Choosing Healthy Food at Asian Restaurants


Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

There are plenty of options for healthy Asian food when meals are served authentically. Traditional Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Korean, Vietnamese, and Indian cuisines can be quite nutritious, and compatible with a weight-loss diet. But not all Asian restaurant food is good for you. Make sure you make smart, healthy choices when you visit your favorite spot.

Healthy Food at Chinese Restaurants

Do you know what to eat to keep your diet on track in a Chinese restaurant? There are plenty of good choices. But there are some less healthy options as well.

Broth-based soup is a great low-calorie appetizer and will help you keep your appetite in control. Egg drop, wonton or hot and sour soups are ideal alternatives to fried egg rolls or spare ribs.

When choosing your main meal, look for entrees that are steamed, roasted or broiled. Stir-fried and steamed dishes are ideal as well. Stir-fried dishes are cooked in only a small amount of oil and are usually full of healthy vegetables. Steamed dishes are prepared with water so they are naturally lower in fat and calories.

Less Healthy Chinese Food Choices

The least healthy Chinese dishes are usually made with large portions of noodles, white rice, or fried rice. Noodles and rice are sources of refined carbohydrates. They can be enjoyed in moderation, but they are easy to overeat. So watch your portions or share them with someone else. You can also ask for healthier brown rice instead of white rice, fried rice or noodles

And lastly, avoid dishes prepared with heavy sauces, batter, or flour. You should also skip entrees that are deep-fried. Skip the dishes that are described with words like "crispy" or "battered" as these will be higher in fat and calories.

Healthy Food at Japanese Restaurants

Traditional Japanese food includes seafood, vegetables, and noodle-based dishes. These are often nutritious and healthy choices. And to make your meal more healthy, it is acceptable in a Japanese restaurant to ask for your food to be cooked in wine or broth instead of oil.

Miso soup is an excellent choice as an appetizer. Miso is made from soybeans, making it a good protein source. It is naturally low in fat and highly flavorful. Su-udon (noodle soup) is also a good choice.

Other healthy Asian food choices include edamame, cucumber salad, and mixed veggies. You can also order a tossed salad with miso dressing at many Japanese restaurants.

When you order an entree, look for dishes that include as many vegetables as possible. Menus at Japanese restaurants usually include many choices with veggies. Seafood sunomono and mizutaki (chicken) both come with plenty of veggies.

Again, look for an entree that is described as steamed, grilled or roasted. It is also possible to request brown rice at Japanese restaurants. If you like sushi, you're in luck because maki sushi, salmon, and tuna sashimi are all excellent choices. To cut back on carbohydrates, choose sashimi. This is raw fish without the rice. 

An interesting and smart choice at a Japanese restaurant is to share shabu-shabu. This is a dish that multiple diners share by dipping meats and vegetables into a simmering broth. It's similar to eating fondue, but a lot less fattening since the broth takes the place of cheese. 

If you like the extra flavor on your Japanese food use diet-friendly sauces such as ponzu, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, wasabi, ginger, and mirin.

Less Healthy Japanese Food Choices

One vegetable dish to avoid is fried veggie dumplings. These are sometimes called potstickers. You should also skip tempura if you want to keep your diet on track. Tempura is a battered, deep-fried dish consisting of vegetables or seafood and a variety of dipping sauces. But the veggies are no longer a healthy choice when they are deep-fried.

Try Eating With Chopsticks

Each time you take a bite, you eat less because you can't grasp as much food with chopsticks as you typically do with a fork or a spoon. You will automatically eat more slowly, which will help you eat less and enjoy your food more. You will also be more likely to realize when you are full when you eat at a slower pace.

Healthy Food at Thai Restaurants

Thai restaurants are known for their rice and noodle dishes. If you are looking to cut back on calories or carbs, you may want to ask for your stir fry or curry without the rice or noodles (or with a smaller portion of these starches).

