How healthy is Chinese food?
Like several other cultures and traditions, food is one of the major aspects of Chinese culture and heritage. However, is Chinese food healthy? Well, several Chinese dishes are full of fat and sodium. The sauces that you use to make Chinese dishes are considered not-so-healthy most of the time. However, there is always a way to make the healthier version of a dish that you are craving.
If you have ever been a part of Chinese holidays, such as Chinese New Year, it is evident how they enjoy their food. Moreover, none of the Chinese festivals and events are complete without their traditional dumplings, egg rolls, fried meat, and more. So, the main concern here- is Chinese food healthy?
If you are considering the Chinese that you get in the US’s restaurants, then that is usually unauthentic. So, do not freak out when you see majorly fried meat and food soaked in sauces and oil.
In fact, if you dig deeper into the details of traditional Chinese staple food, it is more of steamed vegetables and different types of tea. For example, green tea, black tea, jasmine tea, chamomile tea, and hibiscus tea are Chinese daily beverage delicacies. Moreover, Chinese culture and the region’s tea history are so fascinating and addictive that you will surely fall in love with the place and its food!
In fact, traditional or staple Chinese food is naturally healthy, mainly due to their cooking techniques and minimal oil use. A lot of Chinese people prefer a plant-based diet too. Therefore, local Chinese people hardly suffer from problems such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disorders.
What is the healthier version of rice and noodles?
Let us discuss another major part of their staple diet to know more. As mentioned earlier, there are ways in which you can modify a dish to its healthier version if you are very conscious. It is the same in rice because sometimes, many of us want to stay away from rice when it comes to carbohydrates.
However, you don’t need to sacrifice so much when you can replace the regular rice with a fiber-filled alternative. We are referring to brown rice, which is typically rich in fiber and satisfies cravings pretty well.
Talking about the Chinese staple diet, how can we miss out on the global favorite noodles? Well, they are also considered unhealthy by weight watchers. Now, just like rice, we have alternatives to noodles too! You will be happy to know that several types of noodles are super healthy and tasty too.
For example, buckwheat soba noodles, wholegrain udon noodles, shirataki noodles, and brown rice noodles are some of the healthiest alternatives to regular noodles.
Traditional soba noodles contain wholegrain buckwheat flour, so they are high on protein, Vitamin B, potassium, and fiber. On the other choices, udon noodles will ensure that you get enough fiber and protein from a portion of it.
Moreover, shirataki noodles contain many water and fiber because they are products of the konjac yam roots. In fact, the shirataki noodles are even great for weight loss purposes because of low calorie and carbohydrate content. Plus, if you are looking for anything gluten-free, then this is a cool idea.
In general, if you are a noodle lover, then go for brown rice noodles mainly because they contain good fiber, such as glucomannan. So, when such soluble fibers mix with water, its volume increases, therefore keeping you full for a longer time.
If you are always confused about a proper portion size of noodles, it is more like a tennis ball. It means that if you measure dry noodles, then it is a quarter cup, and otherwise half. So, there are things to remember when you head out for dinner at the local Chinese restaurant or even when you are trying out recipes at home.
If you are really looking forward to trying out healthier versions, then ensure that the sodium levels are low. Therefore, use less amount of sauce and healthier proteins such as tofu and chicken. Besides, it would be best if you avoided fried and glutenous stuff till the time you can.
Is real Chinese food healthy - Some tips to help you
- We all crave junk, but controlling it is the real deal here. So, instead of having cheat meals every weekend, try to do it once a month. Therefore, try to have healthier dishes with steamed proteins, vegetables, soups, and more for the rest of the 29 days in a month.
- It is better that you try to limit your special dish intake for special events and banquets only.
- When you are preparing your favorite Chinese meal, try to limit the use of certain ingredients. This includes oyster sauce, soy sauce, fish sauce, chili oil, and MSG (Mono Sodium Glutamate)
- Control the oil content in your food by adopting healthier cooking techniques such as sauteing, stir-frying, roasting, boiling, blanching, and more. The best alternatives for unhealthy cooking oil in Chinese food include tomato juice, rice wine, garlic, ginger, pepper, and more. Plus, there are several non-fat cooking ingredients and seasoning options that you can use as alternatives.
