Dr. Thomas Dwan - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Thomas Dwan

Is Orange Chicken Bad For You?



Short answer

Orange chicken is high in calories, fat, and sugars, especially when deep-fried and coated in sauce. It can contribute to weight gain and heart disease if consumed excessively. Opting for a version with grilled or baked chicken and a lighter sauce, and consuming it in moderation, can mitigate negative health impacts. Balancing it with low-sugar, low-sodium, and vegetable-rich meals is also recommended.



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Long answer

Caloric Content and Nutritional Value of Orange Chicken

When analyzing the caloric content and nutritional value of orange chicken, it's important to consider that this popular Chinese-American dish varies widely depending on the recipe and method of preparation. Typically, orange chicken consists of battered, deep-fried chicken pieces coated in a sweet and tangy orange sauce. Here, we will break down the nutrients commonly found in a standard serving of orange chicken and discuss its potential impact on your diet.

Typical Caloric Breakdown:

  • Serving Size: A standard serving (approximately 5.7 ounces, or 162 grams)
  • Calories: Roughly 490-550 calories
  • Fat: Around 22-25 grams, with saturated fat comprising about 4-5 grams of this total
  • Carbohydrates: Approximately 50-65 grams, with a significant portion coming from sugars in the sauce
  • Protein: Usually 24-30 grams, mostly from the chicken

Nutrients and Ingredients Contributing to Caloric Content:

Ingredient Caloric Contribution
Battered Chicken High (due to frying and breading)
Sweet Orange Sauce High (mainly from sugars and syrups)
Vegetable Oils (for frying) High (adds to the fat content)
Vinegar and Seasonings Minimal
Additional Vegetables (if included) Minimal to moderate (depending on type and amount)

Considerations for Dietary Balance:

  • The high-calorie count, mainly from fats and sugars, suggests moderation is key when incorporating orange chicken into a balanced diet.
  • Breading and frying the chicken increases its calorie density, making even small portions more calorific.
  • The sweet sauce often contains high levels of sugars, contributing to the dish’s overall carbohydrate content, which may not be suitable for low-carb diets.
  • While the chicken provides a good source of protein, it's important to consider the quality and balance of the accompanying nutrients.
  • Frequently consuming meals high in saturated fats and added sugars, like orange chicken, may be linked to health concerns, including weight gain and heart disease, as indicated by studies published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology and other peer-reviewed journals.

For those watching their calorie intake or managing specific dietary needs, considering a healthier version or moderation of orange chicken could be beneficial. Healthier versions may involve grilled or baked chicken with a lighter sauce, significantly reducing both caloric and sugar content. Always consult with a dietitian or healthcare provider when making substantive changes to your diet or addressing health concerns related to food choices.

Deep Frying and Trans Fats: The Cooking Process

When we delve into the cooking process of orange chicken, one aspect that deserves a closer look is the method of deep frying involved. This traditional cooking technique imparts that characteristic crunch and flavor that many find irresistible. However, it also represents a significant health consideration for those mindful of their dietary intake.

Deep frying involves submerging food in hot oil, often at temperatures around 350-375°F (175-190°C). This process can form trans fats, particularly if the oil is used repeatedly at high temperatures or if hydrogenated oils are employed. Trans fats, also known as trans fatty acids, are a form of unsaturated fat. Some trans fats occur naturally in animal fats, but the ones produced during deep frying are artificial and considered to be detrimental to heart health.

According to the American Heart Association, trans fat can increase your risk of developing heart disease by raising your bad cholesterol levels (LDL) and lowering the good cholesterol levels (HDL). A study published in the journal Nutrition & Metabolism (2015) has associated trans fats intake with increased inflammation, which is a risk factor for heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and other chronic conditions.

To reduce the creation of trans fats, restaurants may use oils with higher smoke points and stability at high temperatures. Examples include peanut, soybean, and canola oils. However, even with a stable oil, each successive use degrades the oil quality, increasing the likelihood of trans fat formation.

It's also worth considering that not all oils are created equal in terms of health impact. For instance, partially hydrogenated oils – a significant source of artificial trans fats – have been phased out and banned in many places due to their health risks. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) determined that partially hydrogenated oils are not "Generally Recognized as Safe" (GRAS) in human food, leading to a food industry shift toward eliminating these oils by January 2020.

