Why You Should Think Twice Before Eating Chinese At The Food Court Again

If Americans had to pick an ethnic cuisine whose dishes we regularly munch on, Google indicates that the overall pick would be Chinese (even though more states, particularly on the West Coast, have a preference for Mexican food). That, according to Georgie Mihaila, who is affiliated with the food blog Chef's Pencil, has to do with the way both cuisines have become embedded in America's food landscape. "Both cuisines have a rich history connected to the large immigrant Chinese and Mexican populations in the U.S., that brought their beautiful cuisines with them," Mihalila tells VOA. "And as generations settled in, they made both cuisines readily available and affordable." 

Another significant factor in cuisine preference is that Americans tend to be adventurous but are also concerned about how healthy their food is. So while Chinese may be the default choice for many of us who head to food courts for a quick meal or a pick-me-up, nutritionists may feel it's time for many of us to think twice before we pick up an order of Chinese food.

Chinese food can be full of calories and sodium

Nutritionists aren't exactly fans of food court Chinese food simply because of what the meals contain. While many are built around a potentially nutritious pile of veg, and the foods can be full of heart-healthy unsaturated fats, Chinese fast food is full of calorie bombs, whose average servings often blow past 1,000 calories per meal. The Center for Science in the Public Interest, who sent food samples to a lab for testing, says that orange chicken or crispy beef can have as much as 1,500 calories and 3,100 milligrams of sodium. Lemon chicken can clock up 1,400 calories and 700 milligrams of sodium, while Sweet and Sour Pork can pack 1,300 calories and 800 milligrams of sodium (via WebMD).

The vegetable options, which sound like they should be much healthier, don't look too good either. Eggplant in garlic sauce can have 1,000 calories and 2,000 milligrams of sodium. If you're looking at tofu and mixed vegetables, the lab says you'd be ingesting 900 calories and 2,200 milligrams of sodium. The CSPI director of nutrition, Bonnie Liebman, says it's possible to improve the nutritional profile of Chinese food by asking for dishes to be steamed instead of fried and for sauces to be served on the side. Unfortunately, that likely isn't an option at food courts, where meals are prepared ahead of time so they can be served quickly.