Keep your choices of Chinese food good for your heart

February 24, 1999|By Lynn F. Little

The Chinese diet is generally a healthy one. It uses rice as its base, relies heavily on vegetables, includes meats only in limited amounts, and uses oils for flavoring instead of butter and cream.

Given such a diet, it should be no surprise that the rate of heart disease and colon cancer is lower in mainland China than in the United States.

[cont. from lifestyle]

It also follows that Chinese restaurants can be a good place to find meals that rank high in nutrition. Don't assume, however, that all Chinese food is low in fat and high in fiber. Some Chinese and other Asian foods prepared in this country have little in common with the original cuisine.

To appeal to the American tastebuds, dishes often are fried and then immersed in heavy, sometimes fatty sauces. Meat portions are often large in comparison to rice and vegetables.


Stir-frying in a wok, generally considered a low-fat cooking method, may or may not be low-fat. It is no different than sauting in a skillet. If the cook uses a lot of oil, some of it is going to end up on the plate.

Sodium is a problem, too, not only in the soy sauce but in such common flavoring agents as shrimp paste and monosodium glutamate, MSG.

It is easy to get a healthy, low-fat meal in a Chinese or other Asian restaurant if you choose wisely.

* If you want to limit fat, avoid the crispy, deep-fried noodles that arrive at your table with the tea. Ask your waiter to remove the noodles if they are too tempting.

* Skip the appetizers. If you must choose one, steamed dumplings or wonton soup are low-fat choices.

Rice should be the healthful center of any Chinese meal. Brown rice is more nutritious than white and is now widely available in restaurants. Beware of fried rice - it can contain up to two tablespoons of fat (200 extra calories) per cup.

* Select main dishes with only small amounts of meat and ask if the proportions of vegetables can be increased. If you are sharing main dishes, include a vegetarian dish or two, preferably steamed, in your order.

* Avoid, crispy, deep-fried and batter-coated items. They are almost always high in fat, as are fried egg rolls and spring rolls, even though they are filled with chopped vegetables.

* If foods are cooked to order, ask to have them steamed instead of fried. Inquire about the amount of oil used in cooking and ask to have salty ingredients, such as soy sauce, reduced. Also ask about low-sodium soy sauce. It has about half the 350 milligrams of sodium found in regular soy sauce and is offered in many Chinese restaurants.

Maryland Cooperative Extension programs are open to all citizens without regard to race, color, sex, disability, age, religion or national origin.

Lynn F. Little is a family and consumer sciences extension educator for Maryland Cooperative Extension, Washington County - University of Maryland.

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