Chinese Takeaway meal for one contains enough food for two people

28 Sept, 2012. Eating a typical Chinese takeaway meal of a starter, main course and egg fried rice can contain much more calories than an adult’s total daily requirements and one and a half times their recommended maximum level of salt according to a new report¹ by safefood. In addition, some Chinese takeaway starter dishes provided a third of an adult’s total daily calorie requirement. The research is the latest in a series of reviews of takeaway foods and continues safefood’s work in helping consumers make more informed choices when eating food prepared outside the home.
Commenting on the research, Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan, Director, Human Health & Nutrition, safefood said:

Although traditional Chinese food is healthy, being low in fat and with a strong emphasis on vegetables, chefs here have adapted their recipes to suit local taste buds as their dishes have become more popular. With our taste buds in the West favouring foods which are high in fat, salt and sugar and because we eat bigger portions, Chinese dishes have become less healthy over time. While it is encouraging that almost two thirds (62%) of people regard Chinese takeaway as a treat², portion sizes are unnecessarily generous and not healthy”.

The safefood research which sampled 220 Chinese meal items from 35 outlets on the island of Ireland also found: 
  • There was a major difference in the portion size of starters sold, with a five-fold difference among Prawn crackers and a three-fold difference in portions of Won Tons and Vegetable Spring Rolls.
  • An average portion (104g) of Prawn Crackers contained 608 calories, almost a third of an adults’ guideline daily amount.
  • Salt levels are considerably high, with all main courses tested containing more than half of an adults’ total guideline daily amount (6g) and in some instances, exceeding it.
  • The average rice portion was 359g which is sufficient for two adults
  • The average portion of egg fried rice contained 727 calories, representing more than a third of an adults’ guideline daily amount
“Consumer research² tells us that more than half (54%) of consumers choose egg fried rice (727 calorie average) and we know that a main dish served with this can result in a person consuming between 1300 and 1800 calories. And that’s before we even begin to consider all the other foods we’ve eaten during the day”, continued Dr Foley-Nolan. “However, there are plenty of healthy Chinese takeaway options available and people should consider sharing dishes when ordering to ensure appropriate portion size.”
Consumer research² by safefood also found almost half of people (47%) always order the same Chinese dish and 68% eat their meal in full, in one sitting.
The survey is the latest in a series of nutritional surveys commissioned by safefood looking at popular takeaway foods. Previous surveys have looked at Chicken & Potato products; Salt levels in Takeaway Soup; takeaway & shop-bought pizzas and; takeaway burgers. 
The report What’s in your Chinese Takeaway? can be downloaded from the safefood website

Healthier Chinese food tips for consumers

  • Try to avoid snacking on prawn crackers before a meal – an average portion can contain over 600 calories
  • Healthier starter options include vegetable-based dishes, clear broths and soups
  • Choose main courses that contain plenty of vegetables and that have been stir-fried, grilled, roasted or steamed
  • Healthier main dishes include lean chicken, pork, beef or seafood and sauces such as bean, oyster, ginger, hoisin or plum
  • For a healthier rice, choose steamed or boiled varieties which can save over 150 calories over egg fried varieties
  • Try eating with chopsticks, it means you will eat slower and as a consequence more than likely eat less
  • Try ordering half a portion of your favourite dish and a portion of vegetables  

- ENDS -

For more information, please contact:

Orla Dormer/Susie Cunningham, WHPR
Tel: 01 669 0030
Mobile: 085 708 6877 (SC) / 087 850 5055 (OD)
Dermot Moriarty, safefood
Tel: 01 448 0600 and 086 381 1034

Editors notes

  • The starters surveyed for the report were Prawn Crackers, Won Tons with Sweet & Sour sauce and Vegetable Spring Rolls. The main courses surveyed for the report were Beef Curry, King Prawn Satay and Sweet & Sour Chicken. The rice surveyed was Boiled rice and Egg fried rice.
  • 220 samples were purchased from a total of 35 separate takeaway outlets which included Chinese takeaways and Chinese restaurants with takeaway service.
  • All foods were analysed as purchased, i.e. including sauces and dressings.
  • This research report was commissioned and funded by safefood with sample collection conducted by Eolas International Research, Ireland. Analysis of the Chinese food samples was undertaken by two accredited laboratories - Agri-Food Biosciences Institute (AFBI), Hillsborough, Northern Ireland and Eurofins, UK.
  • The 2011 National Adult Nutrition Survey (NANS) highlighted that 24% of food & drink consumed involved food cooked outside the home (i.e. restaurant/pub/coffee shop/takeaway)


¹ Nutrition takeaway series – What’s in your Chinese Takeaway? safefood September 2012
² Omnibus survey of 2,044 adults Chinese Takeaway Food Consumption; safefood; Millward Brown Lansdowne 2012

Market Data – Bord Bia/Mintel Ethnic Cuisine Ireland report 2011

  • Chinese food was the single most popular style of meal across takeaways and restaurants (excluding pubs) in ROI and NI in 2011
  • Chinese food was the most visited type of takeaway on the island of Ireland in 2011, with 71% of respondents in ROI and 76% in NI having visited a Chinese takeaway in the past 12 months
  • Chinese food was the most popular takeaway amongst all age groups