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Eating Paleo at Chinese Restaurants

Eating Paleo at Chinese Restaurants

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If you’re thinking about eating Chinese like you did back in college at 3 in the morning (was that just me?), then no it’s probably not going to be Paleo.  Eating Paleo at Chinese Restaurants is not easy. But there are other smarter and healthier choices that both your taste buds and your body will both appreciate at a Chinese restaurant.

It’s actually not super hard to make your own Paleo Chinese food at home (check out my roundup of 50+ Paleo Chinese recipes here!), but sometimes you just don’t feel like cooking!

Now, if you are trying to eat 100% Paleo, stop reading, don’t go to a Chinese Restaurant unless you are going to order water, green tea, some sort of salad with no dressing, customized menu items that the restaurant may or may not be made the way you requested.  If you’re just trying to eat as Paleo as you CAN at a Chinese restaurant, this article may be beneficial to you.  Thanks!

What’s Not Paleo

Let’s first think about what it is that you want to avoid if you are going to be very paleo:


Rice is not considered paleo, but many paleo dieters will eat it as it sometimes fall on a ‘gray area’ on the paleo diet (similar to potatoes).

You can easily ask for no rice, or just don’t eat it if it comes with your food.

Soy Sauce

Since soy sauce is made of soy and contains gluten, soy sauce is out. Unfortunately, soy sauce is used in a lot of Chinese dishes at restaurants.

The trick is to look for something made with ‘white sauce’ rather than ‘brown sauce’. The best, is if something is without sauce (ex: steamed, roasted, etc).


A lot of Chinese restaurants will use MSG, and I recommend everyone avoid this (not just paleo dieters).

You will need to ask the Chinese restaurant if they use MSG or not, and sometimes you can ask them to not add MSG if they do.

Fried foods

Fried foods is not going to be paleo because it will most likely use flour which contains gluten. Avoid fried foods at Chinese restaurants in order to keep it paleo.

Sugary foods

Some dishes are on the sweeter side. For example, General Tso’s Chicken, Sweet and Sour Chicken, Sesame Chicken. You will want to avoid these dishes as most of them contain lots of sugar, and most are also fried with flour.

Non Paleo Oil

This will actually be an issue at almost any restaurant, but it is pretty unavoidable, so you may need to just suck it up and eat non paleo cooking oil if you are going to eat at a Chinese restaurant.

I know, it doesn’t sound good – that’s like almost everything you can think of at a Chinese restaurant… I really can’t guarantee that anything you order will be 100% paleo, but I can tell you not all Chinese dishes are made the same.  

So here are some better options below.

Not Completely Horrible Options

These are a few that most likely has cornstarch and soy sauce – but usually less:

  • Egg Drop Soup 蛋花湯 (watch out for corn starch)
  • Hot and Sour Soup 酸辣湯 (watch out for corn starch)
  • Moo Goo Gai Pan 蘑菇雞片 (watch out for corn starch)
  • Chicken with Asparagus 蘆筍雞 (or whatever meat you choose – watch out for soy sauce)
  • Twice Cooked Pork 回鍋肉 (watch out for soy sauce)
  • Chicken and Broccoli 西蘭花炒雞塊 (or whatever meat you choose – watch out for soy sauce)

A Little More Horrible But Not So Much

These have more soy sauce if you are okay with that, but if you’re body is okay with that, go ahead and knock yourself out on the rare occasion:

  • Kung Pao Chicken 宮保雞丁 (or whatever meat you choose)
  • Mongolian Beef 蒙古牛肉 (or whatever meat you choose)
  • Eggplant in Garlic Sauce 魚香茄子
Eating Paleo at Chinese Restaurants

Horrible Horrible Options

Here are the ones I definitely suggest avoiding as they are basically just fried meat covered in a coat of sugary sauce:

  • General Tso’s Chicken
  • Sweet and Sour Pork (or whatever meat you choose)
  • Sesame Chicken (or whatever meat you choose)

Interestingly… those three are super Americanized Chinese food! Hmmm.. how interesting?

Authentic Chinese Restaurants

If you’re at an authentic Chinese restaurant, basically somewhere that actually has a real Chinese menu (sometimes they even hide it from you unless you ask!) then there are a lot more choices.  

You can go for steamed dishes, roasted dishes, or something like things:

  • Cantonese BBQ Roast Duck 脆皮烤鴨
  • Cantonese BBQ Crispy Roast Pork 脆皮燒肉
  • Hot Pot 火鍋 (Select meat and veggies and you get to create your own sauce at most places)
  • Bok Choy 小白菜 or other Veggie Dishes
  • Steamed Fish 清蒸魚
  • Cumin Lamb 孜然羊
  • Saltwater duck 鹽水鴨

So as you can see, not all Chinese dishes are made equally, and some can be healthier than others.  Do you have any tips to share for when you try to eat paleo at a Chinese restaurant?

Eating Paleo at Chinese Restaurants

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Tuesday 24th of April 2018

So, I'm new to Paleo, and of course that's when I have family visiting... who want to go to Chinese Hot Pot (I LOVE HOT POT). I'm relieved to see that Chinese Hot Pot is on the list of "things that are OK," but I was wondering if you could expand... What sauces are not kosher to use when mixing my sauces? It's hard to construct sauces from a caveman state of mind when you've got the mother load in front of you.... What I'm guessing - NO: soy sauce, peanut sauce, peanuts... YES (?): hot chili oil, cilantro, chives, minced garlic, sesame sauce, sha cha sauce, tamarind sauce, sriracha sauce, vinegar Help!

Tina T

Tuesday 24th of April 2018

Hi James! Your 'no' list is definitely accurate. As for what's ok that depends on if you are 100% strict paleo right now? Sha cha sauce is actually made with soybean oil, so that one is not paleo. Sriracha contains sugar which is also not really paleo. The other things you've listed should be fine. However, if you're not incredibly 100% strict (like me), if it's just in a little bit of sauce, it should be fine. Good luck!


Monday 4th of December 2017

Thank you for mentioning how you should take the time to look for a Chinese restaurant that has an authentic Chinese menu. It is important to remember that taking the time to do some research can help you find the best authentic food for your needs. I understand how anyone looking into this would also want to compare several restaurants can help you find the type of food you want.

How to Eat Out and Stay Paleo - Oh Snap! Let's Eat!

Friday 12th of February 2016

[…] (The following is a brief summary of the gist of eating paleo at a restaurant, for something more thorough – check out my Eating Paleo at Chinese Restaurant here.) […]


Thursday 11th of February 2016

I can't eat soy sauce especially in Chinese restaurants. So I order steamed chicken and vegetables. Great tips!


Thursday 11th of February 2016

We eat at an awesome Chinese restaurant that has no Americanized dishes, and the menu is mostly in Chinese, so this is very helpful now that I'm changing my diet. I thought I had to give up Chinese; now maybe not! Thanks!