1 tablespoon sake and soy sauce and toss well to combine. Remove from the heat and top with the sliced scallions.
Slow Cooker Chicken Congee
Source: Cooking Light
8 cups unsalted chicken stock (such as Swanson)
1 cup uncooked jasmine rice
1 tablespoon grated peeled fresh ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
3 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts
1 Thai chile
1-star anise pod
1/2 cup roasted, unsalted peanuts, chopped
1/2 cup chopped green onions
2 tablespoons hot chili oil
2 ounces watercress sprigs
1 ripe avocado, diced
How to Make It:
Place the first 7 ingredients in a 6-quart electric slow cooker. Cover and cook on LOW 7 1/2 hours. Remove chicken. When cool enough to handle, remove skin and bones, and discard. Shred chicken into large pieces.
Cover slow cooker, and cook on HIGH 30 minutes or until rice mixture is thickened. Remove chile and star anise; discard. Stir in chicken. Divide rice mixture among 8 bowls. Top servings evenly with peanuts, green onions, chili oil, watercress, and avocado.
If you are one of those concerned about Chinese food health, do not worry because generally speaking, Chinese food is indeed healthy, I think it is safe to say that it is –
While some Chinese dishes may contain too much calories, fat or sodium, at the end of the day, you can always opt for healthier options like cooking Chinese recipes at home. Recipes such as the one I shared above. Happy cooking and enjoy your Chinese food treat!