Concern about Chinese food and diabetes has grown as the rates of diabetes amongst Chinese Americans and Asian Americans grows. 1 in 9 Asian Americans have diabetes, with Indians, Filipinos, and Chinese having the highest rates. Does this mean that Chinese food and diabetes don’t mix well? Definitely not!
A diabetes diagnosis doesn’t mean that you have to cut out any of your favorite cultural foods. It simply means that your body has a harder time processing glucose, but by learning how to navigate your diet and figuring out what management methods work best for you, you’ll learn that Chinese food and diabetes actually go great together! First, let’s go over some key points in diabetes management that can help you enjoy any meal. Then, let’s look at what a diabetes friendly plate can look like at dim sum or Chinese restaurant!
Tips in Diabetes Management with Chinese Food
Contrary to popular beliefs, carbohydrates are not “evil”, and are actually your body’s preferred energy source! Even with diabetes, you need carbohydrates to fuel your body. The key is balance and sticking within a certain range – a dietitian can help you figure out what your carbohydrate goals should be. Using that knowledge and these other tips, you’ll feel comfortable eating any meal!
1. Understand portions and eat balanced meals
A crucial part in diabetes management is understanding portions and eating a balanced plate. This means a plate that is ½ non-starchy vegetables, ¼ protein, and ¼ carbohydrates.
Many carbohydrates contains a variety of vitamins, minerals, and fiber, which are important for your overall health, on top of being a great energy source. Proteins and fats are also an important part of your meal. Ensuring you have good protein and fat sources in your meals helps stabilize your blood sugars. Protein sources include animal proteins, but also soy products like tofu and tempeh, chickpeas, and quinoa.
Carbohydrate counting and MyPlate are popular methods to use to ensure you aren’t overdoing it with carbohydrates and keeping a balanced plate. Check out our other blog post on how to make a healthy plate with Asian foods here! Reach out to your Registered Dietitian to figure out which method works best for you. Mastering this technique will help you feel comfortable in any meal you eat!
2. Eat plenty of fiber
Study shows that increasing fiber 15-30 g/day lowers A1c and reduces risks associated with diabetes. This is because fiber helps slow digestion, and it feeds the healthy bacteria in our gut that helps maintain balance in our body. Some popular high fiber Chinese food items are:
- Gai lan 芥蘭 (Chinese broccoli)
- Pea Shoots 大豆苗
- Winter melon 冬瓜
- Mushrooms 蘑菇
- Whole grains (buckwheat noodles 蕎麥, barley 大賣, brown rice 糙米)
Don’t like brown rice? Add quinoa 藜麥 to your white rice for extra fiber without compromising taste or texture!
3. Change or reduce ingredients
Some concerns around Chinese food and health are usually related to the salt and sugar used.
Substitute sugar and salt for more spices, like Chinese five spice powder 五香粉 or even monosodium glutamate (MSG). Worried about MSG? Check out our blog post about the staple Asian flavor enhancer and why it may be a good replacement for table salt.
Eating out? Simply ask for the sauce on the side so you can control how much sugar and salt get added to your dish.
4. Go for a walk after meals
Study shows that a 30 minutes brisk walk after meals helps lower blood glucose. This is because engaging in quick physical activity after eating can help our body use the carbohydrates we just ate more efficiently, keeping your blood glucose lower. It also helps relieve the feeling of fullness we often feel after eating!
Don’t like walking? Try another type of activity like dancing, tai chi, or whatever movement you enjoy! It’s important to enjoy the activity you are doing.
Diabetes-friendly Dim Sum
Dim sum can be seen as a high carbohydrate meal, but it doesn’t have to be. By balancing your plate and making sure you are getting a lot of vegetables, your plate can easily be diabetes friendly!
Step 1: Order your favorites! For me, this means xia jiao/har gow 蝦蛟 (shrimp dumplings), chang fen/cheung fun 腸粉 (steamed rice noodles), siu mai 燒賣 (pork and shrimp dumplings), and pai gu/pai kuat 排骨 (steamed spare ribs). The dumplings and noodles have great protein sources wrapped in carbohydrates, covering the carbohydrate needs and pairing them with a protein to help slow digestion.
Step 2: Order some veggies! Some of my favorites are gai lan 芥蘭 (chinese broccoli) and sin juk gyun 仙竹卷 (beancurd rolls with mushrooms). Explore the menu for other vegetable dishes you might like! If anything is very saucy, ask for the sauce on the side. Besides the high vitamin and mineral content of vegetables, they’re also high in fiber, helping to prevent a high spike in blood sugar levels.
Step 3: Fill your plate! Try to make it 50% vegetables, 25% carbs, and 25% protein. Enjoy!
Diabetes-friendly Chinese restaurants meals
Eating out at a Chinese restaurant might make you worry as someone with diabetes because of the large dishes and saucy foods, but this isn’t a problem. Chinese restaurants often serve food family style, so the dishes are meant to be shared. Use a separate plate to build up your meal from the family size dishes and ask for the sauces on the side so you can control how much sodium and sugars are added to your plate.
Step 1: Choose your protein. Lean protein options like chicken, fish, or tofu are great choices.
Step 2: Order vegetables. Gai lan 芥蘭 (chinese broccoli), green beans 四季豆, and pea sprouts 大豆苗 are some of my favorites, but there are endless vegetable options at a Chinese restaurant.
Step 3: Order your carbohydrates. White rice is typically offered with meals, but if you don’t want the white rice, try a vegetable chow mein, rice noodles, or steamed buns.
Step 4: Fill your plate! Try to make it 50% vegetables, 25% carbs, and 25% protein. Enjoy!
Eating Chinese food as a diabetic isn’t, and shouldn’t be, some taboo thing. Every culture’s food is rich with nutritious benefits that support our health, and Chinese food is no different. Just remember to get comfortable with some sort of method to control your portions (an RD can provide great guidance on this!), get plenty of fiber in your meals, reduce or change out any ingredients you might be concerned about, and don’t forget to go for that brisk walk after eating!
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