Whether you’re celebrating the Lunar New Year in your favorite Chinese restaurant, ordering in or cooking up a quick stir-fry at home, it’s possible to have an authentic, delicious meal that is diabetes friendlier. It’s a good idea to check with your care team before making any changes to your diabetes meal plan.
Limit the rice and noodles
Rice and noodles are the biggest culprits to carb-overload when eating Chinese food – a single restaurant portion can top 2 cups. Keep in mind that a ⅓-cup serving of rice or noodles may have about 15 grams of carbs, so plan your portion accordingly. To make it more healthful, order brown rice, when available, instead of white, and if you are cooking at home, always use brown rice and whole-wheat noodles. (Learn more about the basics of carb counting.)
Keep sodium in check
Chinese food, made with salty seasonings like soy sauce, hoisin, oyster sauce and monosodium glutamate (MSG), can be high in sodium. To limit sodium, order menu items that are made to order, ask that yours be prepared without MSG and have the sauce on the side so you can add only a tiny amount of it. At home, use small amounts of low-sodium soy sauce and, for extra flavor, add chilies and fresh herbs such as cilantro or basil. (Read more about sodium and diabetes.) Also keep in mind that soy sauce may be a source of both carbs and gluten, although some store-bought brands are available in gluten-free versions.
Get off to a light start
At a restaurant, if there are appetizers to be shared, opt for steamed dumplings. Avoid fried egg rolls or spring rolls, fried wontons and shrimp toast. At home, opt for recipes with instructions for baked versions of your favorite appetizers.
Soup is a satisfying option
Hot and sour or egg drop soup are both lower-calorie, lower-carb options that may fill you up. Wonton soup is also a good choice, but remember to count the carbs in the wonton wrappers (a thin, 3½-inch square wrapper has about 5 grams of carbs).
Keep it family style
At Chinese restaurants, most dishes are more than enough for one serving and are usually meant to be enjoyed by the whole table. Order a more healthful appetizer and a main dish to share between two people. Depending on the restaurant, you may still have enough to take home for the next day’s lunch. When cooking at home, you may want to make enough food to have leftovers, but be sure to serve yourself a sensible portion and don’t be tempted to go back for seconds.
Scrutinize the sweet sauces
Many Chinese sauces are very sweet, including sweet and sour, duck sauce, hoisin and plum sauce. In a restaurant, ask that they use only half the sauce, or better yet, serve it on the side so that you can add a minimal amount to the dish yourself. At home, use these sauces in moderation or choose recipes for dishes that use ingredients with no added sugars or sweeteners.
Fill half your plate with veggies
Choose a dish that is a combination of meat or tofu along with vegetables, and ask if the chef can add more vegetables to your dish. If you do order a dish without vegetables included, order simple stir-fried or steamed vegetables with no sweet sauces to accompany your main dish. One vegetable to avoid in Chinese restaurants is stir-fried eggplant, since it absorbs a lot of oil in cooking. When you cook Chinese food at home, always add more veggies to the recipe, or serve steamed vegetables alongside. (Learn more about serving sizes and carb counts for popular vegetables.)
The lowest-calorie, lower-carb Chinese dishes include shrimp or chicken with garlic sauce or lobster sauce, moo goo gai pan, and any steamed chicken, shrimp or fish dish. Stir-fried dishes can be healthful, too, as long as you ask that the food be prepared using very little oil and you choose a dish that doesn’t have a sweet sauce. If you’re eating out, research the restaurant’s menu online and make your choices before you get there – if you’ve already made up your mind, you’ll be less tempted by the unhealthy options when you get to the restaurant.
Battered, fried and sauced, oh my!
Avoid dishes like General Tso’s chicken, sweet and sour chicken and lemon chicken, since these dishes are battered before deep-frying and then coated in a sauce. Pass on dishes with the words crispy, battered or breaded, since these almost always mean the dish is fried. At home, you can make healthful versions of these dishes that are not battered nor deep-fried and using only a small amount of sauce.
Save room for a fortune cookie
At about 7 grams of carbs and 30 calories, it’s your lucky day!
Jackie Mills is the author of 1,000 Diabetes Recipes and The Big Book of Diabetic Desserts. She is also a food writer and registered dietitian who develops recipes for such national magazines as Cooking Light and Family Circle as well as for books such as The American Medical Association Type 2 Diabetes Cookbook. She was formerly the food editor at Redbook magazine. Mills is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.
© 2015 The DX: The Diabetes Experience