Celebrate Chinese New Year With a Bang

Tips for making healthy choices when ordering take out

By Lisa Cleary
|  Thursday, Feb 3, 2011  |  Updated 7:45 AM EDT
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Celebrate Chinese New Year With a Bang

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MIAMI - MARCH 21: Chinese food including, fried chicken wings, fried wonton and fried dumplings sit on a table March 21, 2007 in Miami, Florida. A report by the Center for Science in the Public Interest found that food from Chinese restaurants has a tendency to be high in fat, high in sodium and high in calories. (Photo Illustration by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

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Today marks the Lunar New Year, otherwise known as the Chinese New Year.  What better way to celebrate than by ordering Chinese food, right? 

(As if we need another valid excuse for snatching up those take-out menus.)

But as a Chinese fortune cookie might read, “Be wary of the calories lurking in those cardboard take-out containers:  brown fried rice and veggies may not be as nutritious as you think.”

Want to know where your favorite foods stand on the caloric scale of things?  A mock Chinese food menu, compiled by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, details calorie content, saturated fat and sodium levels. 

  • Egg roll (one)

            Calories: 200; Sat fat: 2 g; Sodium: 400 mg

  • Stir-fried greens

            Calories: 900; Sat fat: 11 g; Sodium: 2,200 mg

  • Tofu & Mixed Vegetables

            Calories: 900; Sat fat: 9 g; Sodium: 2,200 mg

  • General Tso’s Chicken

            Calories: 1,300; Sat fat: 11 g; Sodium: 3,200 mg

  • Orange Beef

            Calories: 1,500; Sat fat: 11 g; Sodium: 3,100 mg

Even though many of these foods listed are gut-inducing, there are tips to eat smartly when dining at a Chinese food restaurant or when ordering in.  In particular, when reading a menu, the American Dietetic Association recommends looking for words like steamed, jum (poached), chu (broiled), shu (barbecued) and kow (roasted).

Rima Kleiner, M.S., R.D., C.L.T., of Kleiner Nutrition, recommends opting for dishes that include lean proteins, veggies and whole grains. 

“Healthier options include fresh spring rolls, steamed brown rice, grilled chicken or steamed seafood, steamed vegetables and fresh fruit,” Kleiner said. “Create your dish around fresh spring rolls or dumplings, broth-based soups, steamed vegetables, steamed brown rice and a protein source like tofu, grilled or braised chicken, steamed fish or seafood.”

Foods paired with sauces like hoisin, oyster, hot mustard, low-sodium soy and sweet-and-sour are generally healthier menu alternatives as well, and make sure that they’re free of MSG when reaching for them.  Added Kleiner, “Stick with orange sauce, black bean sauce, vinegar and oil or hot mustard.”

Avoiding meals that have the words fried, crispy or breaded as menu descriptors are generally foods you want to back far, far away from.  As Kleiner points out, some of the foods that aren’t waistline-friendly include fried wontons, egg rolls, noodles and dim sum.

Want more tips for cutting calories, since we just put a damper on your favorite foods?  Then read on:

  • Request sauces on the side
  • Skip those crunchy, crispy noodles generally served beforehand
  • Opt for the brown rice instead of the white
  • Stick with dishes that are lightly stir fried, not deep fried
  • Substitute chicken for pork or duck when possible
  • Request extra veggies like broccoli to fill up

Furthermore, if you’re not chopstick-inclined, consider picking them up the next time when dining out.  As Kleiner explains, eating with chopsticks reduces the amount of calories consumed at one sitting.  

“Using chopsticks requires concentration and forces you to eat slower than you would with a fork. Eating more slowly allows your stomach to realize you’re full and can enhance your eating pleasure. And, you usually can’t load up chopsticks with as big of a bite as you would your fork,” she said.

Finally, when all else fails, indulge -- but once in a while.  While that doesn’t mean ordering enough food to last you with Monday through Friday leftovers, it means that ordering a portion-controlled meal won’t deflate your coveted six-pack. 

Now that you know the insider tips for ordering take out, what are you waiting for?  It’s time to wok and roll, and celebrate the Chinese New Year with a bang.

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