The revelation that some popular Chinese foods contain unhealthily high levels of salt will come as no surprise to anyone who has ever woken up with a mouth drier than the Gobi desert after set menu No 4. Often blamed on the supposed “Chinese restaurant syndrome”, this raging thirst is in fact the body’s attempt to redress the dehydrating effects of excess salt. Monosodium glutamate, a staple of Chinese food, contains about a third of the sodium of table salt, and may actually help reduce salt consumption.
More than half of the Chinese takeaway dishes analysed by the pressure group Action Against Salt contained more than half the government’s recommended daily 6g allowance. With a pinch of common sense, however, it is easy to make better choices.
Cook at home
It sounds obvious, but if you make a dish yourself, you can add salt to taste and substitute standard stocks and sauces with lower-salt alternatives. Check labels when buying ready meals, prepared sauces and condiments.
Choose your sauces wisely
Battered pork balls may not be the lowest calorie option, but if you are trying to reduce your salt intake, go for sweet-and-sour or sweet chilli over salty oyster, black bean or hoisin sauces. One leading brand of oyster sauce contains 11.3g of salt per 100g, as opposed to 0.6g for the same brand’s sweet-and-sour variety.
Go for steamed dishes
In general, steamed dishes such as dumplings, vegetables or seafood tend to be lower in salt than deep- or stir-fried foods, although be careful with any accompanying sauces: as above, chilli- or vinegar-based condiments are a better choice than salty soy
Swap noodles for rice
Steamed or boiled rice is healthier for many reasons, not least because noodles tend to be cooked in sauce. Fried rice will also often contain soy sauce or other flavour enhancers, so treat with caution.
Avoid soups and broths
The rich, savoury flavour of chicken-and-sweetcorn or wonton soup comes from deliciously salty ingredients. Start your meal with steamed vegetable dumplings instead – and skip the prawn crackers.