Chinese Food – The Ultimate Low Carb Guide

low carb chinese food

Dining out at Chinese restaurants while following a low carb diet can be tricky.  Whether you prefer spicy Szechuan, the tantalizing tastes of Bejing, or the milder, more delicate flavors of Cantonese – there’s no need to shun your favorite Chinese restaurant altogether in order to stick to your low carb diet.

The carb content of the typical Chinese food menu doesn’t have to be an unfathomable mystery.  As long as you arm yourself with knowledge, you can still dine out at your favorite Chinese restaurant.  Or maybe you prefer to grab a take-out order to enjoy at home with your family on movie night.  

By the end of this article, you will be able to navigate the menu like a pro when ordering Chinese food and be able to select the right menu items to best support your low carb lifestyle. So pick up your chopsticks and get ready for a low carb Chinese food feast!

What Can I Order at a Chinese Restaurant While Following a Low Carb Diet? Whether you are following Keto, Atkins or Paleo, meat and vegetable dishes are generally a safe option for any low carb diet, as long as you stay away from starchy side dishes like rice and noodles. 

chinese low carb soup

Choose wisely and watch out for covert carb bombs.  One might think chicken and rice is a healthy meal, but a single serving of breaded General Tso’s chicken, tossed in its sweet sauce with a side of fried rice, can pack up to a whopping 75 grams of carbohydrates! 

Instead, choose dishes like stir-fried beef and broccoli or mixed Chinese vegetables.

Steamed fish and seafood, such as shrimp is also a great low carb choice. 

Chicken and pork dishes are a good option, as long as they aren’t breaded or rolled in corn starch before stir-frying. Like I mentioned before, always have these dishes with veggies, and forgo the rice and noodles.

Egg-based dishes are another great pick as they’re high in protein and generally low in carbs.  For instance, a hearty and satisfying plate of egg foo yung is only 9 grams of carbs. 

Choose dishes with lean cuts of meat, rather than breaded meats.  Battered meats, like chicken balls, contain flour and/or corn starch that you should do without on a low carb diet. 

Pass on anything wrapped in dough, like wontons, dumplings, or egg rolls, as they are also high in carbs.

Ask for soups and stir-fry sauces to be prepared without flour or corn starch as a thickener.    These thick sauces often get their velvety sheen and texture from sugar and starch.  Select thinner, more transparent sauces. 

Some stir fried meats are marinated in soy sauce, sugar, and starch before frying.  This is a Chinese cooking technique called “velveting”.  Ask your waiter or waitress if your dish is prepared this way and if it is, send special cooking instructions to the kitchen.  Ask to have the chef prepare the dish without adding sugar and starch.

Many stir fry dishes come seasoned with plum, orange, hoisin, sweet and sour or oyster sauce. Sweet, thick sauces, like these contain a lot of sugar and therefore are not conducive to a low carb meal plan.  A dash of soy sauce is a much better condiment choice, as it contains only 0.3 grams of carbs per teaspoon.

chinese low carb diet

Plan Ahead

Browse the restaurant’s web site to view their online menu ahead of time.  That way when you arrive at the restaurant, you’ll be better prepared when ordering.

Speak Up 

Don’t be afraid to ask the waiter or waitress how a dish is prepared or request to have your entrée specially prepared.  Inquire if it’s possible to have a dish to be made low carb, without any added sugar or starch.  Most chefs don’t mind taking special cooking instructions and making ingredient omissions for diners with dietary restrictions.

Trust Your Gut

If you aren’t sure about a food item, trust your intuition.  Intuitive eating is all about using your eyes and taste buds to help you figure out whether something is high in sugar and carbs.  A sauce that tastes sweet or looks thick will indicate that it is high carb.  White foods that lack color are typically high in carbs.  That means, avoid starchy rice and noodles, as well as breaded foods that are dipped in batter or wrapped in dough.

Which Chinese Dishes Are Low Carb?

Moo Shu Pork (or Chicken) usually comes with a low carb crepe-like pancake comprised of pork, green onions, mushrooms, and egg, rolled into a small, thin pancake.  This makes for a great, low carb alternative to rice.

