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How To Order Low Carb at Panda Express

Panda Express describes itself as a fast casual restaurant that specializes in American Chinese food. It reportedly has over 2,000 locations worldwide and is the largest Asian chain restaurant in the United States. It used to be that the only time you’d see a Panda Express was in the food court of a shopping mall, but there are many stand-alone locations now.

The restaurant offers a variety of Chinese-inspired dishes, such as Kung Pao chicken, orange chicken, and sweet and sour meat-based dishes. Most of these meals are served up with rice or mixed vegetables.

If you’re on a low-carb or ketogenic diet, then the biggest thing you’ll need to watch out for is the addition of sauce to most of the dishes. Sure, it makes them taste good, but it also adds empty calories and more sugar and carbs than you need.

The good news is that many traditional Chinese dishes are very healthy before they became Americanized, and Panda Express offers some good low-carb options if you know how to order them.

They even have a tea bar where you can cash in on the many health benefits of freshly brewed tea instead of soda like at most fast food restaurants.

We’ll show you how to order low-carb at Panda Express so you can stay in ketosis and continue with your ketogenic diet.

Tips For Ordering At Panda Express

Many American Chinese restaurants catch a lot of flack for the addition of MSG in their foods, which has been linked to chronic conditions such as diabetes, obesity, and heart disease (1).

However, Panda Express claims that they never add MSG to their foods except for that in naturally occurring ingredients. They also don’t offer any gluten-free dishes, but you can work around this by customizing your meal. We’ll show you how to do that in our tips below.

We should point out that despite some healthy additions to the Panda Express menu, it’s always best to eat at home whenever possible. This is especially true if you’re on a strict ketogenic diet.

Panda Express and other chain restaurants don’t offer organic meats, which means you could be ingesting antibiotics, growth hormones and other chemicals when you eat out.

Not to mention American chain restaurants are more concerned with providing food that tastes good instead of food that’s good for you. So you’ll see that a lot of your menu options contain fried food, added sauces, and lots of hidden sugar.

Eating at home allows you to portion out your foods correctly so you don’t eat too much while also focusing on high-quality keto-friendly foods that you can buy yourself at the grocery store.

Save Panda Express and other fast food choices for emergencies only and don’t eat here more than once a month or so.

The next time you forget your lunch at home or need food fast and Panda Express is your only option, use these tips to keep it low-carb.

#1. Create your own meal

If you’ve never visited a Panda Express before, here’s a little refresher course. Panda Express offers a favorites section that you can order directly off the menu, or you can build your own meal. We recommend building your own as it gives you a chance to customize your dish.

They even have a how-to-order section on their website that you can check out if you’re unsure.

To make your own meal, you’ll first need to choose what kind of meal you want. You can get one of the following:

  • Bowl: this includes one entree and one side
  • Plate: this includes two entrees and one side
  • Bigger plate: this includes three entrees and one side
  • Kid’s meal: this includes a junior entree, a junior side, a 12-ounce beverage, and a cookie
  • Family feast: this includes three large entrees and two sides

The next thing you’ll need to do is choose your sides. You can choose one full side or half and half of any combination to make one full side.

The side dishes are Panda Express include chow mein, fried rice, mixed vegetables, white steamed rice, and brown steamed rice. If you’re on a low-carb diet, then the only side dish that you can eat is the mixed vegetables.

The mixed vegetables contain a blend of cabbage, zucchini, broccoli, and carrots. These are perfectly fine if you’re on a low-carb diet, but you might want to ask them to hold the carrots if you’re on a ketogenic diet as this tends to be higher in carbs. Stick with the broccoli and cabbage only if you need to count your carbs.

Or better yet, hold the side dish all together and stick with a beef and broccoli entree only (minus the sauce). This will take care of your fat, protein, and low-carb needs.

To complete your meal, pick your entrees. Depending on what sized meal you ordered, you can choose one, two or three entrees. We recommend sticking with just one entree to keep your portion sizes down.

Here are your options:

  • Orange chicken
  • Eight treasure chicken breast
  • String bean chicken breast
  • Sweetfire chicken breast
  • Kung Pao chicken
  • Mushroom chicken
  • Black pepper chicken
  • Grilled teriyaki chicken
  • Broccoli beef
  • Shanghai angus steak
  • Beijing beef
  • Honey walnut shrimp
  • Eggplant tofu

As you can see, there are lots of options on the menu, but not all of them are allowed on the low-carb diet. You can also add extras on to your order, such as an egg roll, potstickers, or fried shrimp. However, there are no options that are safe for low-carb eating. This brings us to our next tip.

#2. Stay away from sauces

We noticed that almost every entree at Panda Express is topped with sauce. This is a problem because most sauces are nothing but empty calories and contain a ton of sugar. Some even contain flour to thicken them up, make them taste better, and help them stick to your food.

When ordering any entree at Panda Express, ask to hold the sauce and flavor your dish with sea salt and pepper instead. They might even have some oil and vinegar you can ask to have drizzled over your entree, which is a much better option than any sauce made at a chain restaurant!