- When you use pork or duck proteins, ensure that you trim off the fat portions between the skin and the flesh. Besides, you should ideally not eat the skin of the proteins or limit the intake. Also, try not to consume side dishes or condiments that contain a high amount of sodium.
- Most of the time, when you are attending Chinese banquets, there are soda bottles kept in the middle of the table. Besides, such drinks are definitely very tempting, especially when you are eating oily stuff. Now, your challenge here to stay away from soda type drinks. Although it is alright to drink a glass of it, now that should be the limit.
- Who does not love instant ramen or noodles? But when you ask about the unhealthiest Chinese food, the answer is constant: instant packaged food. Now, of course, we are human beings and so crave things at times. If you really want to watch your health try to do some portion control. At least, you must ensure that you are not pouring the entire packet of seasoning that comes with the instant noodles packets. Even if you have poured all of the sodium-rich seasonings, add a little extra water to the dish to dilute the ingredients’ harmful effects.
Chinese cuisine Vs. other cuisines
So, what is your opinion regarding Chinese food? Do you think it is healthier than other cuisines, or do you think they should only be limited to occasional indulgence? On the one hand, Chinese cuisine indeed uses loads of vegetables, healthy cooking options, and light food; the opposite is undeniable.
Yes, you guessed it right because high-sodium sauces use high heat for cooking vegetables, fried food, and more make for very unhealthy food options. This section will discuss some of the most important virtues and sins of Chinese cuisine, and we will start with the latter!
Most common sins or disadvantages of consuming Chinese food
Here is a list for you to be aware of your food habits and not to scare you in any sense. While we all love Chinese novelties, it is important to know the minus points to make it easier for you to switch to healthier alternatives the next time you crave some Chinese food.
The typical meal structure of the Chinese consists of a primary dish that is high on starch. As you already know, this starch content comes from ingredients such as potatoes and a variety of grains. However, they are very bland and tasteless naturally, and you must add salt to make it better.
Now, this is where the problem lies, especially when we are considering restaurant or takeaway food. For example, when you go to a restaurant and order a Chinese soup or ramen bowl, the fact that there is some bland broth pushes the chef to add more salt.
As a result, the dish becomes so tasty that you can sip down a whole bowl. Therefore, the sodium levels in your body instantly shoot up, making the situation so unhealthy.
You will be surprised to know that the case was not the same in earlier times in this context. The rural people of China were not rich and did not have much access to protein and salt. So, for them, a stale diet was farm fresh vegetables, cheaper proteins, and more. Moreover, the lack of salt was the reason why they lived healthier lives.
In the present situation, salt is a common ingredient, and everyone has access to the same. Also, meat-eating has become more than ever now. So, Chinese food is not as healthy as before, but you can surely modify it to make it healthier.
What do Chinese eat daily? out of all other things, considering cholesterol, let us talk about pork. The Chinese people, anyway, love their meat, especially pork belly, organs, and skin.
While such proteins taste delicious and are rich in vitamins, they also add up to the body’s cholesterol level. However, most of the restaurants now don’t use all the organs and skins. Instead, they sell pork belly that is double fried or dishes made with pork shoulders.
If you are feeling very thirsty after eating some Chinese, then in all probability, they added quite an amount of MSG in it. While on the one hand, some people are allergic to the ingredient; on the other hand, the sodium content is a bigger concern.
MSG does not taste as salty as normal salt becomes tougher for the body to sense the difference. Besides, people usually don’t realize the amount of MSG they are consuming till it reaches the maximum limit.
Cooking at extremely high temperature
When it comes to Chinese cooking, two of the most common techniques are deep-frying and stir-frying. Now, when you order stir-fried dishes in a Chinese restaurant it is evident that they prepare those on very high temperatures. As a result, the ingredients release a beautiful savory umami in the form of fat droplets that enhances the taste of the dish.
So, this is how you are consuming harmful substances such as acrylamide or styrene oxide that are both naturally carcinogenic. Although, there are no proofs that consuming such foods in little amounts can be harmful, but it is your responsibility to be aware of whatever you eat.
Consuming hot liquids
It is like a tradition in China that people love to drink anything liquid in its piping hot stage. It can be anything such as soup, hot tea, or simply hot water. Fortunately, this is not the case in Western countries where people like to have cold beverages. Now, you must be aware of the harmful impact of consuming something scorching hot.