Beyond trans fats, deep-frying can also increase the calorie density of the chicken. The absorption of oil boosts the energy content of the food, which can contribute to weight gain if consumed in excess. Thus, while the orange sauce also plays a role in the nutritional content of the dish, the cooking process of deep frying is an equally important factor for those looking to maintain a balanced diet.

In summary, when considering the implications of deep-fried foods like orange chicken:

  • Be aware of the health risks associated with trans fats, including increased LDL (bad cholesterol) and decreased HDL (good cholesterol).
  • Understand that repeated use of the same oil for deep frying can exacerbate the formation of trans fats.
  • Consider that while some restaurants may opt for oils with higher smoke points to minimize health risks, the presence of trans fats cannot be entirely ruled out.
  • Remember that, in addition to trans fats, the calorie content of deep-fried foods is generally higher, which could impact weight management goals.

It's essential to balance indulgent foods like orange chicken with a diet that also includes ample fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. By doing so, you ensure a varied nutrient intake that can help mitigate the less desirable effects of occasional high-calorie, high-trans-fat foods.

Sugar Content in Orange Chicken Sauce

Orange Chicken, a popular dish in many American-Chinese restaurants, is known for its delectable balance of sweet and savory flavors. However, the sweetness comes at a nutritional cost, primarily due to the sugar content in the sauce. The sugar levels in the typical orange chicken sauce can have significant implications for your overall diet, especially if consumed in excess.

Typically, the sauce of orange chicken contains ingredients like orange juice, sugar, and sometimes honey or brown sugar, contributing to its high sugar content. A single serving of orange chicken can contain a substantial amount of sugar, often surpassing the American Heart Association's recommendation for daily sugar intake, which is 36 grams for men and 25 grams for women.

  • Assessing the Sugar Content: Depending on the restaurant or brand, a serving of orange chicken can range from 20-50 grams of sugar. This is equivalent to consuming several tablespoons of pure sugar.
  • Source of Sugars: Sauces are often sweetened with ingredients like high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which has been linked to various health issues when consumed in high amounts.
  • Impact on Health: Excessive sugar intake can lead to health problems like weight gain, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. The high sugar content in orange chicken sauce contributes heavily to these risks.
  • Comparative Examples: To put it into context, one serving of orange chicken could contain as much sugar as an average chocolate bar or soda, foods typically associated with high sugar levels.

Detailed nutritional information can vary between restaurants or store-bought versions, but it's crucial to be mindful of the sugar content in this dish. Monitoring the amount and frequency of consumption can mitigate the potential negative health effects associated with the high sugar content in orange chicken sauce.

Research studies have consistently pointed out that lower intake of added sugars is associated with better health outcomes. The links between sugar consumption and metabolic syndrome, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and even certain types of cancer are well-documented in scientific literature:

  • Kearns et al., 2015 - JAMA Internal Medicine published a study revealing that a significant percentage of Americans' calorie intake comes from sugar, and higher sugar intake was associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular mortality.
  • Malik et al., 2010 - A meta-analysis in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that high intake of sugar-sweetened beverages was linked to obesity and type 2 diabetes.

It's crucial for individuals who regularly enjoy dishes like orange chicken to be aware of the sugar content and its potential impact on health. Moderation is key, and it's recommended to balance out meals with low-sugar options and plenty of vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins.

Sodium Levels in Orange Chicken and Health Implications

Orange chicken, a popular dish in many American-Chinese restaurants, is known for its savory and sweet flavor. However, this tantalizing taste often comes with a high sodium content. The presence of soy sauce, chicken broth, and other seasoning mixtures in orange chicken recipes can result in a significant amount of sodium, which is important to take into account when assessing the dish's health implications.

The American Heart Association recommends no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day for most adults, and ideally, limiting intake to 1,500 milligrams per day, especially for those with hypertension or prehypertension.

Let's break down the sodium content we might typically find in a serving of orange chicken:

  • Soy Sauce: A primary ingredient in the sauce can have up to 900 milligrams of sodium per tablespoon.
  • Seasoning Mixes: These can include garlic and onion powders, which often have added salt, contributing additional sodium.
  • Chicken Broth: Often used to enhance flavor, even lower-sodium varieties can contribute several hundred milligrams of sodium per dish.
  • Breading: The flour mixture for breading the chicken before frying can also include salt, further increasing the sodium level.

