Chinese food takeout is delicious, but as with other cuisines offering takeout, some of the choices offered can be high in salt, sugar, oil, and processed additives.
American-Chinese food, in particular, tends to be much sweeter and saltier than traditional Chinese cuisine and often features its own distinct flavors.
Luckily, there are some healthier takeout options if you’re craving Chinese food. Plus, you can always ask to have menu items adjusted to suit your taste. Furthermore, if you scan the menu, there are oftentimes a section that offers choices that are lower in fat, sugar, and salt.
Here are the 13 healthiest Chinese food takeout options, along with tips to choose entrées, side items, and sauces.
Dumplings offered at a Chinese restaurant are pockets of dough filled with seasoned meat and vegetables, usually pork and cabbage.
They are often fried, but you can choose to have them steamed instead to cut down on calories and fat. One medium steamed dumpling is only 40 calories (
Although the soy-sauce-based dipping sauce is low in calories, it’s high in sodium, so try to limit how much sauce you use especially if you’re salt sensitive.
Hot and sour soup is made with mushrooms, bamboo shoots, eggs, and ginger in chicken broth. It also contains vinegar and spices, which add the hot and sour components to the dish.
On the other hand, egg drop soup is made simply with ribbons of cooked egg in chicken broth.
Both soups are low in calories — containing only 65–90 calories per 1-cup (240 mL) serving — and you can make them even healthier by avoiding the fried lo mein noodles that are often offered as a topping (
Moo goo gai pan is a lightly sauced chicken and vegetable stir-fry dish that contains mushrooms, broccoli, carrots, and water chestnuts.
Because it’s full of vegetables and lean chicken, it’s relatively low in calories. Furthermore, the chicken provides plenty of protein, making it a filling dish. One cup (216 grams) contains only 160 calories while offering 15 grams of protein (
Ask if you can have the sauce on the side to control how much you consume because it could be high in salt and sugar.
Beef and broccoli is a simple dish of stir-fried beef and broccoli tossed in a light sauce.
It’s a relatively healthy dish that’s low in carbs and high in protein. However, it’s often made with fatty cuts of beef. One cup (217 grams) contains 336 calories, 23 grams of fat, and 23 grams of protein (
You can reduce the fat content by asking for steamed instead of stir-fried broccoli and asking if it’s possible to serve the sauce on the side.
Chop suey is another stir-fry dish made from meat, eggs, and thinly sliced vegetables in a light sauce. It’s often made with pork, although some varieties may contain chicken, beef, or tofu.
Like other stir-fries, it’s a healthier choice because it’s made from a protein source and vegetables. One cup (220 grams) of pork chop suey with no noodles contains 216 calories and provides 23 grams of protein. It also contains about 9.5 grams of fat, and a restaurant version may have more fat added during the stir-fry process (
Ideally, choose a light sauce to further limit the salt and sugar content.
Chicken and broccoli is similar to beef and broccoli, consisting of chicken and broccoli stir-fried in a light sauce.
However, it’s a leaner option than beef and broccoli that still offers plenty of protein. One cup (153 grams) provides 13 grams of protein and only 145 calories. It also contains about 7 grams of fat (
If possible, ask to have the dish steamed. You will lose the oil that it’s normally cooked in, which will lower its fat and calorie content to give it a healthier twist.
Many Chinese restaurants offer a baked salmon option, which is a great choice.
Paired with a side of steamed vegetables, baked salmon is a perfect entrée for low carb or keto dieters.
Happy family, or triple delight, is a stir-fry made from vegetables and meat, such as chicken or pork, seafood, and vegetables.
It’s served in a thick brown sauce, usually over rice. Although its exact nutrition info is not available, happy family is high in protein because it contains both meat and seafood, while the vegetables add fiber.
Like other stir-fries, you can choose light sauce to limit the added calories, fat, sugar, and salt.
Buddha’s delight is a great option for vegans and vegetarians. It’s a stir-fry made with tofu and steamed vegetables like bok choy, cabbage, and broccoli in a light, savory sauce.
Because it’s completely plant-based, it contains some fiber, as well as protein from the tofu. One cup (217 grams) provides 193 calories and contains 3 grams of fiber and 9 grams of protein (
Vegetables take center stage in this popular takeout dish, which typically features ingredients like stir-fried pork, shredded cabbage, mushrooms, carrots, and onions.
Although the exact nutrient content can vary based on which ingredients are used, one cup (151 grams) typically contains approximately 230 calories and nearly 16 grams of protein. Also, it contains about 16 grams of fat, but like most stir-fry dishes, fat content can vary depending on the restaurant (
To maximize the potential heatlh benefits, go light on the sauce and consider skipping the side of pancakes that it’s usually served with.