Out of all, the most harmful effect is the burning of the mucosa. Surprisingly, your mind and body may actually end up liking the whole feeling, just like when you are eating spicy food and cannot stop despite the spiciness hitting you.
There is a scientific concept here: the release of dopamine that counters the pain due to spicy or scorching food. Besides, that dopamine rush is sometimes like an addiction too. The only difference between both cases is that while moderately spicy stuff causes lesser harm, very hot food can permanently harm the mucosa present in the esophagus and the mouth. As a result, you may be left with scar tissues or precancerous symptoms.
Even if we ignore how the Chinese prepare food at home, the restaurant dishes are unhealthy with many oils. The primary reason why the chefs use excessive oil is to make the dishes look better as well as taste more satisfying. Therefore, the chefs at restaurants add oil to the hot wok that they use for stir-frying. The process releases superb umami that makes the food more delectable.
More oil is often added towards the later part of the cooking to make the food shinier and glossier. Besides, using excessive oil is a widespread thing when it comes to Sichuan cuisine. While the harmful impact of consuming excessive oil differs from one person to another, the common fact is that doing so is unnecessary.
It is more of the latest trend that Chinese restaurants prefer using bolder and bigger flavors in their cooking. For example, dry chili powder and paste, fermented soybean paste, and more. While they enhance the flavors of the dishes, they also have a numbing effect on the palette.
Now, such flavors are often used in restaurants to dim the weird taste and smell of any cheap or stale ingredient that may harm the person’s health. Obviously, nowadays, it is evident that the diner’s health is not a concern for the restaurant. Therefore, using harmful or expired products.
After sounding terrible and disappointing you a lot, it is time to look at the flip side of the story. As you already know, it is always possible to make things healthier.
Virtues or benefits of Chinese food
So, is Chinese food healthy? Yes, it is! It is time to look at the brighter things and justify that Chinese food is absolutely healthy if prepared properly. Besides, what is the secret behind the low rate of obesity and heart issues among the Chinese communities? Let’s check out the section below for more answers.
Lesser use of refined carbs
Usually, by the tern ‘refined carbs,’ we mean sugar, flour, rice, and more. Now, these do not have much significance when it comes to Chinese cuisine. Especially if you consider regions such as Shanghai, people almost don’t use sugar at all.
Even when you want to eat one of their “sweet and sour” dishes, there is no sugar at all. It is usually honey, pineapple extract, dark rice vinegar, and more. Apart from sugar, they also do not use fruits or milk in their dishes.
If you go through China’s food history, they prefer mixed grains over starchy ones such as flour and rice. If you try using millet, legumes, barley, and corn, they taste far better with other typical Chinese staple ingredients.
More consumption of good fibers
If you look at the typical US meal pattern, then there is always a centerpiece of meat and smaller portions of sides such as vegetables or grains. According to food experts, the modern American meal pattern takes inspiration from French haute cuisine. It is the kind of food that the royal and richer class of France enjoys. The main feature of this kind of food is that the meat in it is the focal point.
On the other hand, when it comes to Asian cuisine, including Chinese, grains and vegetables, are the main focus instead. If not more, at least both of these play an equal role in this cuisine. One of the most common philosophies in Chinese cuisine is a combination of flavors and ingredients. As a result, we end up getting more complex flavors.
Let’s take the example of a ubiquitous Chinese stir fry dish: pork strips with celery. Here both the main foods are stir-fried so that the flavor of each infuses into the other. It is a cool technique to feed the family with many veggies that consist of so much fiber.
Variety and diversity of ingredients
This is the most important virtue or advantage of Chinese cuisine because it consists of food from a variety of sources. As earlier human beings gathered food by typical farming and hunting activities, the same food habits continue somewhere in the later generations. Thanks to China’s diversity and farming culture, people get so many different types of ingredients.
You already know that meat and vegetables’ nutritional benefits are different and very important in their own ways. Therefore, the perfect balance of food is essential. The Chinese people can also almost use all parts of animals and vegetables for cooking, which is another perfect part. It is another reason why Chinese food is very healthy and nutritious.
