THE Chinese stall in the food area of one local mall...


September 10, 1993

THE Chinese stall in the food area of one local mall seemed quieter than usual last weekend. It could have been our imagination, but more likely it was the result of a report from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, testing the notion that Chinese food is better for you than typical American fast food.

CSPI, a consumer advocacy group, bought dinner-size take-out portions of 15 popular dishes from 20 mid-priced Chinese restaurants in Washington, Chicago and San Francisco, and sent them to an independent lab for analysis.

Its findings have put to rest more than one pair of chopsticks. It turns out that an order of kung pao chicken has almost as much fat as four Quarter Pounders from McDonald's, an order of moo shu pork has more than twice the cholesterol of an Egg McMuffin and house lo mein has twice the salt of a Pizza Hut pizza.

But not all the news is bad. CSPI's September Nutrition Action Healthletter gives some helpful tips for eating Chinese foods guilt-free, if not totally fat- or sodium-free: "Eat just one cup of entree along with one cup of steamed rice and Chinese food suddenly becomes good for you," the newsletter says. "To get to that proportion, you'll need at least two orders of rice for every entree."

"The more rice you pile on, the more portions you create, and the less fat and sodium each one has," the article said. "That's more like the healthy Chinese diet you think you're getting at your local Hard Wok Cafe."

Other helpful tips:

Roll your egg roll into a napkin to sop up grease. Order moo shu vegetable, no egg, and mix it with rice before you wrap it into the pancake.

Ask that no more than two or three tablespoons of nuts be put into kung pao chicken and take most of the breading off sweet and sour pork. And if General Tso's chicken or the orange beef is batter-fried, peel it.

To make chicken chow mein better, "ax the fried noodles," says CSPI. And shrimp with garlic sauce, with its day's worth of cholesterol, will be better if you try scallops instead.

According to the newsletter, the best entree in the test was Szechuan shrimp. "It was lowest in saturated fat, tied for lowest in fat and close to lowest in calories." Just be sure to skip the peanuts.

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