Food Showdown: Which Chinese Dish is Less Fortunate for Your Waistline?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
P.F. Chang's is a Chinese bistro that offers an eclectic variety of options.  There are some good points to Chinese cuisine in general--it's usually stir-fried, it contains some healthy veggies, and portions tend to be smaller (as long as you're not frequenting a buffet).  Here are two popular Chinese dishes that P.F. Chang's has created that definitely have appeal. 
The Ginger Chicken & Broccoli is served ''Cantonese-style'' on a bed of freshly steamed broccoli and marinated in a sweet and spicy ginger sauce.  From the vegetarian menu, Vegetarian Ma Po Tofu is a Szechuan dish of crispy silken tofu, also with broccoli.  Many times vegetarian meals are lower in calories and fat than meat dishes, but in this case is "crispy" (fried) tofu still lower in calories and fat than chicken?

The Winner: Ginger Chicken & Broccoli!
This time, chicken wins! Remember that no matter how a food starts out, it can be changed greatly when it's prepared and cooked. A full dish (3 servings) of the Ginger Chicken & Broccoli contains 470 calories and 11 grams of fat, but is lower in saturated fat (2 grams).  Since this chicken isn't breaded or deep fried, the calorie count remains moderate. Don't let P.F. Chang's Vegetarian Ma Po Tofu fool you into thinking it's healthy just because it's vegetable-based. This tofu is deep-fried, which means it's high in calories (the full dish contains 1030), fat (70 grams!) and saturated fat (13 grams).

When dining at a Chinese restaurant, choose the vegetable-based dishes and make sure you ask for them steamed. Request brown rice instead of white (which is rarely available, but is a staple at P.F. Chang's) and keep those portions in control while avoiding breaded and fried foods, whether they're meat or tofu-based. Also, why not share a dish with a friend? It will cut those calories and fat grams right in half. If you're watching your sodium intake, steer clear of heavy sauces (which can be difficult with Chinese cuisine!). Sauces can also contain a lot of sneaky hidden sugar. If possible, order the sauce on the side, or simply ask for a plate of fresh steamed veggies and a protein of your choice.

What do you usually order at a Chinese restaurant?


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KOALA_BEAR 10/9/2019
I love Chinese, Thai, Japanese, Filipino & Vietnamese foods. I eat the soups - wor won ton, hot & sour, egg drop. Sometimes we get pho. My downfall is the Panang curry w/ chicken. That red coconut sauce gets me every time but the lunch portion isn't too big & they offer a chewy brown almost burgundy rice. We are coming up on holidays & neighbors are already taking orders for lumpia (& tamales; that's a different prob.) Report
CHERYLHURT 10/5/2019
Great Report
We've always loved Chinese food but more and more we have to watch out and ask questions when we're keeping Kosher. We went to PF Chang this last fall and I asked about the no gluten, no soy, no oyster/crab/lobster/shellfish of any kind, no pork, and I kid you not, they went back and pulled out a modified menu and there was literally like 1 or 2 dishes I could have. Even their supposed Beef with Broccoli, which you would think would be clean enough for Kosher - nope, they put OYSTER sauce in it.

