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Popular Chinese restaurant meals are loaded with sodium, saturated fat, and calories- even the veggies.

“We were shocked. We assumed the vegetables were all low in calories,” said Bonnie Liebman, nutrition director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which did a report released Tuesday.

Sheila Weiss, director of nutrition policy at the National Restaurant Association, said that restaurants around the country were already making efforts to offer customers healthier choices. In particular, Chinese restaurants typically offer plenty of options for customers looking to steer clear of fried foods and heavy sauces, she noted.

"Restaurants have a responsibility to provide options and they do," said Weiss, but "customers also have a responsibility to understand their own dietary needs and know how to make special requests."

In some ways, CSPI's Liebman said, American-style restaurants are worse for your health, because their food is higher in saturated fat, which can increase the risk of heart disease.

“Many people recall the surprising things we reported in 1993 about Chinese dishes like Kung Pao Chicken and House Lo Mein, and those dishes certainly haven’t gotten any better,” said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. “But let’s also give credit where credit is due. Many Chinese entrées are loaded with healthy vegetables and lean shrimp or chicken. However, when it comes to sodium, there’s no real safe harbor on the Chinese restaurant menu.”

“My basic advice to diners is this: Stick with the veggie-rich and stir-fried shrimp or chicken dishes, steer clear of the entrées that are basically deep-fried meat or chicken in sauce, and don’t waste your calories on greasy noodles and fried rice,” said CSPI director of nutrition Bonnie Liebman. “Leaving some of the sauce behind on the platter and taking home a doggie bag can further help keep a lid on both the calories and the salt.”

While Chinese restaurant food is bad for your waistline and blood pressure " sodium contributes to hypertension " it does offer vegetable-rich dishes and the kind of fat that’s not bad for the heart.

The group found that not much has changed since it examined Chinese food 15 years ago.

Click Here for nutrition details on your favorite Chinese dishes

@ 11:25am ET on March 22, 2007
You can do a lot better in Chinese restaurants by eating more of the traditional foods. Those are the stirfries with light sauces, lots of veggies, and a smaller portion of rice. Most Chinese people I know put a portion of rice in the bottom of the bowl and that's it--they don't keep adding more and more! Also, the fried foods are special occasion foods in traditional cooking, so think of them as being like having a piece of cake: tasty, but a treat, not regular food! I find the healthiest Chinese food is the stuff you get in little restaurants in Chinatown. That's where you get the real thing, and generally, it's also the best kind for you.

@ 3:51pm ET on March 22, 2007
I love to go to the restaurants with a Mongolian grill. I get to choose my veggies, my protein, rice or noodles and the amount and kind of cooking oil. Then it is grilled right in front of my eyes! It's the best!

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