In short, yes, you can eat Chinese food while on the keto diet. But you need to follow some crucial steps to avoid sabotaging your progress and getting knocked out of ketosis.
In this article, you’ll learn:
Sugar and Starches in Chinese Food
There’s no denying that Chinese food, like many Asian cuisines, is incredibly delicious and carb-heavy. Some of the worst offenders include:
- Wonton and dumpling wrappers
You can catch (and avoid) the obvious offenders, but steering clear of carbs hidden in sauces and crispy coatings is tricky. That’s because carbs are all over ordinarily keto-friendly foods like meat and green veggies.
We crave sugar and starch, two things that Chinese food is smothered in (and for obvious reasons—taste and texture). Make sure you double-check the secondary ingredients of these dishes for hidden starches or sugars (or just stay away altogether):
- Roast duck—sauce is usually sugar-heavy.
- Brown sauce—hidden sugar and corn starch that’s used for texture and flavor.
- Soups—corn starch is added at the end to create a thicker consistency.
- Meat—meat served in small pieces is often coated in corn starch prior to cooking (a technique known as “velveting”). Sugar is often used as a glaze.
- Sauces—corn starch is often added to thicken and sugar is added for flavor.
With sugar and starch found in just about everything from beef and broccoli to roast duck, it’s difficult to keep the carbs low even if you’re omitting the rice, battered meat, or delicious scallion pancakes. For this reason alone, most keto’ers avoid Chinese restaurants altogether. But if you’re willing to persevere, read on.
Top Picks for Keto Chinese Food
The amount of sugar and starches in every Chinese dish varies greatly across each type of restaurant and even with the exact cuisine served. For example, a Chinese takeout chain might use a lot more sugar than a mom-and-pop restaurant that serves more traditional fare.
Likewise, different regions of China specialize in different styles of cooking, each using varying amounts of sugar and starch. With this in mind, Szechuan-style Chinese dishes are a favorite on the keto diet as they tend to use the least. Consider ordering these Szechuan specialties:
- Egg drop soup
- Beef and broccoli
- Egg foo yung
- Pork belly
- Steamed meat and greens
- Mu shu pork
- Garlic sauce, soy sauce, and vinegar
Hot pots and buffets are also ideal options for keto, as you can usually choose lower carb sides or specific ingredients to add to your plate. But before you tuck into that egg foo yung with a side of pork belly, there are some basic tips and guidelines you should follow to stay in ketosis.
Hacks for Ordering Keto Chinese Food
You’re not being difficult, you’re being thorough. Keep this mantra in your mind as you get ready to order. Don’t be embarrassed to ask for more information on certain dished or request changes to your meal. You just need the right information to protect your health and stay keto. Here we go…
1. Avoid the Worst Offenders
That means no sweet and sour pork, breaded lemon chicken, or what have you. It’s loaded with sugar and corn starch coating. Next, no prawn crackers, no roast duck, and certainly no orange chicken. If you want those, you’re going to have to make keto versions at home (or have a cheat meal).
2. Ask for Sauces on the Side
Many sauces are super sweet and often thickened using corn starch. So ask for the best keto-friendly sauces on the side so you can control the portion you end up eating. A tablespoon of soy sauce has anywhere from 1 – 4g of carbs, but it’s hard to eyeball a tablespoon of sauce when it’s drizzled all over your meal. Lettuce cups could also be a suitable option, but try to construct your own rather than ordering it from the menu. Opt for something like steamed fish and veggies so you can avoid a dish with velveted meat and high-sugar sauce.
3. Ask for the Nutritional Information
Ok, so you know what you’re not eating. The next step is to ask for the nutrition information of whatever it is you decided on. The nutrition panel is your best friend. The net carbs are right there so there’s no guesswork.
That’s one huge advantage of ordering from chain restaurants: The exact nutritional information is usually on hand so you can make an informed decision with your meal. But, even with this information, a slight difference in serving sizes can make a big difference to the actual carb count on your plate. So take any nutritional information with a grain of salt if you decide to go that route..
4. Don’t Rely on Gluten-Free Options
Gluten-free options aren’t always keto, and this certainly isn’t the case with keto Chinese food. You know what’s gluten-free? Sugar and corn starch. You get the point.
5. BYO Fat
This tip’s a little sneaky, so use it at your own discretion. Ordering keto-friendly Chinese food often means sticking with steamed meat and greens. While this is low carb, it’s also low in fat and might leave you feeling unsatisfied. So bring your own keto sauce. Or bring a fat bomb to eat for dessert.
This is a much healthier option than ordering dishes with extra oil since restaurants usually use inflammatory vegetable oils rather than high-quality olive or nut oils. Avoid requesting extra oil from the restaurant, it’s just not worth it. To find out more, check out our guide to the best (and worst) cooking oils for keto.
6. Be a 5-Star Customer
As a paying customer, you have every right to ask for modifications to your meal. But that doesn’t mean you have to be demanding. Simply explain to your server that you have to avoid certain ingredients due to dietary restrictions (don’t lie about having an allergy—food allergies are serious business and not to be faked), and then show your appreciation for them by leaving a nice tip.
Homemade Keto Chinese Food
Can’t find any authentic Chinese cuisine? Don’t trust the server? Embarrassed to be that customer? Cooking at home is a great way to ensure your Chinese food is keto.
Here are the most common ingredients and our top substitutions:
- Noodles—shirataki noodles, zucchini noodles, or cabbage cut into ribbons
- Rice—cauliflower rice, broccoli rice, or shirataki rice
- Wonton wrappers—cabbage leaves or shredded mozzarella cheese
- Sauces—make your own without sugar or using keto-friendly sweeteners
- Battered meat—crushed pork rinds, flax meal, almond meal, or grated Parmesan cheese
Looking for inspiration, check out our General Tso’s Chicken recipe with a side of Cauliflower Fried Rice.
Keto Alternatives to Chinese Food
Still can’t make Chinese food work on a keto diet? Sometimes you have to give some things up in the pursuit of health. And we applaud you for that. Here are some other Asian cuisines that might be easier to stomach:
- Japanese cuisine is a great choice for keto. Order sashimi with avocado and miso soup on the side. Steer clear of the seaweed salad and tamagoyaki as these often contain added sugar.
- Korean barbecue is another great option for keto. You can pick and choose your own meats and vegetables to cook up. Steer clear of the sauces and you’ll have no problem avoiding starch and sugar. You might even be able to indulge in kimchi so long as it doesn’t have a lot of added sugar!
- Vietnamese food can be modified to be keto-friendly. Order pho without the rice noodles and add extra bean sprouts, or choose a beef dish without sauce.
As with all Asian cuisine on keto, be extra wary of added sugar, sauces, battered items, and carb-heavy bases, such as noodles and rice. You might not be able to enjoy the same sweet, crispy honey chicken that you did in your pre-keto days, but it’s still totally possible to enjoy Chinese food or any Asian cuisine while staying in ketosis.
Stop missing out and try something new!
For more information please see the list of Best low carb chinese food