My favorite Vietnamese restaurant - the owner there is very sensitive and she'll tell us which things have oyster or shellfish or pork broth etc and where she can, she'll substitute (but some things are pre-made I guess...). So ya just gotta ask! Report
GABY1948 12/28/2018
great article! Report
MIYAMO 11/9/2018
Interesting article. I love Chinese food. Report
thanks Report
I usually order scallops in garlic sauce. It comes with steamed broccoli and rice. I don't eat the rice. The dish is is high in sodium but I only get once every 2-3 months. Report
I usually order scallops in garlic sauce. It comes with steamed broccoli and rice. I don't eat the rice. The dish is is high in sodium but I only get once every 2-3 months. Report
At our little local Chinese restaurant, I order Shrimp & Mixed Vegetables. Probably high in sodium and fat, but the veggies are abundant and oh, so good! Report
great website Report
I'd rather eat what I really want when I go for fast food, maybe bring half home for another meal, and just go to the restaurant less often. Because its one thing to eat steamed veg at home, but if I can see and smell all of the delicious things around me and realize that I just paid as much money as my happy, satisfied friends did (or potentially more) for someone to serve me plain steamed vegetables and unseasoned meat, I'd be less inclined to continue dieting at all. Report
I get shrimp egg foo young or lo mein Report
pei wei and PF Chang's ugh! I can make it better! The Of the sauces I've tried at PF Changs: they are just weird, like heavy and overdone like no one tasted it first. Ugh! and how expensive for something yucky that doesn't even benefit your body! So I even have trouble at Panda Express and several asian buffets. That is why I say, just make it yourself. I am sure you can do better. Report
I recently ate at PF changs for the first (and last time). I had checked out the menu before going and decided it was aweful food. The waitress even admitted they had nothing healthy on the menu. Report
I know the sodium levels must be over-the-top, but I try to go to Asian restaurants when I'm not starving and order two appetizers. One great combination is an order of pot stickers/dumplings/gyoza (STEAMED not fried! - they usually contain lean pork & veggies or all veggies) and an order of hot & sour soup. I find that the dumplings taste great dipped in sambal chili sauce or in the hot mustard usually served with egg rolls, yet both sauces are guilt-free and the spices boost metabolism. Even the ponzu or sweet-soy-chili sauce served with the dumplings is lower in calories, fat, and sugar than the gloop-y neon coral sauce that accompanies fried egg or spring rolls. At Thai restaurants, I always go for the namsod or larb, usually offered as appetizers. They are both lean ground meat dishes mixed with veggies & spices, served with cabbage or lettuce leaves instead of rice (to roll the meat mixtures up in). Report
My wife and I don't go out to eat, we eat sometimes when we go out, maybe twice a month. About as often I make some Chinese dishes at home. The "Eggplant and Tofu in Spicy Garlic Sauce" takes a tablespoon of vegetable oil for stir frying, plus a little sesame oil for flavor, plus a lot of other ingredients with little or not fat, to serve the two of us. According to the recipe calculation, each serving comes to 702 calories, plus about 250 for the rice, including 356 calories, plus about 4 in the rice, from 40 grams of fat. That's 952 calories, 400 from fat, for each of us. I will not steam tofu or eggplant; it doesn't work that way. With the soy sauce and ShaoXing cooking wine it has nearly 2200 mg of sodium. "Tofu with Ginger and Scallions" (a recipe I made up by combining different recipes I found on the web, though afterward I found it at one Chinese restaurant) comes to similar numbers. We keep active, don't overeat too often, and we're not overweight. Report
I married into a Chinese family 23 years ago, and when we go out for Chinese food, we just do not order the typical dishes one thinks husband and his family are all slim and in very good health. My 83 year old father-in-law walks every day, gardens and takes no meds for anything. He and my mother-in-law very seldom eat "western food."The Chinese food we eat in America at most restaurants are nothing like what we eat at home, or when we go out. As someone else posted, they change the dishes to cater to the western love of sugar, salt and fat. Chinese food can be very healthy for you. There was a book I read some years back about searching for the best Chinese food in the world, and they found it was in Richmond, BC, Canada ( where my in-laws live). They also found that some of the dishes, ( like General Tsao) are pretty much unknown in China. Report
I love Chinese food and usually go for the vegetarian or sauceless varieties as you've suggested. The problem for me is now the sodium content. I had a cup of hot and sour soup yesterday and was shocked to discover that it contained 2200 mg of sodium. I've learned to check before I order in the future. Report
Most restaurants that serve tofu dishes will prepare them with steamed rather than deep fried tofu, if you ask them to. I do this all the time. It doesn't taste "yummy" in that fat-and-salt way that we've become used to, but it does take on the flavor of the sauce & tastes good with the vegetables. Making that small change and eating a smaller portion would very likely make the tofu dinner more comparable to the chicken one. Report
The trouble with chicken dishes is that a chicken has to be killed. I'd go with the cruelty-free meal all the time!! Report
I have read through all the comments a few times now... If you truly love a specific food there is NO reason to deny yourself that food. No you can not eat it often if it is fattening... No you shouldn't eat 5 portions of it...but do sit down and enjoy it. Live life. Its all about making choices... Trying to eat healthy all the time is almost impossible. Understand that you are choosing to eat something high calorie and yummy..and have to make up for that in some way.