Chicken and Broccoli (with brown or garlic sauce).

Beef and Broccoli (with brown or garlic sauce).

Egg Foo Yung. A Cantonese omelette dish that is both delicious and low carb.  Ask for this dish without the gravy, as it likely contains a thickening agent, like flour or corn starch.

Soups with thin broth are generally better appetizer choices than thick, creamy soups.

Anything Steamed, (except rice), including steamed fish, shellfish, tofu or vegetables, are a good substitute for deep-fried foods dipped in high carb batter.

Meat and vegetable combinations with thin sauces (think savory, not sweet).  For example:  chicken with mushrooms and peppers or Moo Goo Gai Pan.

Chicken Chop Suey consisting of chicken and eggs, cooked quickly with vegetables such as bean sprouts, cabbage, and celery.  Ask for the sauce to be made without corn starch – it won’t be ask thick, but it will taste the same.

Stir-fry often contains only a small amount of sugar or starch, perhaps a gram or two of carbs per serving. You may ask whether they normally coat the meat with corn starch before stir-frying and if so, ask for it to be omitted.

Black bean sauce does not tend to have as many carbs as some of the others, although there is a very small amount of beans in the sauce.

Soy Sauce is a thin, savory sauce that is very low in carbs and sugar and provides a unique umami flavour.  One teaspoon of soy sauce contains only 0.3 grams of carbs.  (It is rather high in sodium, however; so use in sparingly, especially if you have high blood pressure.)

Mu shu as long as you ask for it to be served without the wrappers.

Kung Pao Chicken is a spicy chicken dish that isn’t normally breaded and doesn’t contain much sugar, however; some American style Chinese food restaurants may add extra sugar to their recipes, so be sure to check with the kitchen before ordering.

Spicy Chicken Wings as long as you are careful with your dipping sauce selection.  Think spicy, not sweet.

chinese keto food

Hong Shao Rou (Braised Red Pork Belly) is a classic pork dish from mainland China, red cooked using pork belly and a combination of ginger, garlic, aromatic spices, chilli peppers,  light and dark soy sauce, and rice wine.  Some chefs add sugar to the marinade, so ask if this is the case when ordering and request to have sugar omitted.

Egg Drop Soup which is made primarily of chicken broth and whole eggs.

Hot and Sour Soup is a type of soup from several Asian culinary traditions, containing ingredients to make its broth both spicy and sour. 

Mapo Tofu is a popular dish from Sichuan province. It consists of tofu set in a spicy sauce, typically a thin, oily, and bright red.

Tea Eggs are an interesting snack made by boiling an egg that is cracked slightly and then boiled again in tea, and sauce or spices.

Peking Duck is a dish from Bejing.  The meat of the roasted duck is characterized by its thin, crisp skin.  The authentic versions of the dish serve mostly the skin and little meat, sliced in front of the diners by the cook.

Bok Choy and Musrooms contains soy sauce, garlic, mushrooms and scallions.  This dish is a perfectly healthy low carb vegetarian option.

High Carb Chinese Dishes to Avoid

  • Rice, (white, steamed, fried or brown)
  • Noodles
  • Chow mein
  • Lo mein,
  • Chow fun
  • Wontons
  • Breaded meats like General Tso’s chicken
  • Eggrolls
  • Dumplings
  • Orange Chicken
  • Sesame Chicken
  • High carb vegetables – Water chestnuts, baby corn and carrots

High Carb Sauces/Condiments to Avoid

  • Sweet and sour sauce
  • Plum sauce (often served with mu shu)
  • Duck sauce (orange sauce for egg rolls)
  • Gravies and sauces thickened with flour or corn starch
  • Hoisen sauce
  • Oyster sauce

Melissa Marshall

A litigation paralegal and writer. Her first novel debuts this fall. She lives with her kitten, Zoey overlooking the waterfront in beautiful Dartmouth, Nova Scotia - also known as the “City of Lakes”.

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