Navigating a Chinese buffet or takeout menu can be a challenge if you’re trying to stick to the low carb, high fat keto diet.
Although loaded with veggies, many Chinese dishes are often made with noodles and rice, starchy and sugary sauces, or battered and fried meats that can pack on the carbs.
These foods are difficult to include in a keto diet, which typically restricts your carb intake to no more than 50 grams of total carbs or 25 grams of net carbs — which is total carbs minus fiber — per day.
Fortunately, several Chinese dishes are ideal for keto dieters. While it’s hard to give firm carb counts on these foods because their preparations vary between restaurants, they’ll be your best bets for takeout, buffet, or sit-down Chinese dining.
You can also try making these dishes at home, giving you more control over the ingredients used and final carb count.
Here are 15 keto-friendly Chinese foods, along with some helpful tips on how to reduce the carbs in Chinese food.
Egg foo young is a Chinese omelet filled with veggies like cabbage, bean sprouts, and onions. You can also add meats like beef, pork, chicken, or shrimp to your egg foo young when dining out.
They’re typically low in carbs because they contain only eggs, vegetables, and meat fillings, as well as the oil used to fry them.
Chinese buffets often feature boiled or steamed shrimp, crawfish, or crab legs.
These seafood options are completely free of carbs while being rich in protein. Paired with steamed or stir-fried vegetables, they can help you stay keto at a Chinese buffet.
If you’re looking for keto options to make at home, egg drop soup is an easy choice. It can be as simple as combining eggs, broth, and a keto-friendly thickener like xanthan gum.
On the other hand, many egg drop soups served at Chinese restaurants are premade or thickened with cornstarch and likely too high in carbs for people on the keto diet.
Feel free to add chopped scallions to your egg drop soup, but avoid the high carb fried wonton strips.
Moo shu pork is a stir-fried dish featuring sliced pork, scrambled eggs, and vegetables — typically cabbage and mushrooms — in a light sauce. It’s often served with rice, which you can easily steer clear of or replace if you’re on keto.
It’s an ideal meal to make at home, where you can control the carb count by making the sauce from scratch. Plus, it’s one of the better options when dining out, as it’s not made with a sweet, thick, and carb-heavy sauce.
Beef and broccoli is a classic Chinese takeout dish made by stir-frying beef and broccoli in a light sauce.
Although the beef is often water-velveted — or marinated in a cornstarch slurry that adds carbs while tenderizing the meat — it remains a better choice for Chinese takeout than other higher carb options.
What’s more, some Chinese restaurants velvet their meats using baking soda rather than cornstarch, which doesn’t add any carbs. You can also make beef and broccoli at home using baking soda velveting.
If you want to try cooking traditional Chinese food, pick up pork belly at your local butcher shop. This cut is used to make bacon and high in fat, allowing it to develop a satisfying crisp exterior when cooked.
Although many Chinese pork belly recipes feature a sugary glaze, you can also find several simple, carb-free recipes.
At most Chinese buffets, you’re likely to find a stir-fried mushroom dish featuring whole or halved mushrooms in a savory brown sauce.
Mushrooms are low in both calories and carbs, making them a perfect addition to a keto meal. However, stick to a portion of no more than 1/2–1 cup (55–110 grams), as the brown sauce may be thickened with cornstarch (
Another common find at Chinese buffets is sautéed whole green beans. Depending on the restaurant, these may be served with sauce or simply sautéed in oil with some garlic.
Along with keto-friendly proteins like boiled shrimp or baked fish, loading up on sautéed green beans is an easy way to stay keto at a Chinese buffet.
Similarly to beef and broccoli, chicken and broccoli is made from stir-fried broccoli and water-velveted chicken pieces. In some restaurants, the dish may include additional veggies like carrots and onions.
Although chicken and broccoli from a restaurant may contain carbs in the sauce or from the velveting, it’s often a better choice than dishes that feature breaded meats or sugary sauces.
Plus, made at home, you can modify chicken and broccoli to be essentially free of carbs except for those from the broccoli.
In traditional Chinese cooking, steaming is a common cooking method. Popular examples include steamed dumplings and steamed greens.
Try steaming greens like bok choy or Chinese broccoli — available at most Asian markets — with oil, salt, and pepper for a simple, low carb addition to your Chinese meal.