Loosing weight and living healthy are not hard... Loosing weight is actually darn simple... You burn X number of calories a day...if you consume more you gain weight. That "x" does change between people but once you know yourself you can adjust to have that special treat every other week etc!

Live life! Make good choices ..not deny yourself 24/7 if you truly love something. Report
I usually get chicken or combo with garlic sauce. I go mainly to one little tiny restaurant and can get this meal with no sugar added, which I hope helps with lowering calories, but is mainly because I have diabetes. My problem with there is that I really like their sweet and sour sauce, though, and their egg rolls. They definitely don't have small servings at the Chinese restaurants around here. The meals I get usually last for 3 meals. Their portions are really large.

I have only been to P.F. Changs once, but I like the little cafe better. Report
Interesting article. I really like Thai food, especially the Seafood Mongolian Hot Pot at my favorite local Thai restaurant. Report
I don't actually like Chinese food that much and I prefer to make stir fries at home - I don't deep fry the tofu! But when I do go out, I tend to order the "Buddhist Platter" or something of that nature, which is basically steamed vegetables. I ask to have the bock choy removed, and add tofu if I can also just have it steamed. Then, when I get it to my table, I mix a bit of soy sauce and the hot red pepper paste together and toss it in with my dish. A bit high in sodium, but ends up being quite the healthy - and tasty - dish. Report
I love shrimp and broccoli but it has become a very rare treat because of the sodium content. Report
I usually ordered chicken and Brocolli with garlic sauce and brown Rice maybe 2 times per week.
I usually order won ton soup, without the noddles, and an egg roll....Chinese food is fattening, with all of the deep fried stuff, and the sauces. I don't eat it very often. Report
There is one not far from my work so I eat there a few times a year. That is the only dish I order, I love it! And I get 2 meals out of it. Report
Interesting. I get steamed food when I get Chinese food, and all of the restaurants in my area offer brown rice. Report
My down fall is cashew chicken, and egg rolls. I love those two things the most, I know they are not good for me, one is fried and the other has a rich sweet flavourful sauce. but I just don't eat there at all any more. But Tendy's Garden has the best chinese food I have ever tasted. Report
We have an awesome Oriental Restaurant where I live. It has a Mongolian Style Grill in the back, with a spread of fresh veggies and lean meats, as well as choices of sauces. I always load up on Broccoli, Carrots, and Mushrooms, with beef and a garlic Teriyaki sauce. I don't let them add any extra soy sauce to it, and it always turns out wonderfully. The sauces on the line aren't as thick and calorie ridden as the buffet spread is, so I usually just stick to the Grill in the back. I can't resist my Sauteed String Beans. Report
Chinese food is my downfall, but I don't eat it often. I go for the buffet which I know is a no-no. From now on I will try to stay wiht the veggie based items...Chicken Chow Mein may be more appropriate for me. I like the idea of sharing a meal but my husband doesn't l ike what I like. Report
I like the 4 seasons.don't eat eat out a lot!! Report
Ditto to DRSZ02 comment. I do heart sushi. or at least I am adjusting my taste bud to new portion control and new flavors. Report
I use to eat Chinese food alot, until I was introduced to Sushi. I am now very addicted to sushi. Unfortunately, I have been diagnosed with diabetese and can't have the rice. The restaurants that I frequent will make my favorite rolls without the rice using soy paper or cucumber to wrap the rolls with. I do wish SP will put more sushi rolls or individual ingredients on the nutrition list. There is one item that I can not find. If anyone knows the nutrition value of Japanese Snowcrab salad I would greatly appreciate it. It is made with imitation crab, japonaise and I believe smelt roe. Report
I think it's crazy the way restaurants can make healthy claims and then load them down with unhealthy cooking processes and high calorie sauces. At least I know on the rare occasions I get cream cheese wontons, I'm sabotaging myself and it's not the restaurant's deception. Report
My two weaknesses there are Moo Goo Gai Pan and Peking Duck. Stopped the duck years ago because of the frying of the pressed duck,,but that darned Moo Goo has me in its' clutches!! Simply sauteed chicken, pea pods, mushrooms, bamboo shoots, water chestnuts in white sauce.. I buy the dinner portion and split it into a few meals,, the place three blocks from my home does not have it, but has Snow Chicken with pods,, , has everything but the mushrooms.. i usually scrape the pieces of food on the side of the plate to skim the sauce off as much as possible.. never get fried rice or lo mein,, as above poster said, I am also hooked on ragoon!!
My main armament for portion control here is to drink a full glass of water while waiting for the food, then another drink of water BETWEEN EACH BITE! I fill up very quickly ... Report
American Chinese restaurants shamelessly pander to our love of sugar, fat, and salt. Learn how to cook authentic Chinese food at home, and you'll realize how healthy it can be!
I haven't eaten there in years, but I do know their food is REALLY BAD for you as a whole! I guess that's why it tasted so good... Report
Where I live we don't have a P F Chang, but we do have plenty of Chinese restaurants around. My favourite is usually the Black Bean Chicken with Broccoli with rice. I try to keep my portions reasonably small. Brown rice unfortunately isn't an option here. My biggest problem is fried wontons. I got addicted to them when I was pregnant (it was the one thing I craved throughout) and ever since then I just have to get them whenever I buy Chinese. I try to share to keep myself in check. Report
I am allergic to soy products so Chinese Dinners are not on my list of foods :-( I will admit it did look really good tho Report
i don't even know if I have these chains- never heard of them - I have to watch because my wife is sensitive to MSG - they tend to use a LOT of it at most of the chinese restaurants where we live. There is only one we usually order from that won't add it if you request it. Report
My knitting group dines at a local chinese restaurant once a month and the food is served family style. I frequently order sauted beef with mixed veggies, or last week I ordered peapods with mixed veggies. I avoid the tofu dishes and feel okay sampling many of the other 12 dishes, controling my intake of calories and sodium. If there is any leftovers of my dish - its enough for lunch. It is a great way of getting a combination of dishes with out taking weeks worth of leftovers home.

