The Healthiest Options at Your Favorite Asian Restaurants
It’s no secret that Texans love a good meal and the company that usually accompanies the meal. In fact, Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington citizens spent almost 12 percent of their annual household income on food between 2015 and 2016, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. Additionally, Dallas-area households spent nearly 47 percent of their allocated food dollars outside of the home.
While we may love a good meal out from time to time, it can be easy to get carried away. That can be especially true at some of our favorite Asian restaurants, particularly if they have a buffet or self-serve option. So we gathered up some healthier options when you’re craving Asian but want to keep your diet on track.
Lean Cuts of Meat
Traditional Asian meals focus largely on fresh seafood and lean cuts of meat like chicken or even pork. For vegetarians and the health-conscious alike, tofu or seitan is generally not hard to find among Asian restaurants as well. Whether you decide to go with meat, seafood or tofu, choosing leaner protein options can add valuable protein to your meal without adding unnecessary amounts of fat or cholesterol. Plano’s Yao Fuzi even offers up a spicy tuna, spring mix and Asian pear summer roll if raw fish is more your fancy.
Great traditional options to look for on the menu include:
- Moo Goo Gai Pan — Loaded with vegetables, a light sauce and stir-fried chicken, this dish is flavorful and is low in sugar and fat.
- Kung Pao Chicken — This spicy stir-fried chicken dish is a great substitute for sweeter dishes such as sweet-and-sour chicken, sesame chicken or General Tso’s chicken, which generally feature traditionally fried chicken.
- Buddha’s Delight — This dish goes by many different names, such as “Vegetable Deluxe” at Dallas locals’ favorite, Royal China. Regardless, the recipe remains the same; crisp snow peas and cabbage, crunchy water chestnuts, mushrooms and a combination of bell peppers, carrots and onions. This dish is abundant with veggies, but is crowned with a decent offering of deliciously marinated tofu.
- Chop Suey — This traditional stir-fry of bean sprouts, celery, water chestnuts and cabbage can be customized to fit your tastes or diet. Add chicken, pork or shrimp to keep it on the healthier side of things, or opt to bulk it up with even more vegetables such as bok choy or broccoli.
- Shrimp with Lobster Sauce — Despite the name, this dish usually contains no lobster, but the richly decadent name still holds true for the flavor profile of its sauce, which has less sugar than most sauces. The star of this dish is the plump shrimp followed by a lightly beaten (protein-packed) egg to thicken the chicken stock–based sauce.
- Chicken Lettuce Wraps — This is a fun dish made popular by P.F. Chang’s great option for kids who will enjoy the savory chopped-up chicken and might even forget that the green, taco-like wrapper is actually a vegetable!
Load up on Vegetables
Taking a note from the dishes above, you can see that vegetables take almost center stage in most Asian dishes. Whether they’re steamed or stir-fried, an abundant offering of vegetables should always be the focal point of any dish you order. You can even opt out of fried or steamed rice for an extra serving of vegetables to help bulk up your main entrée without adding carbs or fat. Richardson’s Kirin Court even has a part of their menu dedicated to vegetable-heavy entrees so you don’t have to hunt for healthy options.
It should be noted that while eggplant is common among Asian dishes, you should use caution when ordering because eggplant’s sponge-like texture is great at soaking up extra sauce and/or oil, turning it unhealthy.
Instead of opting for egg rolls, eating a small bowl of a broth-based soup before your meal can help you eat less later on — and soups are a quick and simple way to get nutrients. Soups can be high in sodium, but choosing a small bowl, about a cup (8 ounces), should keep things in check.
One cup of these popular Asian broth-based soups contains:
- Hot and Sour soup — 90 calories, 10 grams of carbohydrates, 2.8 grams of fat and 6 grams of protein
- Egg Drop soup — 66 calories, 10 grams of carbohydrates, 1.5 grams of fat and 2.8 grams of protein
- Wonton soup — 71.4 calories, 11.7 grams of carbohydrates, .6 grams of fat and 4.6 grams of protein
- Miso soup — 59 calories, 3.5 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams of fat and 5.8 grams of protein
Steamed, Not Fried
With many deep-fried dishes hitting the 1,000-calorie mark, steamed will always be a healthier option over fried or even stir-fried dishes. Opting for steamed veggies, rice or dumplings can greatly cut unnecessary fat, cholesterol and calories. If you’re not big on soup, but still want to enjoy an appetizer, steamed vegetable or shrimp dumplings (pot stickers) are a great alternative that pack about 50 calories per dumpling.
Knowing your lingo can also alert you to commonly fried or high-fat dishes, such as:
- “Sweet and sour”
- “Chow mein”
- “General Tso’s”
As for rice, steamed white rice is a better alternative to fried rice. An even better option is steamed brown rice, if available. Per cup, both brown and white rice have about 200 calories, but brown rice packs about triple the amount of fiber (about 3.5 grams per cup), making it more glycemic index–friendly and easier to digest.
Sharing is Caring & Portion Control
The infamous buffet holds an indescribable stake among American palates, but most people know buffets aren’t exactly a bastion of healthy options. While you can’t control the offerings at buffets, if your dining plans take you to an Asian buffet, you can control your portion size while seeking out the healthiest options available. Stick with the examples we listed above and load up on healthier dishes, but we won’t judge you if you add a bite or two of fried rice or that tempting sweet-and-sour chicken to your plate; just don’t go overboard.
If your plans take you to a more traditional restaurant, sharing an entrée can take down the generally large portions served by Asian restaurants and keep you from overeating. If you don’t have someone to share with, ask for a box with your meal and immediately box up half to eat for lunch or dinner the next day.
While delicious, sauce adds calories, cholesterol and fat, and the amount used in your dish is usually entirely out of your control. Instead, ask for the sauce on the side, so you can add it to your entrée as you see fit and control how much sauce you actually consume.
Reward Yourself with a Fortune
Yes, you can have good fortune and eat your cookie too! Most fortune cookies contain just about 35 calories and 3 grams of sugar, making them an innocent sweet treat at the end of your meal.
Sodium, Sodium, Sodium
Asian meals can be notoriously sodium-packed, and unless you plan on just eating plain steamed rice and vegetables (no sauce) for dinner, it can be difficult to avoid sodium no matter how you order. Keeping an eye on portion control, asking for your vegetables steamed and asking for the sauce on the side can help control your sodium intake as much as possible.
A meal out at your favorite Asian restaurant doesn’t have to break your diet or health goals. By making simple swaps, you can enjoy traditional Asian flavors and cooking styles while staying within your goals. Keeping in fashion with your surroundings, try your hand at chopsticks. You’ll not only learn a new skill, but eating with chopsticks will slow down how quickly you eat, giving your body time to realize it’s satiated before you overeat.
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