Chinese takeout is a fact of life—what other kind of food are you supposed to eat when you're burning the midnight oil at the office or recovering from the Worst Hangover of Your Life? Problem is, most dishes come deep-fried, slathered in caloric oils, and doused with sugary sauces. Some entrees even top 1,000 calories—and that's not counting the side of white rice and post-meal fortune cookies. (Want to attempt DIY versions of your favorite takeout dishes? Try these 8 recipes.)
So, how can you stay (kind of) on track when ordering takeout? First, remember that all Chinese dishes are ridiculously high in sodium. If you know you're planning on takeout, try to eat less sodium during the rest of the day to account for the salt onslaught that's to come. Next, consider splitting entrees—portion sizes are huge and chances are you'll feel full even if you only eat half a box of beef and broccoli. Also be careful of rice: A single cup packs 200 calories whether it's white or brown, so eat judiciously.
Finally, next time you pull out the takeout menu, you've got to know what to order and what to avoid. Here are the seven best and worst dishes you can get:
Worst: Lo Mein
It gives us great pain to report that these noodles are bad for you, but man, are they bad for you: Even without sauce, a cup of lo mein noodles packs 200 calories of pure refined carbs that spike blood sugar and offer no fiber or protein. Add lots of oily sauce and you get a calorie count around 1,000 per order.
Better pick: Buddha's Delight
Yes, this order of steamed vegetables and tofu with no sauce is the lamest option on every Chinese menu. But it's still the healthiest by a really long shot. Each order usually clocks in under 300 calories and has around 10 grams of fiber—that's almost half your daily requirement! (Clearly Buddha knew what was up.) The trick is to liven up the dish yourself. Sprinkle on some lower-sodium soy sauce and Sriracha for a kick of much-needed flavor.
Worst: Pan-Fried Pork Dumplings
The problem with dumplings isn't the dumpling part—it's the filling. Choosing pork means each dumpling has around 100 calories a pop.
Better pick: Steamed Veggie Dumplings
Each little pocket of deliciousness only has about 35 calories. Even if you scarf the entire order, you won't dig yourself in too deep a caloric hole.
Worst: Orange Beef
How do you make high-calorie meat even more caloric? By coating it in batter, deep frying it, and adding sweet sauce. That's probably how each serving of orange beef packs around 1,000 calories with more than 60 grams of sugar.
Better pick: Beef and Broccoli
It's amazing what a little broccoli can do: This dish averages a much lighter 670 calories per serving, and the soy-based sauce has way less sweet stuff.
Worst: Egg Rolls
Yeah, yeah, they're filled with vegetables—but no amount of shredded cabbage can overcome that fatty, deep-fried golden shell. Just one egg roll has about 200 calories—never mind the fact that they're usually served with syrupy-sweet dipping sauce. (Try making these baked spring rolls on your own.)
Better pick: Wonton Soup
In general, the soups available from Chinese takeout joints are impressively low in calories. A cup of wonton soup has around 100 calories and larger portions have around 300—plus you get to slurp up all the doughy goodness of wonton wrappers. Even better: That one-cup serving has less than a gram of sugar.
Worst: Sweet and Sour Chicken
Don't let the word "sour" in the name fool you. With more than 50 grams of sugar per serving, this dish is pretty much all sweetness. Thanks to battered-and-fried chicken, it's also got a steep calorie count: We've seen versions ranging from 800 to almost 1,800, depending on size.
Better Pick: Hot and Sour Soup
Soup to the rescue yet again: A cup of this classic packs tons of flavor for just 100 calories a cup (or around 400 if you go for a bowl-sized portion).
Worst: General Tso's Chicken
This dish suffers from the same pitfalls as Orange Beef: It's deep-fried and coated in oily, sugary sauce. Plus, there are no veggies to lighten the caloric load. Expect an average order to have around 1,500 calories and 60 grams of sugar. (Here are 10 surprising foods that list sugar as the first ingredient.)
Better Pick: Shrimp with Lobster Sauce
Lobster sauce sounds decadent, but it's actually one of the best options on the Chinese takeout menu. It's made mostly of chicken stock and thickened with corn or potato starch, so it's got decadent texture without being high in calories. (Also, it has no lobster in it. Why? Who knows!) A typical order of Shrimp with Lobster Sauce will run you about 350 calories with 30 grams of protein, which is a ton of bang for your buck, nutritionally speaking.
Worst: Fried Rice
It's no wonder portions of fried rice are so big: White rice has hardly any filling fiber or protein, so you need to eat a lot to feel satisfied. And thanks to oily sauce, the calorie count jumps all the way up to about 1,500 per order.
Better pick: Moo Goo Gai Pan
This dish (made with stir-fried chicken and vegetables) tends to be a better pick, clocking in at about 600 calories per order.