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March 27, 2020 10 min read

Introducing variation into the food you eat is difficult when following specialized diets, as it’s in their nature to be restrictive. Whether you’re dieting to lose fat or build muscle, eating the same meals day after day can take its toll, and becoming bored with your diet is usually followed by giving up altogether not long after. The easiest way to ensure you stay true to your keto diet is including as much variety as possible, including one of the nation’s favorite cuisines; Chinese food. 

Getting takeout or going for meals in restaurants can be extremely daunting when your diet is restrictive, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Of course, many following a keto diet get around this issue by cooking their meals at home, however, most of these people could also benefit from a few new interesting recipes. We’ve put together this comprehensive guide to tell you everything you need to know about eating Chinese food on a keto diet, so you can keep your nutrition interesting! 

What is the Keto Diet?

A ketogenic diet (called keto) is based on a low-carb, high-fat approach, and offers many health benefits. The keto diet is similar to the Atkins diet and other nutritional plans which rely heavily on reducing carbohydrate intake substantially. People following a keto diet dramatically reduce their intake of carbs and replace them with dietary fats. The theory is that this change puts your body into the metabolic state of ketosis, becoming more efficient at burning fat. There are any number of reasons why someone might choose to follow a ketogenic diet, but most simplify to a desire to be healthier. 

There are many foods that are restricted or completely eliminated when following a keto diet, namely anything high in carbs.

Foods to be avoided include:

  • Anything high in sugar: Soda, fruit juice, candy, chocolate, smoothies.
  • Grains and starches: Anything made from wheat, bread, rice, pasta, cereals.
  • Fruit: Only small servings are allowed.
  • Beans and legumes: Peas, chickpeas, lentils.
  • Root vegetables and tubers: Potatoes, carrots.
  • Unhealthy fats: Processed vegetable oils, mayonnaise.
  • Certain sauces and condiments: Watch out for those high in sugar and fat.
  • Alcohol: Many alcoholic beverages have a high carb content.
  • Diet foods: Low-fat and sugar-free foods are often highly processed.

Looking at a large list of foods to avoid like that, it might seem impossible to eat Chinese food. However, there are still plenty of delicious healthy foods you can enjoy while staying on track on your ketogenic diet:

  • Fatty fish: Salmon, tuna, mackerel.
  • Eggs: Look out for eggs labeled as pastured or omega-3 whole.
  • Dairy: Aim to eat unprocessed dairy foods including butter, cream, and cheese.
  • Nuts and seeds: Almonds, walnuts, flax, and chia.
  • Healthy oils: Replace your vegetable oil with extra virgin olive, coconut, or avocado.
  • Avocados: Fresh or as delicious guacamole.
  • Low-carb vegetables: Choices include green veggies like bok choy, tomatoes, onions.
  • Condiments: Salt, pepper, herbs, and spices are all allowed.

As you can see, following a keto diet might leave you with more options than you think. We’ve covered the basic food groups included in a ketogenic diet, so now let’s apply this to the menu of your favorite Chinese restaurant. Read on to find out which Chinese foods you could be enjoying soon without endangering your diet whatsoever. 

A bowl of Chinese noodles.

What to Order From Chinese Restaurants and Takeout on a Keto Diet 

At first glance, a Chinese menu is not very keto-friendly. Most dishes come with noodles, or rice, or are simply covered in flour and deep-fried. However, there are still plenty of options for those on a keto diet. One tip is to avoid chain restaurants in favor of smaller, family-owned Chinese eateries, as here the food is less likely to be processed and contain unhealthy additives. This includes the sugars which make up a lot of sauces in Chinese food. 

If you look more closely at the options at a Chinese restaurant, you should notice that there are actually several different keto meals available for your enjoyment. Here are some of the most popular foods you can order from a Chinese restaurant without destroying your ketogenic diet.

1. Clear Soups: Both meat and vegetable-based soups are popular across all Chinese cuisine, some of which make a perfect appetizer for those on a keto diet. Be careful to watch out for soups containing noodles, or thickened with cornstarch, as these aren’t within the confines of your diet plan. However, clear soups such as hot and sour soup or egg drop soup are perfect low-carb options. 

2. Steamed Dishes: Many foods from Chinese restaurants are steamed, which is a super healthy option to start off with. Whole fish, tofu, and vegetables are all low in sugar and carbs while offering keto-positive proteins and fats. 

