Keto Chinese Food: What to Eat and What to Avoid

Published September 12, 2019
Kate Sullivan

Written By: Kate Sullivan, MS

Kate holds a MS in Business Psychology and is currently a PHD researcher in Well-Being and Performance Psychology.

<article> <section> <p>When we think ‘Chinese food,’ most of us think about getting takeout. It’s quick, easy, and often delivered right to your door—perfect for a busy weeknight. But it might not be perfect for your nutritional goals. If you’re trying to stay in ketosis, you might think twice about getting your weekly order of General Tso’s.</p> <p>But even if you’re living low-carb, there are many great keto Chinese food options for satisfying your Chinese food craving, both in restaurants and at home.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <header>Is Chinese Food Keto Friendly?</header> <p>American-style Chinese food relies on a lot of rice and noodles as well as starchy wonton wrappers. So you might think that you can simply skip these and stay low-carb―no sweat!</p> <p>Sadly, it’s not quite that easy. Many of the most popular dishes, like sweet and sour chicken, can really pack on the carbs—up to 70 grams in a serving, not counting any rice or noodles! That’s because of the heavy batters and sticky sauces that are so addictively delicious. </p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <header>What Is the Healthiest Chinese Food to Order?</header> <p>In all our research (delicious, delicious research!), we’ve found that one of the healthiest dishes on any Chinese restaurant menu is egg foo young. It contains heart-healthy eggs and an array of low-carb vegetables like cabbage, mushrooms, and spring onions. You can go <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">vegetarian</a> or include a meat like roast pork, ham, chicken, or shrimp for extra protein.</p> <p>Not in the mood for egg foo young? You’re still in luck! Flip through any Chinese menu and you’ll be delighted to find a wide range of good-for-you options. In general, Chinese food contains plenty of veggies, protein, <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">ginger</a>, spicy chilis, and other ingredients that can rev up your metabolism, reduce inflammation, and otherwise boost your health.</p> <p>However, the preparation methods can leave something to be desired if you’re living low-carb, since many dishes are battered and fried, coated in sugar-heavy sauces, or filled with other starches. Still, there are some healthful options on almost any menu if you know what to look for!</p> <p>Anything with ‘steamed’ in the name is probably a safe bet, especially if you ask for sauce on the side. Vegetarian dishes also tend to be on the healthier side, though you’ll want to watch out for sneaky carb sources like carrots or beans. Hunan pork with peppers or braised fish are other great choices.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset=""> <img src="" class="img-fluid" alt="chinese-food-dishes-shrimp-chicken-vegetables"> </picture> <header>Low-Carb Chinese Restaurant Food</header> <p>Although most of us think ‘takeout’ when we think of Chinese food, if you’re trying to stick to a keto diet, you may want to opt for a buffet when going for Chinese.</p> <p>That’s because it’s easier to pick and choose the options that are best suited to your diet! At a buffet, you don’t automatically get a side of fried rice that might <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">tempt you</a> into ‘just a little cheat.’ You can also engineer your own satisfying keto-friendly plates, like mixing sautéed broccoli, garlic mushrooms, braised mustard greens, and butter shrimp to create a delicious meal that’s not on regular menus.</p> <p>But what if you’re too tired to head out and just want the food to come to you? Have no fear, Chinese takeout can still be keto-friendly!</p> <div class="sub-head">What Chinese Food Is Low in Carbs?</div> <p>There are a host of great low-carb options at most Chinese restaurants, though you may have the best luck with a local place instead of a big chain where it’s harder to ask for your food to be customized if necessary. Some healthy Chinese classics include:</p> <ul> <li>Egg drop soup</li> <li>Smashed cucumbers</li> <li>Beef and broccoli</li> <li>Butter shrimp</li> <li>Roast duck (skip the sauce)</li> <li>Egg foo young</li> <li><a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">Cashew</a> chicken</li> <li>Moo goo gai pan</li> <li>Garlic eggplant, mushrooms, or broccoli</li> <li>Buddha’s Delight</li> <li>Sichuan poached fish</li> <li>Mu shu pork (skip the pancakes)</li> <li>Braised greens</li> <li>Garlic sauce</li> <li>Vinegar sauce</li> </ul> <div class="sub-head">Things to Look Out For</div> <p>While a number of classic Chinese foods can be lower in carbs, most of the common orders aren’t so healthy. It’s best to avoid:</p> <ul> <li>Eggrolls</li> <li>Wonton soup</li> <li>Lo mein</li> <li>Fried rice</li> <li>Black bean sauce</li> <li>Hoisin sauce</li> <li>Sweet and sour sauce</li> </ul> <p>Most of these are obvious no-gos—I mean, fried rice? Talk about carb central!—but even dishes that appear keto-friendly can pack a sneaky carb surprise. When ordering, watch out for:</p> <ul> <li><b>Sauces:</b> Black bean sauce is clearly off limits, and sweet and sour plainly uses a bunch of sugar. But many other sauces also pack a double whammy of carbs. They use cornstarch to thicken and sugar to amp up the flavor. Dishes that come in a heavy sauce, like sweet and sour chicken or General Tso’s, are often super-high in carbs. Go for the lightest option you can, like butter shrimp or garlic beef.</li> <li><b>Breadings and Coatings:</b> Chinese food can be addictive because of all the great textures—including crunchy chicken or shrimp. Watch out for fried meats coated in breading! But also keep an eye on other meats. For instance, that beef and broccoli may not seem to be battered and fried, but the beef is often “velveted,” which means it’s been dredged in cornstarch before stir-frying. That adds hidden carbs. Ask politely to have your order steamed instead.