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The Health of It All

Eating Healthier at Fast Food Restaurants: Panda Express

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I don't give Panda Express much thought. Mostly because I don't eat at fast food restaurants for many of the reasons detailed on the Dr. Gourmet website: poor quality, ultra processed food that is calorie dense and nutrient poor. Even so, people do and we have been providing some insight for the choices you might make at restaurants. It may come as a surprise that Panda Express has some OK choices.

Asian food is challenging because it traditionally contains a lot of sodium, usually in the form of monosodium glutamate (MSG). As such, most Chinese restaurants are going to have meals that are quite high in sodium, and you would expect that of Panda Express. While there are a lot of dishes on their menu that are too high, there are more options in the reasonable range than you might expect, and they have made a commitment to reducing the amount of added salt by 2025.

Stay away from the soups: none of them contain less than 880 milligrams of sodium in a cup. The appetizers are all pretty high in fat, with most containing over 30% of calories from fat. Your best choice would be the Chicken Potstickers at 160 calories (60 of those from fat), 250 milligrams of sodium, but sadly only one gram of fiber.

Most of the meals you might choose should be paired with steamed brown rice which contains 420 calories, 15 milligrams of sodium and 4 grams of fiber. In truth, this is 2 cups of rice, however, and you would be better off keeping the other cup for later or ordering the kids meal size (about 1 1/2 cups rice) at 310 calories and 10 milligrams of sodium.

Starting with their veggie entrees, there are two. The Eggplant Tofu comes in at 340 calories and 520 milligrams of sodium. It contains only 3 grams of fiber, but the problem is that the dish is about 2/3 fat with a whopping 24 grams! The other veggie choice is the Super Greens Entrée at 45 calories and 130 milligrams sodium. Ordering two of the Super Greens would be a pretty good choice when paired with the kids size rice. In fact, the kids meals are pretty good choices across the whole menu, and ordering them along with the kids brown rice will generally bring you in at a good calorie and sodium point.

Here is the full list of items that are fairly good choices, with the sodium content around 500 milligrams or less and a reasonable amount of fat.

  Calories Fat (g) Sodium (mg) Fiber (g)
Vegetable     
Super Greens Entree 45 2 130 3
Super Greens - Kid's Meal Entree 30 1 95 2
Chicken
Grilled Teriyaki Chicken  300 13 530 0
Grilled Teriyaki Chicken - Kid's Meal 180 8 320 0
Grilled Asian Chicken  300 13 530 0
Grilled Asian Chicken - Kid's Meal 180 8 320 0
Honey Sesame Chicken Breast - Kid's Meal 320 17 360 2
String Bean Chicken Breast - Kid's Meal 140 7 440 3
Sweetfire Chicken Breast  380 15 320 1
Sweetfire Chicken Breast - Kid's Meal  280 12 240 1
Sweet & Sour Chicken Breast  300 12 260 1
Sweet & Sour Chicken Breast - Kid's Meal 270 10 220 1
Beef
Broccoli Beef  150 7 520 2
Broccoli Beef - Kid's Meal 110 6 400 2
Honey Walnut Shrimp - Kid's Meal 200 13 240 1
Golden Treasure Shrimp 360 18 440 2
Golden Treasure Shrimp - Kid's Meal 210 10 250 1
Appetizer
Chicken Potsticker (3 Pcs) 160 6 250 1
Rice
Brown Steamed Rice 420 4 15 4
Brown Steamed Rice - Kid's Meal 310 3 10 3