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Sometimes you just can't make it into the kitchen to cook. Dr. Gourmet has reviewed over 800 common convenience foods, ingredients, and restaurant selections so that you know what's worth eating - and what's not. View the Index of all Dr. Gourmet's Food Reviews

Just Tell Me What to Eat!

Just Tell Me What to Eat!

Timothy S. Harlan, MD, FACP has counseled thousands of his patients on healthy, sustainable weight loss. Now he's compiled his best tips and recipes into a six-week plan for you to learn how to eat great food that just happens to be great for you - and if losing weight is your goal, you can do that, too.

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  • What to eat
  • How to cook it
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  • What to eat at a restaurant
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P.F. Chang's China Bistro

P.F. Chang'sMany of us who are concerned with health today do focus on the increasing availability of calorie dense foods. Much of that attention is on soft drinks, fast food and convenience foods found in the grocery store. A major contributor to the problem that is often overlooked is chain restaurants. We've reviewed a few here at Dr. Gourmet and tried to offer you some alternatives at those restaurants. One thing that has not been mentioned is just how very high in calories many meals at places like Red Lobster, Applebee's and Ruby Tuesday are.

P.F. Chang's is a great example of this. They are one of the few restaurants these days that makes their nutrition information available on their website, and mind you, this is not complete information: it lacks reporting on sodium. There's not a lot on the menu that comes in at under 500 calories. Many of the dishes are well over 1000 calories - and that doesn't include a serving of rice at about 250 calories.

There are, however, some pretty good alternatives for you at P.F. Chang's. As one should, I looked at the nutrition information before going to the restaurant and chose those that seemed reasonable.

On the appetizer side, there are four options that are pretty good and not too high in calories. You could combine any two for your main meal and do pretty well, coming in at around 500 pretty satisfying calories. Adding sauces adds calories, so be careful. That said, the sauces aren't all that great anyway so you're not missing much.

Coming in first was the Steamed Vegetable Dumplings at 267 calories (the Shrimp Dumplings are about the same). The sauce adds a few calories, but these were flavorful, had a pretty good texture and were not too salty tasting.

P.F. Chang's made the lettuce wrap mainstream in America and their Vegetarian Lettuce Wrap comes in at 281 calories (about 90 less than the chicken version). Don't add the special sauce - it's not worth it - but do squeeze some lime over the top. These are pretty salty and the lime will cut through that to balance the overuse of sodium in the dish.

The Seared Ahi Tuna was great at 210 calories, but order it without the Potsticker sauce. It is, quite simply, a terrible sauce. One taster said that it not only tasted like plastic but smelled like it also. The slaw and cucumbers served with it are very good and overall this is a great choice (without the sauce).

Last - and only recommended for those of you who must have spring rolls - are the Harvest Spring Rolls. They are deep fried and come in at 287 calories. They are, however, pretty bland and greasy and the sauce doesn't do much to help them.

On the entrée side, there are also some good choices. A whole plate of the Cantonese Scallops is only 408 calories. A big plus at P.F. Chang's is that they offer brown rice as an alternative to white rice. They serve a cup of rice with each entrée, so keep in mind that this adds about 250 calories no matter which rice you choose. Still, like most of the entrées the Cantonese Scallops would be perfect to split. The flavor is soft and still rich tasting. They also serve a shrimp version at only 330 calories.

The Shrimp with Lobster Sauce is also pretty good. Again, this is 480 calories for the whole plate. A thick sauce (with a little too much cornstarch) is laden with shrimp and cooked egg and the flavor is sweet and just a bit sour at the same time.

There was general surprise amongst the tasters about the Steamed Buddha's Feast. It's simply a plate of steamed veggies and tofu with no sauce. When it comes to the table it looks pretty boring. The flavor is excellent, however, with hints of ginger and tea having been used in the steaming water. With the brown rice and a little bit of the Sweet and Sour or Chili Oil that's provided on every table, this is a fine and filling meal. And it's only 137 calories!

The best was by far the Oolong Marinated Sea Bass. Cooked surprisingly well for a chain restaurant, this had a light taste of tea infused into the fish. It was served over a generous serving of wilted spinach with a light tea-infused soy sauce. Order the sauce on the side - there is simply too much of it and it can make the dish too salty. Like all of the other dishes it is large enough for two people to share.

Their nutrition handout from the website does say that asking for "Stock Velveted" can reduce calories by 150 to 300 per dish. They also mention that using "light or no oil" and also reduce entrées by 150 - 300 calories. It's hard to tell which recipes would use this, but all meals reviewed above were requested this way so the calories may actually be less than quoted (less is better).

All in all, not a great restaurant but a good one, and there are some good and healthy choices. Keep in mind that the entrées will serve two, so share your entrée or box up half of it to take home for the next day.