Choosing Healthy Food at Asian Restaurants

Sushi

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.

Chinese Restaurants

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

Healthy Choices

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 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

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.

Japanese Restaurants

Traditional Japanese food includes seafood, vegetables, and noodle-based dishes. These are often nutritious and healthy choices. But other foods are fried or cooked in heavy oil, which may not always be the best choice.

Healthy Choices

When dining out at Japanese restaurants, look for dishes that are described as steamed, grilled, or roasted, and request brown rice instead of white rice. You could also ask for your food to be cooked in wine or broth instead of oil. Here are some healthy Japanese dishes to try.

  • Appetizers: Miso soup is an excellent choice as a starter. Miso is made from soybeans, making it a good protein source. It is naturally low in fat and highly flavorful. Udon (noodle soup) is also a good choice. Other healthy choices include edamame, cucumber salad, and mixed veggies. You can also order a tossed salad with miso dressing at many Japanese restaurants.
  • Entrees: 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.
  • Shareables: 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. 
  • Sushi: If you like sushi, you're in luck because maki sushi, salmon, and tuna sashimi are all healthy choices. To cut back on carbohydrates, choose sashimi. This is raw fish without the rice. 

If you like the extra flavor on your Japanese food, choose healthier sauces like ponzu, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, wasabi, ginger, and mirin.

Less Healthy 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 weight-loss 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

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

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).

Healthy Choices

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 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 as well.

Korean Restaurants

As with other Asian cuisines, there are some delicious options for healthy Korean food. However, there are still some less-than-healthy options to be aware of.

Healthy Choices

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 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.

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. Still, there are other dishes that you may want to avoid.

Healthy Choices

Healthy 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 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.

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.

Healthy Choices

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 include chicken or vegetable shish kebabs or dal dishes.

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 (which you may want to avoid).

Less Healthy Choices

Even if it is made with a lean protein such as chicken, korma is a dish featuring a cream sauce. If you're trying to reduce your fat and calorie intake, you may want to avoid cream sauces like korma or tikka masala.

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