Is eating Chinese food healthy?

Is eating Chinese food healthy? Many Americans would answer with a horrified “NO!!!” but then when I think about the Chinese food they have been exposed to (sorry – makes it sound a bit like nuclear waste, doesn’t it?) it’s not that surprising. Very often, when I eat at a Chinese restaurant in America, I feel like I’ve just undone weeks/months/years of healthy living.

If your idea of Chinese comes from the local takeout and involves lots of breaded, deep-fried pieces of meat in gloppy sauce, it’s time to change your mind, which I hope this blog will gradually do.

True Chinese cuisine (meaning that which is regularly cooked from scratch and served at home by Chinese people) is not only delicious – it actually adheres quite closely to what we are constantly being told is the healthy way to eat (see the food pyramid). Even if you are skeptical of anything issued by the US government, consider this:

  • The staple of much of China is rice (in the northern parts, it tends to be wheat-based noodles and steamed breads), in other words, carbohydrates. I’ve been heartened by the number of Chinese restaurants that now offer brown rice as an alternative to white, another step in the right direction.
  • For many centuries (although it’s less so now), meat was a luxury most Chinese people could not afford, so most of the dishes served with the rice are primarily vegetarian. When meat is used, it is more of a condiment than the main ingredient. Believe it or not, many of the dishes we consider standards (orange beef, lemon chicken, etc.) are inventions for the American palate, which so often demands fat and sugar. So here are the next two layers of the pyramid: plentiful vegetables, small portions of animal protein.
  • Because fuel was scarce for so long, Chinese cooks refined ways of cooking food quickly – Chinese cuisine does have some braises, but roasting is almost unheard-of in home cooking; instead, stirfrying and steaming rule. These methods, due to their speed, retain more of the ingredients’ nutritional value (not to mention shape and texture). And here is the top of the pyramid – stirfrying requires minimal quantities of oil, and steaming uses none.
  • Chinese home cooking is very short on desserts – again, many were created because Americans demanded a sweet at the end of the meal. In place of dessert, fruit is usually served, a much healthier sweet.

Because our family is 1/2 from China, we are often asked to tell people which Chinese restaurant in town is the best. The answer is usually “our house!” I hope this blog will help you to not only be unafraid when tackling what seems to be an alien style of cooking but to discover a great new addition to your healthy lifestyle.

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