3. Stir Fry: Stir fry dishes in Chinese food are often served with rice or noodles, but if you remove the carbs, there’s still all the delicious meat and vegetables. Try ordering a stir fry without the added carbohydrates, you could ask for additional vegetables instead. When selecting a dish, watch out for sauces high in sugar (such as plum sauce), soy sauce is a great low-carb option. 

4. Chicken/Beef and Broccoli: This Chinese takeout staple is the perfect example of keto-friendly food. This dish is usually made using ginger, garlic, and soy sauce as a flavoring, creating a deliciously healthy dish. Of course, you’ll need to hold the noodles when ordering this dish on a keto diet, but the protein and vegetables offer excellent nutrition. 

5. Chop Suey: Chop Suey is another classic Chinese dish that, when the carbs are removed, is ideal for a keto diet. It’s similar to a stir fry, and can feature all sorts of different vegetables and meat, so why not try chop suey on your next meal out. 

If your local Chinese restaurant has a more modern approach, you might be able to substitute the carbohydrates in a meal for more keto-friendly options. For example, cauliflower rice or vegetable noodles would be perfect with a stir fry, allowing you to enjoy the whole meal but with a low-carb option. 

6. Egg Foo Young: Egg foo young is an omelet dish based on egg rather than the usual carbs. It comes with vegetables and a gravy-like sauce, so all you need to do to make this meal keto-friendly is ask to replace the gravy with a soy sauce instead. 

Foods to Avoid Ordering When Eating Chinese on a Keto Diet

Unfortunately, some of our favorite Chinese foods are just incredibly unsuitable for a ketogenic diet. Any of these dishes will completely derail your nutrition plan, and take your body out of a state of ketosis. When ordering from a Chinese restaurant on a keto diet, make sure to stay far away from these foods:

  • Egg roll/spring rolls: These popular appetizers are battered and deep-fried, and completely loaded with the carbs you want to avoid.
  • Dumplings and wontons: Whether they’re fried or steamed, dumplings of any kind are made from flour and therefore are not carb-free. If your menu has the option, try to order cabbage rolls instead; they’re just as delicious and are still within your diet. 
  • Sweet and sour dishes: Whether it’s pork, chicken, beef, or vegetables, sweet and sour dishes are almost always battered, deep-fried, and drenched in a sugary sauce. It's certainly one to avoid for the sake of ketosis. 
  • Rice and noodles: No matter the variety, rice, and noodles are always off the menu when you’re sticking to a low-carb diet. If you’re lucky, your local Chinese might offer a carbohydrate-free option such as cauliflower rice or veggie noodles. 
  • Chow mein and lo mein: Sadly noodles are a part of the recipe in these two Chinese dishes, so you won’t be able to order without. There are plenty of other options, so try one of our previously mentioned low-carb options instead. 

Extra Tips For Ordering Chinese on Keto

We’d love to share a few additional pieces of advice for the next time you’re ordering Chinese food on a keto diet.

With the information we’ve provided already, plus these extra helpful tips, your next trip to a Chinese restaurant should be easy and delicious! 

  • Firstly, if you know you’re planning to eat a Chinese meal, limit your intake of carbs for the rest of the day. Chinese food is hard to find completely carb-free, however, there are plenty of low-carb options that you can enjoy within your allowance. Avoiding carbohydrates earlier in the day can leave you with more options for your evening meal, so you can enjoy some delicious Chinese food and still stick to your ketogenic diet.
  • Once you’ve reached the restaurant, have a quick word with your server about your dietary restrictions. Most establishments will be happy to accommodate you, and will likely be able to make a few recommendations about which meals you could try. If you explain the simple parameters (as little carbohydrate and sugar as possible), finding some tasty Chinese dishes for you to enjoy should be easy.
  • If you’re eating at an Asian buffet such as PF Changs, load up on protein and veggies. If possible, look out for dishes with a thinner sauce, as thicker sauces usually mean a cornstarch thickener was used. You should also avoid anything deep-fried, and dishes with a very sweet sauce, as this likely means a high serving of sugar. 
  • At a regular Chinese food restaurant, try asking for the sauce on the side, which will help you control the amount of sugar added to your food. It’s best to avoid the most common sugary sauces completely, including oyster sauce, crispy duck sauce, and hoisin as well. 
  • If your restaurant has a diet menu, this is an excellent place to look for low-carb food options. Any sort of healthier menu is a great choice on the ketogenic diet, as you may see low-carb options like cabbage rolls here. 

Chinese Keto Recipes to Prepare at Home

The great thing about Chinese food is that when you remove the deep-fried and sugary options, what remains is actually quite healthy. Plenty of vegetables and healthy proteins are involved, so all you need to do is get around the carbs! When cooking at home, you can easily make substitutions for common carbohydrates. Use one of these recipes in the place of rice or noodles, and enjoy all your favorite Chinese dishes at home. 