A standard serving of orange chicken can hover between 600 to 1,500 milligrams of sodium, which accounts for a significant portion of the recommended daily intake. This does not include the sodium that might be present in side items, such as fried rice or noodles, commonly consumed alongside the dish.

Health Implications:

  • Hypertension: High intake of sodium is strongly linked with elevated blood pressure, a condition known as hypertension, which is a significant risk factor for heart disease and stroke.
  • Heart Health: Consuming foods high in sodium can contribute to the development of cardiovascular diseases by increasing the body's blood volume and, in turn, the workload of the heart.
  • Water Retention: Excess sodium can make the body hold on to more water, leading to bloating and puffiness—symptoms associated with water retention.
  • Kidney Function: High sodium levels can also put a strain on the kidneys, affecting their ability to regulate fluid balance and filter waste.
  • Chronic Disease: Long-term high sodium consumption is linked with an increased risk of chronic diseases, including stomach cancer and chronic kidney disease.

A study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology has highlighted these health risks and noted that reducing sodium intake to recommended levels is associated with a lower incidence of cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality.

Note that individual sensitivity to sodium varies, and some people, known as “salt-sensitive,” may experience more significant blood pressure increases with high sodium intake than others. It's imperative for individuals with a predisposition to salt sensitivity or with existing health conditions to monitor the sodium content in their meals carefully.

When enjoying a serving of orange chicken, it’s a good idea to balance the overall meal with low-sodium options and be mindful of portion sizes to keep sodium intake within a healthy range. Opting for home-cooked versions of orange chicken, where sodium levels can be more precisely controlled, is another way to enjoy this dish while minimizing potential health risks associated with high sodium levels.

Balancing Indulgence: Portion Sizes and Frequency of Consumption

When it comes to foods like orange chicken, which can be both tantalizing and rich in calories, fats, and sugars, managing portion sizes and frequency of consumption is crucial to maintaining a healthy diet. Indulging in orange chicken is by no means forbidden in a balanced diet, but understanding and regulating how much and how often you enjoy this dish can significantly impact your overall health.

Understanding Portion Sizes:

One serving of commercially prepared orange chicken can contain upwards of 500-700 calories, with significant amounts of added sugars and fats. It's essential to understand that restaurant servings are often much larger than recommended dietary guidelines. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a portion of protein should be about 3-4 ounces, roughly the size of a deck of cards. However, a typical serving of orange chicken from a restaurant can sometimes exceed these portion recommendations two to threefold.

Here are a few tips to help manage portion sizes:

  • Share your meal: Consider splitting a serving with a friend or family member. You'll still get to enjoy the taste without overindulging.
  • Box half: Before you start eating, ask for a box and pack away half of the serving to ensure you're not tempted to finish a portion that's too large.
  • Homemade alternatives: If cooking at home, you can better control your portion sizes and tweak the recipe for a healthier outcome – such as less sugar and oil.

Frequency of Consumption:

Treating orange chicken as an occasional indulgence rather than a staple in your diet is crucial. The high sugar, calorie, and fat content make it a dish that is best enjoyed sparingly. For most healthy individuals, indulging in a dish like orange chicken once a month is a reasonable approach. This helps to maintain a diverse and nutrient-dense diet while still allowing for occasional treats.

Balanced Diet Integration:

When you do choose to enjoy orange chicken, it's important to balance the rest of your meals throughout the day. On days you plan to indulge, aim to consume nutrient-rich foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins during other meals to keep your overall daily intake more balanced. This approach ensures that you're still providing your body with the necessary nutrients without exceeding your daily caloric needs.

Listen to Your Body:

Everyone's body is different, and therefore, dietary needs can vary greatly from person to person. Listening to your body and paying attention to how it responds after eating certain foods is important. If you notice that you feel sluggish or experience digestive discomfort after eating orange chicken, it may be wise to reduce the portion size or frequency even further.

In summary, while orange chicken can be an enjoyable part of your culinary experiences, taking a mindful approach to portion sizes and how often you consume the dish is key for individuals who are mindful of their health and dietary goals.