</li> <li><b>Thick Soups:</b> Thick, luscious soups like hot and sour typically use cornstarch to thicken them, getting that great mouthfeel we all love. Where possible, stick to clear, thinner soups like egg drop or wonton soup. Just don’t eat those wontons! Instead, try stirring in some garlic mushrooms to enjoy instead.</li> </ul> <div class="sub-head">Tips for Eating Low-Carb at a Chinese Restaurant</div> <p>So what do you do if you just really want some Chinese food? It can seem like all those restrictions make it off-limits on keto! Thankfully, not all is lost—there are some ways to have your kung pao and eat it, too!</p> <p>If you order Chinese regularly, take the opportunity to develop a relationship with your friendly local Chinese restaurant. Go at a relatively calm time, like 4 p.m., and ask if you can see nutritional information. Some family-owned shops won’t have this available, but it never hurts to ask! Local shops may also be willing to make a special order for you once they understand how you’re trying to eat. </p> <p>Ask for sauces on the side, whether you’re eating in or getting takeout. It may take longer to prepare your food, but it’s worth it to control how much sauce ends up on your plate—especially if you don’t know if there’s excess sugar or starches hiding in there. You’ll control your carbs better by dipping the occasional piece of beef into the sauce rather than wolfing down an order of beef and broccoli that’s been drenched in syrupy sauce already.</p> <p>Ask for your food to be steamed. Most Chinese restaurants steam many of their dishes already, so steaming your meat and vegetables isn’t going to throw them off too much.</p> <p>Order extra vegetables, especially if your order typically comes with a side of rice. Just request that they leave out the rice and give you extra of whatever <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">low-carb veggies</a> come in your dish. Broccoli and mushrooms are great options! Just be sure not to go for carrots or other higher-carb vegetables.</p> <p>Get creative with food hacks! Although crispy wonton wrappers are not keto-friendly, the cabbage-and-pork-filled interior is. Crack open a couple eggrolls and scoop out the tasty filling to mix with your steamed chicken and veggies for added flavor, or stir it into your egg drop soup for a filling meal.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset=""> <img src="" class="img-fluid" alt="wok-chinese-food-cooking-vegetables-stir-fry"> </picture> <header>Making Low-Carb Chinese Food at Home</header> <p>One of the best ways to stay in ketosis and still enjoy Chinese food is to make it at home! That way, you can control what goes into the sauce as well as maximize your low-carb veggies and healthy fats.</p> <p>Many classic Chinese recipes are easy to update for keto—just trade sugar for smarter options like monk fruit or stevia, then make smart swaps for the rice or noodles!</p> <div class="sub-head">Low-Carb Chinese Food Swaps</div> <div class="sub-head"><span style="font-size:.8em;">Rice</span></div> <p>Subbing cauliflower rice for regular white or brown rice is one of the easiest keto-friendly switches you can make! Just steam up a bag from frozen or make your own with a food processor and you have the perfect base for your low-carb Chinese meal.</p> <p>You can also skip the rice altogether; most Chinese food tastes great on its own and comprises a full meal with protein, vegetables, and some fats.</p> <div class="sub-head"><span style="font-size:.8em;">Noodles</span></div> <p>Instead of making lo mein with carb-heavy egg noodles, try tossing your sauce, meat, and veggies with spiralized zucchini noodles. Spaghetti squash makes another great low carb noodle alternative—and tastes great in a spicy, savory Singapore noodle dish!</p> <div class="sub-head"><span style="font-size:.8em;">Wonton Wrappers</span></div> <p>Craving moo shu chicken or street-style roast duck with pancakes? Missing the handheld goodness of an eggroll? You don’t have to skip wrapped dishes entirely when you go keto! Swap a lettuce or cabbage leaf for the typical wonton wrapper. Or whip up a batch of <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">low-carb wraps</a> to enjoy. These go particularly well with moo shu pork!</p> <div class="sub-head">Keto Chinese Food Recipes</div> <p>Although American-style Chinese food, the kind we find in restaurants, is often loaded with sugary sauces or other sneaky carbs, traditional Chinese food tends to be much healthier. Consider expanding your palate and your cooking repertoire and taking a class on, say, Sichuan or Hunan cooking. You’ll open up a whole new world of flavorful, low-carb Chinese food!</p> <p>In the meantime, try one of these great recipes. They’re nearly as fast and easy as takeout, and packed with the tastes you crave while staying keto-friendly.</p> <ul> <li><a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">Spicy Ginger Salmon Buddha Bowls</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">Beef and Cabbage Stir Fry</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">Sesame Chicken Salad</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">Blackened Shrimp and Crispy Chilled Cucumbers</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">Asian Crack Slaw</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">Sriracha Cauliflower Fried Rice</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">Bang Bang Chicken</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">Asian Cucumber Salad</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">Asian Meatball</a></li> </ul> <p>From flavorful cauliflower rice bowls to spicy stir-fries and everything in between, there are tons of great low-carb Chinese food options that are very keto friendly. Whether you’re cooking at home, going out to eat, or ordering takeout, you can stay low-carb by making smart food choices. Opt for steamed instead of fried, get sauce on the side, and hack the menu to create filling new dishes.</p> <p>With these healthy swaps, tips, and tricks, you’ll be enjoying low-carb Chinese in less time than it takes to order delivery!</p> </section> </article>

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