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Fresh ginger and garlic sizzle immediately once they hit the oil. Vibrating as they cook, the spices tinge the air.

The smell is often a lovely partner to Chinese food, since the pair are staples of East Asian cooking. However, there are other ingredients that could be hiding in the average Chinese takeout that should be considered.

Harley Eriksen, who has a bachelor’s degree in dietetics and nutrition and food sciences and is a graduate student studying nutrition at the University of Vermont, acknowledges the convenience of fast food. But easy comfort foods like Chinese takeout are easy for a reason. They are cheap to make, and unfortunately, that makes it also easy to cheap out on ingredients. There could be a lot of fat, sugar and sodium hiding in that plate of orange chicken replacing what could be wholesome, flavorful ingredients.

A common item that shows up is MSG.  The sodium-based flavor enhancer is hugely popular and large amounts often show up in Chinese takeout. Although it is sodium based, MSG is often paired with a good deal of salt.

Studies have shown that sodium can contribute to heart disease and stroke, the nation’s top killers. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day.

Home cooks can instead use spices to boost the flavor.

“I’m a really big fan of red pepper flakes,” Eriksen said.

Other weaknesses with the food include large amounts of oil, lacking fresh vegetables and some dishes also have “the most breading and battering” of popular fast-food cuisines, Eriksen said.

Lastly, portions can sometimes be overly large in a restaurant setting.

Portion size has doubled and sometimes even tripled in recent years, which contributes to overeating, Eriksen said.

Fortunately, the adaptability of Chinese food makes it ideal to make at home, which allows cooks to regulate salt levels, use fresh vegetables and limit portion size.

 

 

This stir-fry recipe, which appears in American Heart Association The Go Red For Women Cookbook, takes all of the unhealthy issues that can accompany Chinese food into account.

 

 

 

Chinese Chicken Stir-Fry

It takes just a few minutes to prepare your own delicious, healthful stir-fry. Our version combines juicy chicken with plenty of veggies.

Serves 6; 1 cup chicken mixture and ½ cup rice per serving

 

 

 

rice 1.  Prepare the rice using the package directions, omitting the salt and margarine. Set aside. Cover to keep warm.
sauce 2.  Put the cornstarch in a medium bowl. Add the broth, sherry, soy sauce, and vinegar, whisking to dissolve. Set aside.
chicken 3.  In a large skillet or wok, heat the chili oil over high heat, swirling to coat the bottom. Cook the gingerroot and garlic for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Reduce the heat to medium high. Stir in the chicken. Cook for 4 minutes, or until the chicken is lightly browned, stirring constantly. (The chicken won’t be done at this point.) Transfer to a plate. Wipe the skillet with paper towels.
fry 4.  In the same skillet, still over medium-high heat, heat the sesame oil, swirling to coat the bottom. Cook the mushrooms, bell pepper, and water chestnuts for 5 to 7 minutes, stirring frequently.
cook sauce 5.  Whisk the broth mixture. Stir it into the mushroom mixture. Stir in the chicken. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the chicken is no longer pink in the center.
add nuts 6.  Stir the green onions, pecans, and red pepper flakes into the chicken mixture. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Serve over the rice.

 

This recipe is reprinted with permission from American Heart Association The Go Red For Women Cookbook, Copyright © 2013 by the American Heart Association. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, a division of Random House, Inc. Available from booksellers everywhere. Click here to buy from ShopHeart.org.

 

For more information on Chinese food dining options: