Looking for the top Panda Express healthy options to order? Grab the list, plus other tips for healthy ordering at the American Chinese chain.
For the last year, I’ve been working on a dream project—and sometimes, I have to pinch myself that my job is real! I had to keep things hush hush for quite a while, but I’m finally able to share the big news with you.
Read on to find out about the big reveal that just happens to involve one of my favorite fast-casual restaurants!
Thanks to the folks at Panda Express for sponsoring this post! All opinions are my own, as always.
You might have felt the suspense these last few paragraphs, so here’s the intel! I’ve partnered with Panda Express to make some truly revolutionary menu changes, called the Panda Promise™.
I feel so honored that I had a rather big hand in helping Panda put the project into place. Like I said, this is a dream project for a registered dietitian nutritionist like me! Ready to hear more?
By the way, all these photos were taken before the coronavirus pandemic hit, at a Panda Express near me (in North Bergen, NJ).
What is the Panda Promise™?
The Panda Promise is new to Panda Express and is a menu elevation on every level.
Not only is the menu being altered so it contains more nutritious Chinese food options (read on for those details), the restaurant is truly committing to being transparent and better on every level.
To accomplish this, Panda Express analyzed market research and conducted focus groups and surveys of what its customers wanted and valued the most. I worked closely with Panda’s food science team to understand these wants and needs.
Then I put together a giant research report (it was 72 pages long!) of my recommendations of what and how to focus on—and I presented this to Panda’s internal team.
The Panda Promise is focusing on several changes throughout the next five years. They are:
Sodium reduction at Panda Express
Here’s huge news: Panda Express has been gradually making changes to reduce the sodium content of its menu items and will continue to do so until 2025.
Because more than 70 percent of sodium in the American diet comes from eating restaurant and packaged foods, per the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, (FDA), this is a really big deal.
While the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that adults consume less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium daily, most Americans take in well beyond this amount—we’re talking about 3,400 milligrams daily.
Thus far, sodium reductions have been made in seven entrees and sides—and go all the way up more than 50 percent! In one of my favorite menu items, Super Greens, the amount of sodium was reduced by more than 50 percent.
And in the Broccoli Beef dish, a sodium reduction of 20 percent has been made.
Because flavor and dish integrity are as important to Panda as nutrition, the team is being super careful to make changes that preserve what customers love about those dishes.
Sugar reduction at Panda Express
As you read this, the chefs and product development team at Panda Express are working hard to reduce sugar levels in the restaurant’s recipes. And guess what else?
Panda Express’ core menu will be completely free of high-fructose corn syrup by 2021.
Panda Express is really listening to what its customers desire. In an International Food Information Council (IFIC) survey, 80 percent of consumers said they are trying to limit and/or avoid added sugars.
And in a Wakefield Research survey, 57 percent of adults ages 65 and older, 47 percent of adults ages 55 to 64, 44 percent of adults ages 45 to 54, 38 percent of adults ages 35 to 44, and 34 percent of adults ages 18 to 34 said that seeing a product labeled “no high-fructose corn syrup” would motivate them to purchase it.
Plus, sugar reductions will help Americans to be healthier. The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that less than 10 percentof calories per day be consumed from added sugars.
Per a 2,000-calorie daily diet, this comes out to no more than 200 calories from added sugar—or 52.5 grams, about 13 teaspoons of table sugar.
Americans are consuming more than the recommended intake of added sugar: In 2005 to 2010, adults took in an average of 13 percent of total daily calories from added sugar, per the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC).
Elimination of artificial flavors and artificial colors
By 2025, all of the entrees, sides, and appetizers at Panda Express will be free of artificial food coloring and flavors. I’m so excited about these changes.
I’ll tell you what: The restaurant chain is so awesome that in its promise to remove artificial colors, it’s removing caramel color, too. I can’t say for sure that this is 100 percent because of my recommendations, but I like to think I had something to do with the change!