By the way, Panda Express does serve a decent Broccoli and Beef entree that is relatively healthy. Ordering fried food such Orange chicken and General Tso anything can be hazardous to one's diet in excessive quantites. Report
we went out to a chinese restaurant last night and tried to order vegetarian but there were few options. I hate to be difficult but the waitress had to go to the kitchen a few times to ask questions so that we could get something to eat! Wish eating healthy wasn't so difficult! Report
I love chinese food (and PF Chang was a favorite), but once I started watching calories, I stopped eating it. Now, I never go to a chinese restaurant. Ever. Report
We have a great Chinese buffet here in our city and we eat there often. I have the Steamed SALMON, and love it, and stuffed mushrooms. When I know we are going to be eating there, I don't have anything that morning, and I certainly don't eat any more the rest of the day, so the calories from eating there isn't an issue for me. At our other Chinese Take-out I always get the House Special Mein Fun. There is enough of it for two meals. Report
Occasionally eat at PF Chang's bistro, Pei Wei. Mostly go to the local Chinese restaurant and ask for steamed shrimp and vegetables. Still have a weakness for shrimp toast, but don't eat it as often. Report
I looked up Panda Express's nutrition (they are THE unhealthiest of Chinese food chains) and I was so shocked that the Eggplant and Tofu dish had almost as much calories as the breaded fried dishes like the Orange Chicken and actually had 24 grams of fat per serving. The Orange Chicken is 21 grams of fat per serving. I just assumed that the eggplant and tofu was healthier but they must really use a lot of oil and fry the heck out of it. Such a shame! I want to read more nutritional information and educate myself. I read on another blog that someone had bought a salad from a fast food place and looked up the nutritional information when they got home to find that the salad had more fat and calories than a burger. I think it just makes sense when it comes to a "healthy choice" don't leave it up to the food chain to tell you what that is. You are much better off buying an eggplant and your own tofu and baking it in the oven (or stir frying it) with a drizzle of olive oil than buying that Panda Express dish. I finally understand making your own Chinese food or making your salad at home is going to taste better and be much much healthier for you than buying it. If you have to eat out check out the nutritional information ahead so you can make the healthiest choice to order beforehand. They have some better choice you could make like broccoli beef or even better --the string bean chicken breast. Report
The amount of sodium on most restaurant dishes is what gets me. I would much rather stay home and cook my own "Chinese" food, controlling exactly what goes in. Report
I usually eat sweet & sour pork or chicken chow mein. If I'm going out for Chinese food, I don't pick based on nutrition numbers - I pick based on textures and flavors. To control the numbers, I control portion size. Report