The best cooking techniques
The way you cook your food matters a lot when it comes to measuring the nutritional value. While most restaurants set the wrong example that stir-frying is the only technique for making Chinese food, it is not true. The real deal is that there are quite a few uncommon cooking techniques that the Chinese use to prepare food. Some of them are here:
While the list is longer than this, you will be surprised to know that there are several different types of stir-frying techniques. Therefore, it is your wish and health consciousness that will decide which technique you prefer the most.
The art of balancing
According to the traditional Chinese etiquettes and philosophy, the Doctrine of the Mean focuses on the term “balance.” It is very evident if you take the example of a typical Chinese meal.
You will see almost everything that your body requires, such as proteins, vitamins, carbs, minerals, fibers, fats, and more. Plus, it is fascinating that a normal Chinese family does not have all the scientific knowledge, but surely knows how to design the best meal plans.
Health problems that follow the overconsumption of Chinese food
Here is a list of health issues that may occur due to the consumption of unhealthy versions of Chinese food. However, you will never suffer from these issues if you understand that traditional Chinese is healthy and very different from the restaurant versions.
- Weight gain
- Chest pain
Top 10 healthiest Chinese dishes
Check out the list of these healthy Chinese dishes to satisfy your cravings in an ideal way. Besides, now you will know what to eat!
So, our mothers had always tried to feed us more vegetables since when we were little children. While most of us did not like it, we surely know that they are extremely beneficial. Therefore, when looking for something very healthy, go for some lightly sauteed (stir-fried) or steamed vegetables.
Broth type appetizers and soups
There are several types of broth-based foods such as hot and sour, egg drop, wontons, and more. All of them are extremely flavorful but very low on calories. First, they are healthy, and the second is that they are filling, and therefore, you don’t overeat.
These are awesome starters and snacks that also offer the correct amount of steamed vegetables. However, you should try dipping it in chili sauce instead of soy sauce to restrict the sodium intake. Besides, you must also do portion control to ensure that you don’t indulge in mindless eating.
Now, for this, you can mix any lean protein or sea food with a choice of vegetables and stir fry in very little oil. Ensure that you do not soak everything in too much sauce because it becomes very unhealthy instead.
So, you must have had spring rolls and other types of wraps that you get in typical rice paper or flour sheets. However, refined flour contains so many carbs that it is unhealthy. Now, to eat the same delectable dish and still stay healthy is possible. For that, you have to replace the typical flour papers with lettuce leaves.
Kung Pao chicken
Most of the time, the Kung Pao chicken is easily available on every restaurant menu as well. However, it depends on whether the outside version is made properly or not. Now, this dish is a great alternative to the Tso chicken or the sweet and sour one.
However, the only difference is that the chicken pieces are not fried in this case. Plus, there is a lot of vegetables that you get along with the protein.
This is a traditional vegetarian dish that is full of flavors and rich in texture. Moreover, it is light for the body and very healthy.
As you already know, tofu comes from soy milk, and it is rich in protein. In fact, just half a cup of tofu contains as much as 11 grams of proteins. Moreover, this ingredient is full of calcium and iron.
Moo Shu chicken
This dish is pancake wrapped with chicken in vegetables. The health part is ensured because the content of vegetables is more in comparison with the meat. Plus, if you can control the flour pancakes usage, you can always replace it with lettuce wraps.
Yes, this dish is healthy despite the use of fried noodles. It is because a bowl of chop suey is loaded with cabbages that are great antioxidants. Moreover, the traditional chop suey consists of water chestnuts and beansprouts apart from several other vegetables.
Top 10 unhealthy Chinese dish
What is the unhealthiest Chinese food? Well, we have a list of dishes to answering your query. Check out the ones here.
- Deep-fried wontons
- Crab Rangoon
- Lo mein
- Sweet and sour chicken
- Barbeque spare ribs
- Fried egg rolls
- Fried rice
- Chow fun
- General Tso’s chicken
- Barbeque chicken wings
While the previous list was all about healthy food minus the overconsumption of oil and sodium-rich sauces, this list is the opposite. All of these items are either deep-fried or drenched in sauce or both at times. However, by now, you already know how to make Chinese food healthy, and we hope you will be more aware of what you eat!