This Chinese dish is a take-out staple as a colorful and tasty side dish, but is it one of the more healthy Asian recipes, or is it a sodium and fat bomb? Check out the essential nutrition of this dish and learn how to make fried rice at home without compromising that rich, umami flavor!
Fried rice has its spot on every single Chinese take-out menu - this simple side dish pairs well with plenty of proteins like Kung Pao chicken or tofu, but still manages to taste great on its own.
At a quick glance, fried rice looks pretty healthy with its chopped colorful veggies and rice. But when it comes to many foods, looks can sometimes be deceiving - excessive soy sauce, oil, and MSG can turn this dish into an unwholesome one that you'll only want to eat as a rare treat.
If you absolutely love fried rice but don't want to compromise your diet, you can make a version of this healthy Chinese food at home pretty quickly.
Learn more about the very best and worst ingredients in your standard take-out fried rice, and follow our healthy fried rice recipe below!
What is Fried Rice?
- Fried rice is a cooked rice dish that always contains rice and often includes veggies, eggs, seafood, or meat.
- Traditionally, we cook fried rice in a wok with oil to increase the surface area and give the dish maximum crispiness.
- While we often associated fried rice with China, plenty of countries offer their own fried rice dishes, especially in Asia, where rice reigns as the supreme grain of choice.
- Fried rice is widespread street food in Asian countries, and as the popularity of the dish travels West, it's all over the countless Asian take-out menus in America.
Common Ingredients: The Best and the Worst
How unhealthy is fried rice?
While some of the ingredients in fried rice can be unhealthy, it's not all bad - here are some of the healthiest and worst elements you'll find in a dish of fried rice.
Toss' Em In: Veggie Content
Fried rice contains chopped veggies, which are sources of fiber, vitamins, and minerals essential for full body function. But sometimes, the portions are measly - you can barely even spot the specks of veggies in a mostly beige bowl of inexpensive fried rice.
To maximize these benefits, drop as many veggies as you can into your healthy Chinese food recipe at home, and order extra steamed veggies in your take-out fried rice.
Drowning in Oil & Fried Rice Sauce
While using a little oil to cook our foods is fine, there is a reason that take-out food tastes so much better - chefs usually drown the dish in fat because it gives the most deliciously crispy texture, especially to noodles and rice.
Oil is a calorie-dense food, with 124 calories in a single tablespoon. A few too many generous drizzles of oil can make your fried rice calories shoot up quickly!
Avoid any sauces as much as you can - ask for half sauce or none at all and sauce yourself at home as needed. Many sweet Asian sauces contain corn syrup, which wreaks havoc on your body and blood sugar.
Good Source of Fiber: White Vs. Brown Rice
Most fried rice dishes use white rice over brown, but if you'd like a slightly better version of healthy fried rice, opt for brown instead: while the calories in white rice and brown are comparable, brown rice contains more fiber, which will fill you up a little faster and help control portion sizes - it adds more vitamins and minerals to the dish, too.
You can lower fried rice carbs slightly by using brown rice over white, but rice is still a grain at the end of the day. There isn't a viable way to make this dish low-carb unless you remove the main ingredient, and then you're just making a veggie stir-fry instead.
Strange Food Derivatives: MSG
MSG, or monosodium glutamate, is a fairly common ingredient in restaurant and take-out food. This food additive makes everything taste better, but it comes at a cost.
Many people's bodies are sensitive to this ingredient and may experience headaches or other adverse reactions. An increased MSG intake links to increased weight gain and obesity in some studies from China.
MSG increases the sodium content in any dish, which can be an issue with the already ample levels of sodium in fried rice.
Too Much of a Good Thing: Salt Content
1 cup of fried rice contains 460 mg of sodium, which is ¼ of your maximum salt intake for the day - it's a lot! Restaurant chefs tend to toss extra soy sauce into the dish because people tend to love the taste of salt.
While not every restaurant will have the option, choose low-sodium fried rice whenever you can, and use low-sodium soy sauce when you cook the dish at home to cut down on the sodium levels.
Store-Bought Vs. Homemade Versions
Is fried rice healthy?
Store-bought and takeout varieties can become incredibly unhealthy with too much soy sauce, salt, and fat.
But with the right homemade recipe, like the one below, you can eat a bowl of fried rice that’s nutritious, fibrous, and full of healthy nutrients.
