Dining Out With Diabetes: Chinese Foods
Chinese food is one of the most popular dining options in North America – many people will admit to having at least one Chinese take out menu stashed in a kitchen drawer. However, as is the case with most ethnic cuisine, America’s version of Chinese food tends to differ from traditional preparations in ways that make it challenging to incorporate into a healthy diet. People with diabetes need to be especially careful, because certain entrees are high not only high in carbs, but also in fat and sodium.
Vegetables Are Usually Substantial in Chinese Foods
The best thing about Chinese food is the tremendous variety of foods. You can eat healthy foods if you look closely at the menu and know what to pick. Steamed rice, vegetable side dishes, and soups are just a few examples of lighter options for people with diabetes who are trying to watch their calories and carbs. For example, an order of Broccoli with Beef with half serving of steamed rice from Panda Express has about 340 calories and 56 grams of carbohydrates. That’s close to 4 carb choices if you’re counting carbs.
Colorful vegetables, including dark-green leafy vegetables, are a staple in Chinese dishes and are much lower in carbs than starchy sides like fried noodles. Be creative and try bok choy, sprouts, shiitake mushrooms, or eggplant as side dishes with 3-4 ounces of meat or tofu.
Carbohydrates from Rice and Noodles
If you really want to order a favorite dish, be smart: focus on the flavor and keep your portions small. Many of the most popular entrees, like sweet & sour pork and lemon chicken, are deep-fried and therefore have higher fat and calories. Other favorites, like fried rice and chow mein, are often high in carbs and fat. For example, a full serving of Fried Rice at Panda Express provides 85 g of carb with 520 calories, that’s close to 6 carb choices. Another tip is to cut your main entree in half and pair it with a sensible side. Also, remember that lower sodium versions of soy sauce are available at most Chinese restaurants and some restaurants will even prepare meals without any soy sauce added to your entree.
Deep-Fried Chinese Dishes To Enjoy In Smaller Portion:
- BBQ pork/spare ribs
- General Tsao’s Chicken
- Fried appetizers (e.g., wontons, eggrolls)
- Sweet & sour pork
- Lemon chicken
- Chow noodles, or fried rice
- Fried wonton soup
Healthier Chinese Food Choices:
- Grilled seafood (e.g., shrimp with veggies, scallops)
- Steamed dumplings
- Tofu (or bean curd)
- Stir-fry veggies
- Brown rice
- Soups (hot and sour, egg drop)
- Veggie rolls
Keep Starch Portion Small
In general, look for lean, grilled meats with flavorful vegetable sides as the bulk of the meal. Savor the flavor of Chinese cuisine, but make the starch choices in smaller portion. Use the guide below for suggestions on how to keep your diabetes in check without having to toss out your Chinese take out menus.
Alumni: University of Florida – Sejal is a registered dietitian, a certified diabetes educator and she holds a masters degree in nutrition and health. Sejal was the project coordinator for the Veteran’s Administrations (VA) national weight loss program and previously worked for the VA hospital in Tampa, FL as a Spinal Cord Injury dietitian.
Sejal has had numerous clinical and community education experiences, including pediatric and intensive care nutrition support. She has also had the opportunity to teach nutrition courses at the community college level to students interested in pursuing health professions. One of her favorite areas of education is diabetes management.