Eggplant with garlic sauce is a dish comprised of smoky, grilled eggplant topped with a rich and tangy garlic sauce.
Eggplant, the star ingredient of the dish, is low in calories and a great source of several key nutrients, including fiber, manganese, folate, and potassium (
It also features several other nutrient-dense ingredients, such as garlic, ginger, and peppers.
Opt for a side of brown rice rather than white rice to bump up the fiber content of your meal and squeeze in an extra serving of whole grains.
Kung pao chicken is a spicy Sichuan dish that contains stir-fried chicken with peanuts, chili peppers, and vegetables.
Try asking the restaurant to throw in some extra veggies and consider limiting your portion size if you’re keeping an eye on your sodium intake, as it sometimes contains high amounts of salt.
Despite its name, shrimp with lobster sauce does not actually contain lobster. Instead, it’s made using a fermented black bean sauce often used to prepare lobster in traditional Cantonese cuisine.
In addition to stir-fried shrimp, the dish typically contains veggies like peas, carrots, garlic, and scallions.
Compared to many other takeout options, it’s relatively low in calories and high in protein, with 31 grams of protein and 279 calories in a 1-cup (185-gram) serving. It also contains 14.5 grams of fat (
You can also boost the available fiber, vitamins, and minerals by requesting extra vegetables such as broccoli, mushrooms, or bell peppers.
When trying to order healthier Chinese takeout foods or any takeout foods, it’s important to be aware of the cooking method that’s used.
Many entrées at Chinese restaurants are battered and deep fried, and should be avoided, as they’re high in added fat, starch, and calories.
Others may be water-velveted, or coated in cornstarch, to provide the smooth, velvety texture of the meat in many stir-fries. Water-velveting is healthier than deep frying, but it still adds extra starchy carbs and calories.
Ideally, you should choose entrées that are baked, steamed, boiled, or sautéed in a small amount of oil.
Additionally, it’s necessary to consider serving size. The nutrition information provided here is for a 1-cup serving (200–240 grams), which is the typical serving size for a takeout entrée — especially stir-fry dishes. But it’s important to note that a single order of takeout may contain up to 4 cups.
To limit calories, measure out an appropriate portion size and save the rest for other meals.
You should try to choose entrées that are baked, steamed, boiled, or sautéed. Water-velveting adds some carbs and calories, while deep-fried entrées are much higher in fat, carbs, and calories.
Another important consideration when choosing healthier Chinese food takeout options is your side item.
Typical side dishes like fried rice, lo mein noodles, crab rangoon, and egg rolls are high in calories — and fat.
Healthier choices include steamed brown rice, sautéed or steamed vegetables, spring rolls, or soups like egg drop soup or hot and sour soup.
Veggie-based items like edamame, lettuce wraps, braised bamboo shoots, or cucumber salad are a few other great options you can try.
Healthy Chinese food takeout sides include steamed brown rice, sautéed or steamed vegetables, spring rolls, soups, and veggie-based items like edamame, lettuce wraps, or salads.
Most American-Chinese food takeout dishes are also served in some kind of sauce. Sauces can be a significant source of calories, fat, sugar, and salt in meals — even if it doesn’t seem like there’s much sauce.
Generally, thicker and stickier sauces, such as General Tso’s, are higher in sugar and calories, while thinner sauces are lower in calories unless they’re very oily.
Order your dish with light sauce or sauce on the side so you can control how much is added to your food.
Sauces can be a huge source of calories from sugar, fat, and salt. Try to choose light sauces or ask for the sauce on the side.
Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a controversial additive that’s found in some American Chinese food dishes. It’s also found in other takeout foods as well as canned soups, dressings, and snacks.
It’s a concentrated source of salty and savory umami flavor and has a flavor profile reminiscent of soy sauce (
However, MSG has long been the subject of scientific controversy. Some people claim that it causes headaches, asthma, and weight gain, but there’s little evidence to support these claims (
Recent research has found that MSG presents little risk of harm to most people when consumed in moderate amounts (
Regardless, if you’re concerned about MSG in your food, be sure to ask your local Chinese restaurant if they use it. Considering the controversy surrounding the substance, some Chinese restaurants have chosen to stop using the additive.
MSG is a common but controversial ingredient in many Chinese food takeout dishes. Still, this additive is safe to consume in normal amounts.
Although some takeout options at Chinese restaurants are deemed unhealthy, there are healthy choices as well.
Stir-fries are a great option because they contain protein from meat or tofu, as well as vegetables, which add fiber and nutrients.
You can also choose healthier options and side dishes, and limit the amount of sauce on your food and your portion size.
With this guide, it’s easy to choose healthier options at your favorite Chinese restaurant.