#3. Go with a wok tossed meal

Panda Express has a wok smart menu that contains dishes that are 300 calories or fewer, contain eight grams of protein or more, and use fresh, hand cut veggies. These include the following:

  • String bean chicken breast
  • Kung Pao chicken
  • Black pepper chicken
  • Mushroom chicken
  • Grilled teriyaki chicken
  • Broccoli beef

Of course, you’ll still need to ask for these without the sauce, but they are a much better option than some of their heavier entrees. If you have concerns about the carbs you’re taking in, then you can always check the nutritional information on the Panda Express website.

This information won’t tell you what your calories will be if you have your dish custom ordered, but you can always subtract the calories and carbs from the sauce when tallying up your total.

Here is a breakdown of the calories and carbs found in all the sauces at Panda Express:

  • Teriyaki sauce (1.8 ounce serving): 70 calories and 16 grams of carbs
  • Sweet and sour sauce (1.8 ounce serving): 70 calories and 21 grams of carbs
  • One packet of chili sauce: 10 calories and 2 grams of carbs
  • One packet of soy sauce: 5 calories and 0 grams of carbs
  • One packet of potsticker sauce: 10 calories and 3 grams of carbs
  • One packet of hot mustard sauce: 10 calories and 0 grams of carbs
  • One package of plum sauce: 15 calories and 3 grams of carbs

To get an accurate caloric reading on your entree, subtract these calories and carbs from your total intake and that should be able to give you a ballpark estimate of how many carbs you’re taking in. Remember, counting carbs is an important part of the ketogenic diet because you want to stay under 20 grams a day to achieve ketosis!

What To Order At Panda Express

As we mentioned above, it’s a good idea to create your own meal when you visit Panda Express. This allows you to customize your dish, hold the sauces, and order ingredients that are low-carb.

We’ve gone through all the menu options at Panda Express and here are the ones that are best for your low-carb diet.

Panda favorites (for all favorites, hold the rice and ask for low-carb vegetables instead; also be sure to hold any sauce that comes on the dish):

  • Grilled teriyaki chicken (hold the teriyaki sauce)
  • String bean chicken breast (omit the green beans if you’re strict keto; opt for a low-carb veggie like broccoli instead; hold the ginger soy sauce)
  • Kung Pao chicken (hold the Szechwan sauce; opt for low-carb veggies instead of zucchini; make sure the chicken is grilled and not fried)
  • Mushroom chicken (hold the ginger soy sauce and opt for low-carb veggies instead of zucchini)
  • Black pepper chicken (hold the pepper sauce)
  • Beef broccoli (hold the ginger soy sauce)
  • Shanghai angus steak (go with asparagus over the beans; hold the savory sauce)
  • Eight treasure chicken breast (hold any sauce that comes on the chicken and make sure it’s grilled and not fried)

Foods To Avoid at Panda Express

Some foods at Panda Express just aren’t worth trying to customize, especially when better options are available. We recommend staying away from the following dishes and ordering off the list above instead.

Favorites:

  • Orange chicken (this dish is usually fried; go with grilled chicken instead and hold the sauce)
  • Sweetfire chicken breast (again, this dish is fried; go with grilled chicken instead and hold the sauce)
  • Honey walnut shrimp
  • Eggplant tofu
  • Beijing beef (this dish is fried; go with the Angus steak instead and hold the sauce)

Sides:

  • Chow mein
  • Fried rice
  • Steamed rice
  • Chicken potstickers
  • Cream cheese rangoon
  • Chicken egg rolls (you could probably eat the insides only of an egg roll, but be careful about added sauces that might be included)
  • Veggie spring roll
  • Crispy shrimp
  • Fortune cookies

Conclusion

Panda Express is an American Chinese inspired chain restaurant that offers some healthy foods and many not-so-healthy sauces. We always recommend that you eat at home following a healthy meal plan and using keto-friendly ingredients if you’re trying to stick to a low-carb diet. If you must eat at Panda Express, try to create your own meal.

Stick with the broccoli and beef entree and hold the ginger soy sauce that comes on it. You’ll also want to hold any side dishes that accompany the meal, such as rice. Panda Express offers mixed vegetables as an option, which is good for low-carb dieters. You may want to omit the zucchini and green beans from your veggie lineup if you’re trying to stay in ketosis.

Other good options include the black pepper chicken and the Shanghai Angus steak. The biggest thing you’ll need to watch out for at Panda Express is the added sauces. Be sure to ask for your food dry or add salt and pepper only if you need something to enhance the flavor.

Panda Express has a hot mustard sauce that contains no carbs per packet according to the website, but keep in mind that all sauces are best avoided as they are empty calories and don’t provide any nutritional value to your food.

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Panda Express Low Carb Options

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Photo credit: jetcityimage2/Depositphotos.com

Keto Diet Restaurants: How To Order Low Carb at Panda Express
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KetoVale.com Team
 

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