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Menu Decoder - Panda Express

Most of us strive to eat healthy, cook fresh foods, and eat out as little as possible! That being said, we all have those days where there is no time and grabbing something quick from a restaurant is the only option or maybe you want to go out to eat with friends and they pick a restaurant that does not have healthy food options! What do you do? What can you eat? Today I am decoding the menu to a popular quick “fast-food” Chinese restaurant, Panda Express.

Below you will find food guides to eating Gluten Free, Vegetarian, Vegan, Low Glycemic Index, Low Sodium, & Caloric based! I did the work and math so you don't have to!

Disclaimer, most food at fast-food chains like Panda Express is not really healthy or ideal, but this is a guide to purchase the best options if you are going to eat there and be smart with what you put into your body.

Gluten Free Options:

They are limited at best, but here is what you can eat if you are gluten free. Please note that there will be cross contamination, so if you have a severe gluten allergy, eat here with caution or do not eat here at all.

Brown or White Steamed Rice!

  • Eat with 1 of 4 gluten free sauce options: sweet & sour sauce, chili sauce, hot mustard sauce, or plum sauce

That’s it! Can you believe that the veggies have wheat cross contamination! Sad day… but not uncommon.

Vegetarian Options:

You can eat vegetarian here, but you are mainly looking at their sides as options.


  • Chow mein, Brown or White Steamed Rice, and super greens.

  • If you can do egg, then you can also include fried rice.


  • Eggplant tofu

  • If you can do fish (pescatarian) then here are some additional options: Honey walnut shrimp (contains egg and milk), wok-fried shrimp, golden treasure shrimp, steamed ginger fish (contains milk), and firecracker shrimp.


  • Cream cheese rangoon and vegetable spring roll


  • Teriyaki, Sweet & Sour, Chili, Soy, Potsticker, Hot Mustard, Plum Sauce

Vegan Options:

It's a challenge to do this here, but you can get a few items. Be cautious that there is likely cross-contamination as they cook all their food in the same or similar pans. There also could be additives in their sauce that does not make it completely vegan, but they do not contain meat, egg, or milk if listed below.


  • Chow mein, Brown or White Steamed Rice, and super greens.


  • Eggplant tofu (does not contain egg or milk products)


  • Vegetable spring roll (does not contain egg or milk products)


  • Teriyaki, Sweet & Sour, Chili, Soy, Potsticker, Hot Mustard, Plum Sauce

Low Glycemic Food Options:

Let’s say you are trying to eat only foods that are low on the glycemic food index scale. There are two easy ways of calculating a food's glycemic index.

  • Sugar to fiber ratio... ideally 1:1

  • Carbohydrate to fiber ratio... ideally less than 10:1


  • Super Greens (good fiber to sugar and fiber to carb ratio)

  • Brown Steamed Rice (good fiber to sugar ratio)


Chicken or Vegetarian...

  • String Bean Chicken Breast (good fiber to sugar and fiber to carb ratio)

  • Eggplant Tofu (good fiber to carb ratio)

  • Kung Pao Chicken, Teriyaki Chicken, Asian Chicken, Mushroom Chicken, Potato Chicken (good fiber to carb ratio)


  • Black pepper angus steak, Broccoli beef (good fiber to carb ratio)


  • Firecracker shrimp (good fiber to carb ratio)


  • Chicken Egg Roll, Cream Cheese Rangoon (good fiber to sugar and fiber to carb ratio)

Low Sodium Intake Options:

Americans on average consume over 3300 mg of sodium per day. Ideally, you should consume less than 2300 mg of sodium per day! If you are 51+ y/o or have high blood pressure, diabetes, or kidney disease, you should strive to consume less than 1500 mg of sodium.

This can be hard to do if you don’t know how much sodium certain foods contain. Unlike calories, this information is not listed anywhere easily accessible. I have created panda 'meal's below that contain less than 500 mg of sodium, which is the MOST you should consume per meal.

Panda Bowl:

Start with the side of Brown/White Steamed Rice (0-15 mg).

Then choose one of the following entrees: Mixed Veggies entrée (280 mg), Sweet Fire Chicken Breast (320 mg), Sweet & Sour Chicken Breast (260 mg), OR Honey Walnut Shrimp (440 mg).

