Chinese Food: Calorie Count and Nutritional Value

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Chinese Food: Calorie Count and Nutritional Value

How many calories in Chinese food? What is nutrition value of Chinese food?

Asian food was introduced to the United States in the mid-1800s by Canton immigrants. It became popular, even exotic, in the 1920s, particularly in California. Mainly patronized by Chinese people, the first Chinese food restaurants located in the cities were luxurious and sophisticated establishments, while those located in smaller towns were casual, serving anything customers wanted, from beans and eggs to pork sandwiches. This fare became what is known today as American Chinese cuisine. The Chinese food that most Americans consume today is not typically found in China. It has been modified to suit a Western-style palate.

The calorie content of American Chinese and traditional Chinese cuisine is not the same. For example, traditional Chinese cuisine emphasizes vegetables, particularly Asian leafy vegetables such as bok choy. American Chinese cuisine emphasizes meat, adding vegetables as a side dish. It also incorporates American vegetables, such as carrots and tomatoes. Native Chinese cuisine places a greater emphasis on fresh seafood than American Chinese cuisine.

Calories in Chinese Food Dishes and Sides

American Chinese cuisine, also referred to as Asian-American cuisine, features dishes created or modified in the U.S. Examples of such dishes include General Tso’s Chicken, Chop Suey, Chow Mein, Egg Foo Young, deep-fried egg rolls and wontons, fortune cookies, Kung Pao chicken and Moo Shu pork. These “classic” items are often higher in calories, fat and sodium than traditional Chinese dishes. Three of the worst choices, General Tso’s Chicken, Kung Pao chicken and Lemon chicken (fried) weigh in at about 1,200 to 1,400 calories per serving and a whopping 50 to 75g total fat. In fact, anything ‘Kung Pao’ is guaranteed to be a calorie bomb. An order of Kung Pao scallops or shrimp provides about 1,200 calories.

Rice and noodles are the starches of choice, a staple at Asian-American restaurants. One order of fried rice is large. Expect to receive a platter containing four to five cups. It is composed of salted white rice that was cooked in oil, often with an egg. Don’t let the sprinkling of vegetables in the rice fool you. Even if you eat ½ of the order, or about 2.5 cups, you are still taking in about 750 calories worth of mainly fiber-free starch.

Healthier Chinese Food Restaurant Choices

You can significantly cut down on the calories and fat by choosing wisely at Asian-American restaurants. The most casual take-out joints may not offer some of these items but if you frequent higher-end Asian-American restaurants, you will have a better selection. Keep in mind that almost all choices are still very high in sodium. Surprisingly, even the ‘healthier’ choices are high in fat. Always ask the person taking your order if you can go ‘light’ on the oil. As far as beverages go, drink the calorie-free tea.

Appetizers and sides

  • Steamed vegetable or pork dumplings: 50 to 80 calories per dumpling
  • Hot-and-sour soup, Chinese vegetable soup or wonton soup: 50 to 100 calories per serving
  • Spring rolls: 100 calories each
  • Beef Satay (about 3 oz.): 135 calories
  • Chicken wrapped in lettuce: 160 calories each
  • Steamed brown or white rice: 200 calories per cup
  • Stir-fried mixed vegetables (aka “Buddha’s Delight”): 500 calories


  • Shrimp with lobster sauce: 400 calories
  • Cantonese scallops or Cantonese shrimp: about 400 calories each
  • Stir-fried meat with vegetables, such as beef and broccoli or chicken and broccoli: about 600 calories each (varies several hundred calories depending upon the serving size)
  • Ma Po (Hunan) tofu: 600 calories
  • Moo goo gai pan (chicken and pork): 600 calories
  • Chicken chow mein (without crispy noodles): 600 calories
  • Chicken or scallops with Chinese vegetables in black bean sauce: 700 calories
  • Szechuan-style shrimp or Lo mein shrimp: about 700 calories each


  • Fortune cookies: 30 calories each

According to Bonnie Liebman, nutrition director for Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), there are general guidelines to steer you in the right direction. Stick with the veggie-rich and stir-fried shrimp or chicken dishes and avoid entrées that feature deep-fried meat or chicken in sauce. Also avoid high-calorie traps such as greasy noodles and fried rice.


  • Food Timeline: FAQs: Asian-American Cuisine
  • J Hurley and B Leibman. A Wok on the Wild Side. Nutrition Action Healthletter
  • Center for Science in the Public Interest: Wok Carefully: CSPI takes a (second) look at Chinese restaurant food. March 21, 2007

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