To reduce fat in Chinese dinner, build pyramid on plate

EATING WELL

September 07, 1993|By Colleen Pierre, R.D. | Colleen Pierre, R.D.,Contributing Writer

Are you ready for the Chinese challenge? A recent study by the Center for Science in the Public Interest stunned health-conscious consumers by blowing the lid off the low-fat-Chinese-food myth.

Laboratory analysis showed dinner-sized portions of typical Chinese-restaurant meals contained up to 1,600 calories and 76 grams of fat.

If you've relied on studies from China proclaiming their cuisine among the world's healthiest, you're probably confused and dismayed.

But before you abandon your favorite restaurants and carryouts, take a perspective break.

Food from China consists mainly of rice and vegetables, with little dabs of meat, chicken, fish and nuts for flavor.

Food from Chinese restaurants has been "Americanized," so the portions are backward. Large servings of meat, chicken, fish and nuts are decorated with little dabs of vegetables. Rice is served on the side.

In addition, many appetizers and entrees are fried, some twice. Twice-cooked pork, for instance, is battered and deep fried, then stir-fried.

Stir-frying, long touted as a low-fat cooking method, relies on the cook's restraint when adding oil. Apparently, restraint is in short supply.

So how do you get "food from China" from an Americanized Chinese restaurant? The same way you get healthy food from any other restaurant. Create your own meal.

Chinese restaurants are well-suited to adaptations. They have all the right stuff on hand, prepare meals quickly while you wait and have a healthy respect for meal sharing.

Stick with steamed instead of stir-fried. Or request that the cook limit oil or use chicken broth instead. Choose such items as hot and sour soup, steamed dumplings and sliced meat rather than diced (which is often from a fatter cut).

Build a Food Guide Pyramid on your plate. Get a full order of steamed rice. Put it all on your plate. Get a full order of steamed vegetables for every two people. Pile your half on the rice. Get one entree for every three or four people. Order anything you want, no matter how fat. (One-fourth of the highest fat entree will fit easily within 20 percent of your calories from fat.) Put your small share on top of the vegetables. Those are the right proportions. Eat until you're satisfied but not stuffed. That's the right quantity.

Chinese cooks can adjust the firepower of any dish by adding chili paste, five-spice seasoning, dried chilies or crushed red pepper. Don't be afraid to ask for a little or a lot; Heat disguises the loss of fat.

For a detailed look at the fat and calorie content of ethnic dishes from 15 countries, get a copy of "The International Cuisines Calorie Counter" by Denise Webb.

Colleen Pierre, a registered dietitian, is the nutrition consultant to the Union Memorial Sports Medicine Center in Baltimore.

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