Healthier Alternatives to Traditional Orange Chicken

For those who love the sweet and tangy flavor of orange chicken but are looking for healthier options, there are various ways to enjoy this dish with a nutritional twist. Below are methods and substitutes that can be used to create a version of orange chicken that better aligns with health-conscious eating habits:

  • Opt for Baking Instead of Frying: Traditional orange chicken is often deep-fried, which increases the dish’s fat and calorie content. Baking the chicken instead could drastically reduce these numbers. Try coating chicken pieces in a light breading of whole-grain flour or almond meal and bake until crisp.
  • Use Lean Protein Choices: Swap out traditional cuts of chicken for leaner options such as chicken breast. This not only reduces the overall fat content but also provides a high-quality source of protein.
  • Incorporate Whole Grains: Serve your orange chicken over a bed of brown rice, quinoa, or cauliflower rice instead of white rice to increase the fiber content, which can help with satiety and support healthy digestion.
  • Boost Vegetable Intake: Add a generous serving of steamed or stir-fried vegetables to your dish. Vegetables like broccoli, bell peppers, and snap peas complement the flavors and add vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
  • Reduce Sugar in the Sauce: Many orange chicken recipes include high amounts of sugar in the sauce. To reduce this, consider using natural sweeteners like honey or pure maple syrup, and use them sparingly. You might also experiment with fresh orange juice and zest to maximize flavor while minimizing added sugars.
  • Control Portion Sizes: Be mindful of portion sizes to keep calorie intake in check. Pairing orange chicken with veggies and whole grains helps fill you up without needing to overindulge.
  • Make Sauce Adjustments: When preparing the sauce, use reduced-sodium soy sauce or tamari to lower the sodium content and consider thickening the sauce with a small amount of cornstarch or arrowroot powder instead of flour for a smoother texture.

Consuming a balanced meal that includes healthier versions of orange chicken can offer satisfaction without compromising on nutrition. For example, a study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests that replacing refined grains with whole grains and increasing vegetable and lean protein intake are associated with health benefits such as better weight management and reduced risk of chronic diseases. Making smart substitutions and cooking methods when preparing orange chicken can contribute to these positive dietary outcomes.

Remember, while making these swaps can help improve the health profile of a dish like orange chicken, it’s also important to practice moderation and consider the dish as part of an overall balanced diet. Each substitute should be tailored to individual dietary requirements and preferences to ensure a nutritious and enjoyable meal.

Frequently asked questions

Healthy substitutions for sauce ingredients include using low-sodium soy sauce or tamari, natural sweeteners like honey or pure maple syrup in moderation, and relying on fresh orange juice and zest for flavor. To thicken the sauce, cornstarch or arrowroot powder are better alternatives to refined flour.

Yes, you can make orange chicken less calorie-dense by using skinless chicken breast, oven-baking instead of frying, using a light touch of breading or skipping it entirely, and preparing a sauce with reduced sugar content. By doing so, you'll reduce the fat and sugar content significantly.

To enjoy orange chicken as part of a balanced diet, balance your meal with low-sodium and low-sugar side dishes, focus on portion control, incorporate a variety of vegetables, choose lean protein sources, and enjoy this dish in moderation—preferably as an occasional indulgence.

Adding vegetables like broccoli, bell peppers, snap peas, carrots, or snow peas to orange chicken not only enhances the nutrient profile with vitamins, minerals, and fiber but also adds vibrant color and texture to the meal, complementing the sweet and tangy flavors of the dish.

Ask a question about Orange Chicken and our team will publish the answer as soon as possible.

Possible short-term side effects

  • increased blood glucose levels
  • increased ldl cholesterol
  • decreased hdl cholesterol
  • weight gain
  • bloating and puffiness
  • elevated blood pressure

Possible long-term side effects

  • heart disease
  • type 2 diabetes
  • increased risk of cardiovascular mortality
  • obesity
  • metabolic syndrome
  • stroke
  • chronic kidney disease
  • stomach cancer

Ingredients to be aware of

  • saturated fats
  • trans fats
  • added sugars
  • high fructose corn syrup (hfcs)
  • high sodium content
  • partially hydrogenated oils
  • caloric sweeteners


  • good source of protein (with proper cuts of chicken)
  • nutrient intakes with vegetables and whole grains in healthier versions

Healthier alternatives

  • baking instead of frying
  • leaner cuts of chicken
  • whole grains
  • steamed or stir-fried vegetables
  • natural sweeteners
  • reduced-sodium soy sauce or tamari
  • sauce thickened with cornstarch or arrowroot powder

Our Wellness Pick (what is this?)

Plant-Based Chicken Patties

  • Animal-free product
  • Protein-rich alternative
  • Convenient meal option
  • Suitable for vegans
Learn More!

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 01-22-2024

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 01-22-2024

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