Cauliflower Rice Recipe

Cauliflower rice is a great food to substitute in any diet, but it’s absolutely perfect for ketogenic Chinese cooking. Dishes like egg fried rice are Chinese staples, but they’re inaccessible to those on a keto diet. However, cauliflower rice is easy to make at home and can be enjoyed in a huge range of different Chinese dishes.

You will need:

  • One large head of cauliflower
  • Box grater or food processor

How to make cauliflower rice: 

1. Wash and dry your cauliflower, and remove all the green leaves.

2. If you’re using a box grater, cut the cauliflower up into large chunks. Then, use the cheese side of the grater to shred the cauliflower into rice. If using a food processor, you’ll need to cut the cauliflower into smaller pieces, and use the grater attachment to blitz it.

3. When you’re finished, use a clean towel to press out extra moisture from the rice. This is an optional step, but it helps in preventing your food from getting soggy.

4. You’ve completed the steps necessary to make cauliflower rice, and you can eat it raw if you’d prefer. To heat the rice, simply saute with a small amount of oil, and cover with a lid to steam until it’s ready. Cook for 5-8 minutes, and season with soy sauce for a Chinese flavor.

Now you can use this cauliflower rice recipe with any Chinese meal you make. It isn’t completely carb-free, as each half-cup portion has approximately 5.3g net carbs, however, this is still within the confines of a keto diet, and is way better in comparison to the 23g of net carbs in a half cup of regular rice. 

Vegetable Noodles Recipe

Egg, wheat, and rice noodles are all popular in Chinese cooking, however, none of these options are keto-friendly. You can make your own low-carb option at home from vegetables, which are just as delicious and make your dish even more nutritious. In our recipe we’re using zucchini, however, you could use any vegetable you can imagine in the place of noodles in a Chinese recipe. All you need is an appropriate appliance to help you cut it into strips. 

You will need: 

  • One fresh medium zucchini per serving
  • A spiralizer, mandoline, or julienne peeler

How to make zucchini noodles: 

1. Clean your zucchini, and cut off each end

2. Use your spiralizer, julienne peeler, or mandoline to cut the zucchini into thin, even, vegetable noodles.

3. To cook your zucchini noodles, we recommend stir-frying them for 1-2 minutes in a small amount of oil. They’re ideal for adding into any Chinese recipe!

Now you have a perfect, keto-friendly alternative to noodles in Chinese cooking. Why not try using this recipe to create your own chow mein dish? Depending on the size of zucchini, one serving of vegetable noodles equates to 7 grams of net carbohydrates. 

A selection of ginger and chili.

Delicious Keto-Friendly Ingredients for Chinese Food

When you’re preparing your own Chinese meal at home, there are plenty of fantastic traditional ingredients used in Chinese food, which are completely keto-friendly. Use these in your home cooking and your meals will taste as delicious as from the restaurant. 

  • Peanut oil: Use peanut oil in your stir-fries for a nutty keto-friendly flavor.
  • Toasted sesame oil: All types of sesame oil are allowed on a keto diet, but toasted is used most often in Chinese cooking.
  • Ginger: Ginger should be used in low amounts to be keto-friendly, but you don’t need to add much for a tasty flavor. 
  • Soy Sauce: Soy sauce is high in salt and full of flavor, it’s perfect for adding to keto Chinese food. 
  • Five-spice seasoning: This is an essential ingredient in Chinese food, and can really take your keto cooking to the next level. 
  • Shiitake mushrooms: Usually dried, flavorful shiitake mushrooms are used in a lot of Chinese dishes. 
  • Coconut flour: So many Chinese sauces use cornstarch as a thickener, but when cooking at home coconut flour is an easy substitution. This keto-friendly addition will help you create more authentic feeling Chinese dishes, without adding unwanted carbohydrates to your meal. 

Enjoying Keto Chinese Food is Easier Than You Think

Your first impression of Chinese menus might be that they’re just not an option for ketogenic eaters, but a brief glance beneath the surface shows that there are actually plenty of options here! Eating out is as simple as making a few substitutions, and your server will always be available to assist you in your decision. Chinese cooking at home is even easier for those on a keto diet, as super healthy Chinese foods are fun and delicious to make. Just prepare some vegetable noodles or cauliflower rice to use in your low-carb Chinese cooking, and you can enjoy fantastic Chinese food just like everyone else.