October 9, 2007

You Ask, I Answer: Sauces/Chinese Restaurants

When eating at a Chinese restaurant, is garlic sauce or oyster sauce a better option?

-- Anonymous

It depends on what you mean by "better option."

What I can tell you off the bat is that both sauces are very high in sodium.

One tablespoon of garlic sauce contains 290 milligrams (12% of a day's worth), while the same amount of oyster sauce packs a whooping 492 milligrams (20% of a day's worth!).

Yes, that's only in one tablespoon! The average dish at a Chinese restaurant has five or six times as much -- more than a day's worth of sodium, in many cases.

From a caloric standpoint, neither is a huge concern. A tablespoon of garlic sauce adds 25 calories to your meal, while one of oyster sauce contains an almost non-existent nine (even if you multiply those values by five you aren't getting alarmingly high numbers).

If a garlic sauce is made with fresh garlic, you are taking in some anti-inflammatory, immune system strengthening antioxidants.

When eating out at a Chinese restaurant, I recommend the following.

First, ask for all sauces on the side. You can then either dip your fork in the sauce before sticking it into the morsel of food you are about to eat, or lightly sprinkle your dish with it (leaving plenty in the side dish).

Keep in mind that what you are putting sauce on is very important. Avoid deep-fried dishes. Always accompany entrees with brown -- instead of fried -- rice, and go for a side of steamed -- rather than sauteed -- vegetables.

Avoid noodle dishes, that offer nothing but refined carbohydrates. Instead, look for entrees that include vegetables (ie: shrimp and broccoli). This way, you get your share of greens without having to order an extra side dish.

Skip the spring roll, which is nothing but fried dough (and, in my opinion, are always tasteless). If you're in the mood for an appetizer, opt for the always-delicious (and healthier) summer rolls, or give grilled skewers of lean proteins (chicken or shrimp) a try.

Watch the portions! Chinese restaurants are notorious for providing huge dishes -- often times a day's worth of meat and half a day's worth of grains.

For more information on sodium,
please check out issue 3 of the Small Bites newsletter.

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