Chinese Fried Rice Recipe: How to Make Homemade Healthy Fried Rice
- 1 14-oz package extra-firm tofu
- 1/2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 Tbsp tamari
- 1/2 tsp sriracha
- 1 Tbsp cornstarch, optional
- 1 c uncooked brown rice
- 2 tsp vegetable or canola oil, divided
- 1 tsp roasted sesame oil
- 1 whole egg
- 1 egg, whites only
- 5 green onions, finely chopped
- 2 c green cabbage, shredded
- 1 carrot, peeled and grated
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
- 1 Tbsp fresh ginger, peeled and minced
- 2 Tbsp low-sodium soy sauce or tamari
Preparing fried rice
- If you can, make your rice a day ahead of time, as cooked, chilled rice makes the best fried rice.
- Pour 6 c of water into a large pot and bring it to a boil. Rinse the dried brown rice in a fine-mesh strainer under cool running water to remove the excess starch.
- Add the brown rice into the pot of boiling water, then reduce the temperature as needed to prevent overflow while maintaining a steady boil.
- Boil the brown rice, uncovered, for 30 mins.
- Drain off the remaining water and return the brown rice to the pot. Cover the rice pot and let it rest off the heat for ~ 10 mins—fluff with a fork and place the rice in the fridge to chill.
- Remove your tofu from the package and place it into a tofu press for 15 mins to remove the block's excess liquid. While your tofu presses, chop and prep all of your veggies for later.
- Preheat your oven to 425°F. Line a medium baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper.
- Remove your tofu from the press and cut the tofu block into 1-inch cubes.
- Toss the cubed tofu with extra-virgin olive oil, tamari, and sriracha. For the best extra-crispy tofu, sprinkle the cubes with the cornstarch and gently toss them to coat evenly.
- Spread the tofu cubes evenly on the baking sheet. Bake your tofu for 20 to 25 mins, or until browned around the edges. Remove and set aside.
Preparing fried rice with tofu
- While your tofu bakes, you can begin assembling your healthy fried brown rice.
- Heat a large pan over medium-high heat. Whisk 1 whole egg + 1 egg white, then season with salt and pepper. Pour 1 tsp of vegetable oil into the pan. Add the whisked egg mixture and cook until just scrambled, then remove the eggs from the pan and set aside.
- Pour the remaining vegetable oil and sesame oil into the hot pan. Add the chopped green onions, cabbage, carrot, garlic, ginger, and any extra chopped veggies you like. Cook the mixture for 1-2 mins, until the ingredients barely begin to soften.
- Add the cooked brown rice into the pan and cook for 2-4 more mins, frequently stirring, until the brown fried rice begins to look crispy.
- Add the soy sauce or tamari, scrambled egg, and tofu. Stir all the ingredients together and cook for 1 more min.
- Remove the pan from the heat, serve and enjoy your healthy tofu and veggie fried rice!
Healthy Fried Rice Recipe - Nutritional Facts
Serving Size - 3/4 c.
Calories: 129kcals; Fat 4 g; Sodium 212 mg; Carbs 20 g; Dietary Fiber 3 g; Sugar 2 g; Protein 4 g.
Fried Rice Recipe FAQ
Can I use other types of tofu?
While we recommend extra-firm tofu for the crispiest results, you can get away with using firm in a pinch as well.
Regular, soft, and silken will all be far too watery to use in this recipe, as they remain soggy or crumble apart.
Do I need to use a tofu press?
Not necessarily. A tofu press isn't essential, but you do need to press the tofu first somehow to remove the excess water.
We love to use our tofu press because it's effortless and only takes 15 mins.
If you don't own a press, wrap your tofu block in a dry paper towel and press the tofu between two heavy plates for 2-3 hrs minimum. This method is a little messier and takes significantly longer, so you should start prepping your tofu a few hours before cooking time.
Healthy Fried Rice for Weight Loss?
Generally, fried white rice will not help you lose weight, especially the calorie-filled, soy sauce covered take-out varieties!
However, if you're eating a dish similar to our recipe, it's much lower in calories and fat with a decent amount of filling fiber, helping you eat less food during the day.Stick with lean proteins, use a light hand with the vegan fat sources like oil, and add a load of veggies into the pan and this meal can absolutely help fill you up on fewer calories.