Hot and sour soup, like egg drop soup, starts with a base of broth and egg. It can also feature bamboo shoots, various mushrooms, tofu, vinegar, and spices.
As the name suggests, it’s both spicy and sour. Restaurant versions are likely thickened with carb-containing cornstarch, but you can avoid this by making the dish at home.
Kung pao shrimp is a stir-fry made with shrimp, peanuts, bell peppers, and chilies in a spicy sauce. The recipe can vary significantly between restaurants.
Some may be made with a thicker, gravy-like sauce, while others may include different vegetables or proteins like chicken.
Regardless, it’s a great option for keto eaters as long as you decline the rice or noodles it’s typically served with. Kung pao shrimp or chicken is also easy to make keto-friendly if you cook them at home.
Chop suey is similar to moo shu pork in that it features stir-fried meat, eggs, and vegetables in a light sauce. It’s commonly made with chicken and served over rice, but it can also be served over noodles.
When ordering at a restaurant, ask for no rice or noodles, plus extra veggies if this is an option. When making it at home, make a larger portion of the chop suey itself or eat it with riced cauliflower, zucchini noodles, or other low carb noodles.
Baked salmon is a staple on Chinese buffet lines. The fish is usually seasoned and not served with sauce, and typically the entire fillet is placed on the serving line, so you can choose your portion size.
Salmon has many health benefits, including providing omega-3 fats and protein, and baked salmon is a carb-free preparation that’s perfect for keto dieters (
The easiest way to cook keto-friendly Chinese food at home is to simply stir-fry meats and low carb veggies in oil. Tasty suggestions include shrimp, chicken, beef, or pork with zucchini, summer squash, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, mushrooms, or bean sprouts.
Add flavor to your homemade stir-fry with low carb ingredients, such as soy sauce, grated ginger, crushed garlic, fresh chili, crushed peanuts, red pepper flakes, and sesame oil.
Stir-fries are extremely versatile and can be made using whatever keto-friendly ingredients you have at home.
Here are four strategies to make or order keto-friendly Chinese food.
Build your own
Many Chinese buffets offer a build-your-own stir-fry bar. Alternatively, seek out those that offer a hibachi grill or Mongolian barbecue.
You may also be able to find a standalone Mongolian barbecue restaurant, which typically offers a wider variety of meat and veggies than buffet-style restaurants.
Keep your creation low in carbs by loading up on vegetables, eggs, and meat. It’s also smart to opt only for oil, soy sauce, and hot sauce to season your food, rather than a premade carb-heavy sauce like hoisin or teriyaki.
Remove the rice and noodles
When ordering Chinese food at a restaurant or cooking it at home, expand your options by removing the rice and noodles from classic dishes.
You can replace them with a keto-friendly alternative like zucchini noodles, riced cauliflower, shredded cabbage, or extra steamed vegetables.
Avoid thick, sugary sauces
As a general rule of thumb, the sweeter, thicker, and less translucent a sauce is, the higher its carb count.
For example, the dark red, thick, and sweet sauce used in General Tso’s chicken is loaded with sugar and starch. Other examples include sweet and sour sauce, as well as the thick, white sauce used in coconut shrimp and coconut chicken.
Avoid breaded and water-velveted meats
Breaded and fried meats are common at Chinese buffets, especially in dishes like General Tso’s chicken, butterfly shrimp, and sweet and sour chicken. Thick breading and sugary sauces make these dishes too high in carbs to be keto-friendly.
When dining out, you should also try to avoid water-velveted meats if you know they were marinated in cornstarch rather than baking soda.
Chinese food can be high in carbs from rice and noodles, sugary sauces, and battered and fried proteins.
Fortunately, several lower carb options are suitable for keto dieters. The 15 options listed here serve as a great guide for staying keto at a Chinese buffet or when ordering Chinese takeout.
When dining out, look for Mongolian barbecue restaurants or Chinese buffets that offer a customizable stir-fry bar so you can create your own keto-friendly meals.
Plus, you can reduce the carb counts of homemade or restaurant dishes by avoiding rice and noodles, thick and sweet sauces, and flour- or cornstarch-battered meats.
With these tips, it’s more than possible to enjoy Chinese food while staying keto.