Caramel color is one of those ingredients that’s in a bit of limbo in regard to what people and experts think of it.
While the FDA considers it an exempt color and groups it with natural pigments such as dehydrated beets, potential ingredients in caramel color may have negative health implications.
And these moves to remove artificial colors and flavors are ones that consumers really want. In an IFIC survey, nearly 80 percent of consumers said they’re trying to limit and/or avoid added sugars—and 62 percent said would pay up to 10 percent more for a product that’s free of artificial ingredients.
More sustainable fast food
I love the taste of fresh veggies, and I always tell my clients to keep their fridges stocked with fresh produce.
And guess what? Just because food is fast doesn’t mean it isn’t fresh. All the entrees that you love at Panda Express are made with fresh, hand-chopped veggies.
There are so many veggies in these menu items, in fact, that they significantly contribute to your daily servings of vegetables.
Plus, the Panda Express culinary team is always innovating and working on adding even more vegetables to its dishes.
You’ll also find sustainable fast-food items at Panda Express—including eggs and poultry. The restaurant first introduced chicken raised-without-antibiotics in 2019 in its limited-time offering.
And this year, Panda introduced cage-free eggs. All California locations have already transitioned to cage-free eggs, and other states will have cage-free menu items in the next five years.
Consumers feel very passionately about sustainability and eating sustainable fast food.
In a 2018 Animals survey, 84 percent of respondents said it was somewhat or very important to them that farms raise animals with shelter, resting areas, and sufficient space.
Top Panda Express healthy options
Looking for Panda Express healthy options to order? Use this list next time you order in or do takeout.
It’s not always easy to find a nutrient-packed plant-based side order, which is why I’m so happy that Panda Express offers its Super Greens side!
This combo of broccoli, kale, and cabbage is just like it sounds.
It’s a medley of green veggies that are super for you! In just 90 calories for a 7-ounce side order, you get an excellent amount of fiber (5 grams) and a good amount of protein (6 grams), both nutrients that help keep you fuller for longer.
A good option for a main dish at Panda Express is the Eggplant Tofu. This is a mixture of tofu, eggplant, and red bell peppers. A 6.1-ounce portion has 340 calories, 7 grams of protein, and 3 grams of fiber.
Note that even though these dishes are plant-based, everything at Panda Express is cooked in shared woks and equipment.
String Bean Chicken Breast
The String Bean Chicken Breast contains 13 grams of carbs and 190 calories per 5.6-ounce serving. It’s a great low-calorie, low-carb option for people with diabetes.
Black Pepper Angus Steak
This steak dish from Panda Express is made with top sirloin Angus steak, which is a lean steak—as well as baby broccoli, mushrooms, red peppers, and onions.
A 5.1-ounce serving is just 180 calories yet offers 19 grams of filling protein. The dish is part of the Wok Smart menu, which means that it contains 8 grams of protein or more for 300 calories or less—and contains fresh veggies.
The Panda Promise, as well as this list of nutritious options to order at Panda Express, makes it easier than ever to get Panda Express healthy options. You can find low-calorie, low-carb, and high-protein dishes that suite your eating preferences.
- Panda Express Announces New Brand Commitments To Continue Menu Elevation Journey, PRNewsire.com
- Sodium in Your Diet, U.S. Food & Drug Administration
- 2019 Food & Health Survey,International Food Information Council (IFIC)
- New Survey from Label Insight Reveals Which Loosely-Regulated Marketing Claims Motivate Shoppers to Buy,
- Wakefield Research
- 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans
- Know Your Limit for Added Sugars, U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC)
- Are They Buying It? United States Consumers’ Changing Attitudes toward More Humanely Raised Meat, Eggs, and Dairy, Animals
- Aerosol and Surface Stability of SARS-CoV-2 as Compared with SARS-CoV-1, The New England Journal of Medicine
I’d love to hear from you! Let me know what you think about the new Panda Express changes, plus these Panda Express healthy options to order.
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