Healthy & Low Calorie Vietnamese Food

What to Order in a Vietnamese Restaurant

healthy Vietnamese food
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Looking for healthy Vietnamese food to make at home? Or do you need to find low-calorie Vietnamese food at your favorite restaurant? Vietnamese fare is usually filled with fresh herbs, fruits, and vegetables. So there are plenty of diet-friendly options from which to choose. But diners who are counting calories should be careful to select the best preparation methods to keep their diets on track.

Healthy Vietnamese Food Dos and Don'ts

The next time you visit a Vietnamese restaurant, scan this quick list of menu items to choose and menu items to avoid before you place your order. 

Vietnamese Food Dos: These menu items are likely to be lower in calories.

  • steamed or simmered dishes
  • lean roasted meat or fish
  • salad rolls, spring rolls or summer rolls
  • Canh chua soup
  • Vietnamese bouillabaisse
  • La sa or laa pho soup
  • grilled vegetable skewers

Vietnamese Food Don'ts: These menu items are likely to be higher in calories.

  • caramel sauce
  • spare ribs
  • fried dishes
  • deep-fried spring rolls
  • dishes that contain peanuts (or ask for them to be omitted)
  • xao gung (pork, shrimp or chicken with honey sauce)


Need more help navigating the Vietnamese food menu? Here are a few more tips to make your meal more healthy.

  • Grilled vegetables on skewers are a good alternative to traditional barbecued spare ribs.
  • Caramel sauce is typically listed as nuoc duong thang on Vietnamese menus. This sauce is high in sugar and high in extra calories. Dishes that have been simmered may sound healthy, but the addition of this sugary sauce makes them less so.
  • Look for soups that contain lots of vegetables to increase your fiber intake. They will help you feel fuller and prevent you from overeating on other foods during your meal.
  • When eating family style, you experience a wider variety of foods, but just be careful about portion control. Choose a roast, rice or noodles, a simmered dish and/or a steamed dish to share among the entire table. Leave off the deep-fried choices, though.
  • Check the menu of your favorite Vietnamese restaurant before you visit.  Make a healthy choice about what to order before you go. Then when you arrive at the diner, don't even open the menu.  You're more likely to eat healthy if you make a low-calorie decision in advance.
  • Share with a friend or family member.  The best way to decrease the calories in any restaurant meal is to share the food. Vietnamese food is especially easy to share. So split the plate when it arrives or asks your server to split it ahead of time.
  • If not one wants to share your meal, take half home for another day. Ask your server to put half in a take-home container before the food is brought to you or ask for a container right away so you can split your meal before you begin eating.

Vietnamese Pho

One of the most popular Vietnamese foods is pho. This traditional street food is a soup made from broth, rice noodles, and meat, seafood or tofu. You might see pho made with steak (phở tái), brisket or meatballs (phở bò ), prawns (phở tôm), mushrooms (phở nấm rơm) or chicken (phở gà). The variations are endless so the soup can be healthy or not.

The calorie count of pho can vary based on the ingredients and the portion size, but it can range from around 300 calories per bowl to 450 calories or more. It is usually low in fat if it is made with lean meat (like chicken) but higher in fat if it is made with fattier meat like beef. Pho may also contain high amounts of sodium.  

If you go to a restaurant that allows you to customize your pho, choose ingredients that are full of fiber (plenty of vegetables) and lean meat to keep yourself full and satisfied. You can also ask your server to cut back on the noodles which can be fatty, starchy and salty. And if you are watching your calories, choose a smaller sized bowl of pho to keep your food intake moderate.

Lastly, choose your garnishes carefully. Spicy garnishes like peppers will add heat to your dish and may help you to eat less. But some of the sauces and garnishes can be high in sugar and salt, adding some flavor, but very little nutritional value to your meal.

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