Hungry for an appetizer? Check the Sodium levels first and decide if it is worth it!
  • Chicken Egg Roll (340 mg)

  • Chicken Potsticker (250 mg)

  • Cream Cheese Rangoon (180 mg)

  • Vegetable Spring Roll (520 mg)

Thinking about adding an additional sauce? This is where those sneaking Sodium mg hide! Look at the levels below in the sauces that contain less than 500 mg per serving.
  • Teriyaki Sauce (380 mg)

  • Sweet & Sour Sauce (115 mg)

  • Chili Sauce (125 mg)

  • Soy Sauce (375 mg)

  • Potsticker Sauce (290 mg)

  • Hot Mustard Sauce (115 mg)

  • Plum Sauce (55 mg)

Calorie Counter? This is for you...

I am not a big fan of counting calories! I think there are more important nutrition factors to consider (like the things I listed above). Also, if you learn mindful eating and how to enjoy your food, calorie counting is almost not important. That being said, if you are trying to keep track below are meal options that are less than 500 calories (the most you should eat for one meal, when you are on a 2000 calorie diet).

**These meals also have less than 500 mg of sodium & are on the low glycemic index scale!

Panda Bowls:
The gluten-free and sugar-free menu ideas listed above have less than 500 calories to them, so they are included in this list as well.

Brown Steamed Rice**

  • w/Mixed Veggie entrée

    • Add Chili, Potsticker, Hot Mustard, or Soy Sauce

White Steamed Rice**

  • w/Mixed Veggie entrée

    • Add chili, potsticker, hot mustard, or soy sauce

  • w/Hot & Sour Soup (cup size)

Mixed Veggies

  • w/Black Pepper Chicken

    • Add crispy shrimp OR hot & sour soup (cup size)

  • w/Grilled Teriyaki Chicken

    • Add hot & sour soup (cup size)

  • w/Kung Pao Chicken

    • Add crispy shrimp OR hot & sour soup (cup size)

  • w/Grilled Asian Chicken

    • Add hot & sour soup (cup size)

  • w/Teriyaki Chicken

  • w/Asian Chicken

  • w/Mushroom Chicken

    • Add hot & sour soup (cup/bowl size) OR any appetizer

  • w/Orange Chicken

  • w/String Bean Chick Breast

    • Add hot & sour soup (cup/bowl size) OR any appetizer

  • w/Sweet & Sour Chicken

    • Add cup of hot & sour soup

  • w/Sweet Fire Chicken Breast

  • w/Broccoli Beef

    • Add hot & sour soup (cup/bowl size) OR any appetizer

  • w/Shanghai Angus Steak

  • Crispy Shrimp

    • Add cup of hot & sour soup OR Chicken Potstickers

  • Honey Walnut Shrimp

2 entrée plates:

Mixed Veggies

  • w/Mushroom Chicken & Broccoli Beef

  • w/Mushroom Chicken & String Bean Chicken Breast

  • w/String Bean Chicken Breast & Broccoli Beef

  • w/Broccoli Beef & Crispy Shrimp


If you are going to eat at Panda Express, use the above information as a guide. For a list of all the dietary info, Panda has a nutritional & allergen info sheet, which is fairly user-friendly compared to most restaurants! Here is my 5 step guide to eating "healthy" here!

  1. Stick with a panda bowl

  2. Choose Steamed Brown Rice or Mixed Veggies as a side

  3. Pick your entrée from the "Wok Smart" list or my Low Glycemic Index list from above

  4. Add a cup of hot & sour soup if you need some more calories (soup is filling & will help you slow down and enjoy your meal)

  5. Avoid adding additional sauces or a drink outside of water (extra sodium, sugar, & empty calories)

Interested in making your own Chinese Food that is healthy! Check out this website for a list of paleo friendly (therefore also gluten free) Chinese food recipes!

My name is Dr. Emma Petshow and I am a licensed, board-certified naturopathic physician (N.D.). For more about myself, check out the About page on my website.

This blog represents the opinions of Dr. Emma Petshow. The content here should not be taken as medical advice. The content here is for informational and educational purposes only. Each person is unique, so consult your healthcare professional for any personal medical questions. Views and opinions expressed in the blog are our own. While we make every effort to ensure that the information we are sharing is accurate, we welcome any comments, suggestions, or correction of errors. Privacy is of utmost importance to us. All people, places, and scenarios mentioned in the blog have been changed to protect patient confidentiality. This blog should not be used in any legal capacity whatsoever, including but not limited to establishing “standard of care” in a legal sense or as a basis for expert witness testimony. No guarantee is given regarding the accuracy of any statements or opinions made on the blog. In no way does listening, reading, emailing or interacting on social media with our content establish a doctor-patient relationship.

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