Thai curries and other dishes, like pad Thai, are often prepared with oil and/or coconut milk, which do add calories. But they're usually packed with lots of nutrient-dense vegetables and lean proteins, such as shrimp, tofu, and chicken, so they still may be a good option if you keep your portion on the smaller side.

For the healthiest Thai food, look for spring rolls filled with shrimp or tofu and veggies; unlike egg rolls, spring rolls are not deep-fried. Many Thai restaurants also offer salads, chicken satay, and clear, broth-based soups, all of which may be good options if you are on a weight-loss eating plan.

Less Healthy Thai Food Choices

Steer clear of fried options, like egg rolls and wontons. One cup of pad Thai with chicken contains about 300 calories and 15 grams of fat, but restaurant serving sizes are likely to be much larger. So be mindful of this when you are ordering. Peanut-based dipping sauces (say, for chicken satay or spring rolls) can add fat and calories, so be cautious with these too.

Healthy Food at Korean Restaurants

As with other Asian cuisines, there are some delicious options for healthy Korean food. Spicy kimchi is a fermented cabbage dish that offers lots of probiotics (good for your digestive health) and is low in fat and calories. You may also find veggie spring rolls (not fried) at a Korean restaurant.

Many Korean restaurants offer barbecue-grilled meat and fish dishes, such as beef bulgogi, which can be a good source of lean protein. These are often accompanied by small dishes of pickled vegetables and other lower-calorie sides. Skip the rice or noodles, or choose a small portion.

Less Healthy Korean Food Choices

Dishes such as bibimbap and chap chae contain some vegetables and lean proteins, but these are mixed with rice or noodles and prepared with oil. That makes it difficult to fill up on the veggies and choose fewer refined-grain carbohydrates and fats.

If possible, start your Korean meal with a clear soup and/or a salad with little or no dressing. These will help fill you up before larger-portion (often family-size) dishes are served.

Healthy Food at Vietnamese Restaurants

Vietnamese food often features fresh vegetables and herbs, making it a good option for people seeking to lose weight. The menu may feature steamed or roasted dishes, which are preparations that don't add a lot of fat and calories. Vietnamese spring and summer rolls are also fresh, nutritious appetizers that tend to be low-fat and lower in calories.

Pho is a popular Vietnamese dish. It's a broth with rice noodles and a protein such as steak, chicken, or tofu, along with some veggies and seasoning. If you can customize your pho, better yet: Choose a lean protein, load up on vegetables, and ask for fewer noodles.

Less Healthy Vietnamese Food Choices

Like many other Asian restaurants, Vietnamese menus may offer deep-fried items. Avoid these to make your meal lower in fat and calories. Some dishes use a caramel sauce called nuoc mau, which is high in sugar and calories. You may want to avoid Vietnamese foods prepared this way.

Healthy Food at Indian Restaurants

Traditional Indian food is rich in vegetables and often features lentils and yogurt for protein. In Indian restaurants in the United States, you'll have plenty of chicken, lamb, and beef dishes to choose from too. For example, tandoori chicken is roasted in a clay oven with a yogurt sauce (for plenty of protein with little added fat).

Other dishes that are likely to be lower in fat and calories are chicken tikka masala and chicken or vegetable shish kebabs. If you want bread to accompany your meal, roti (also called chapati) is made with whole wheat, so it provides a little more fiber than another popular Indian bread, naan.

Less Healthy Indian Food Choices

Even if it is made with a lean protein such as chicken, korma is a dish featuring a cream sauce; avoid it to reduce your fat and calorie intake. Also beware of deep-fried offerings you're likely to find on an Indian menu, such as samosas (fried dough stuffed with potato) and pakora (breaded vegetables).

A Word From Verywell

You have lots of options when it comes to healthy Asian food, whether you choose a Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Korean, Vietnamese, or Indian restaurant. As a general rule, avoid fried dishes, load up on vegetables, and limit white rice and rice noodles to cut calories. Check the menu online, if possible, to make healthy choices before you go (especially if you are following a weight-loss diet).

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  1. Pad Thai with chicken. FoodData Central. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Published April 1, 2019.