May 27, 2018
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America’s love: Chinese restaurant food

By Georgia Clark-Albert, Special to the BDN

I dislike buffets. The thought of person after person — hand after hand — serving from the buffet line that I’m going to eat from just isn’t appealing to me. I have seen too many people use less than proper buffet etiquette. If I’m spending the money to go out to dinner, I want to be served. However, I know there are many people who love to go to buffets for the “all you care to eat” option. Specifically people love Chinese restaurant buffets. Unfortunately, Chinese food (American style) with all of its noodles, deep-fried batter and oil is loaded with salt, fat and calories.

If you are watching your weight and your sodium intake, you really need to make careful choices when you decide to plan a trip to a Chinese restaurant. Consider ordering from the menu rather than tempting yourself with the buffet. In looking at the nutritional information for the foods below, keep in mind that the average adult needs about 2000 calories daily and about 2300 milligrams of salt, which is about a teaspoon. You’ll see that just because something contains vegetables it isn’t necessarily healthier.

Menu Item Calories Sodium (mgs)

Egg Roll 200 400

Spring Roll 100 300

BBQ Spare Ribs (4) 600 900

Pork Dumplings (6) (steamed) 500 900

Egg Drop Soup 100 900

Wonton Soup 100 800

General Tso’s Chicken 1,300 3,200

Moo Goo Gai Pan 600 1,800

Eggplant in Garlic Sauce 1,000 2,000

Stir-Fried Mixed Veggies 500 2,200

Orange Crispy Beef 1,500 3,100

Beef with Broccoli 900 3,200

Sweet & Sour Pork 1,300 800

Shrimp with Garlic Sauce 700 800

House Fried Rice 1,100 3,500

Chow Mein with Soft Noodles 1,200 3,600

Crab Rangoon (1) 80 not known

An order of six steamed pork dumplings has 500 calories; if you order them pan-fried, surprisingly they only contain an additional 10 calories per dumpling. Spring rolls are lower in calories than egg rolls because they have thinner wrappers (that soak up fat) and are smaller.

So if you are still going to frequent Chinese restaurants, here are some tips to make your meal just a little healthier:

  1. Avoid breaded meat or seafood — you get just a little bit of meat and lots of breading that has been deep-fried. Choose stir fried options instead.
  2. Don’t add additional sodium to your meal — limit soy sauce, duck sauce, hot mustard and hoisin sauce.
  3. Use chopsticks — they will help you take smaller bites, eat slower and avoid consuming a lot of sauce.
  4. Ask for brown rice (it’s a whole grain) instead of white rice .
  5. Choose dishes that feature vegetables instead of meat and lots of noodles
  6. Ask for extra vegetables — steamed. Vegetables such as snow peas, beans and eggplant can really soak up oil
  7. Most Chinese soups — such as wonton, egg drop or hot and sour — have few calories. They’re a great choice as an appetizer and help fill you up. Skip the fried noodles that sometimes accompany the soups.
  8. Share your meal with a friend or take half of it home for another meal.
  9. Tofu dishes are usually low in calories as long as the tofu is stir-fried, not deep-fried.
  10. Avoid second helpings.
  11. And finally, drink lots of water to help flush out all that sodium.

Georgia Clark-Albert is a registered dietitian and adjunct nutrition instructor at Eastern Maine Community College who lives in Athens. Read more of her columns and post questions at or email her at


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