Can You Eat Keto at Panda Express?

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Edison invented the light bulb, the Wright brothers invented the airplane, and the Chinese… They invented gunpowder, paper, and how to never get into ketosis. Because it’s literally impossible with rice, wheat, and noodles as staple foods.

Carefully following Chinese culinary traditions, Panda Express is also widely known for its coon-bear logo and their chick. However, no one has ever seen a panda ordering a grilled teriyaki chicken bowl in here. Is that due to high carb content or lack of bamboo flavors?

This question, along with other equally fundamental ones, is yet to be answered, but these millennium riddles are for zoologists with lots of free time. Unless you’re one of them, you might have opened this guide with only one, the noblest of intentions — to know how to have a keto meal at Panda Express. Here is the answer.

What to Avoid at Panda Express

Inspired by pandas, who subsist almost entirely on bamboo, Panda Express wants you to feed almost exclusively on rice. And if you, just like a coon-bear, consumed up to 84 pounds a day they would certainly give you a customer-of-the-year reward.

Which would be a doubtful achievement for a keto-minded person. You came here to claim a lettuce bed, not a rice one. So just like pandas exclude pizza from their diet, you have to omit these dishes:

  • Rice and noodle sides. Not only do they have tons of carbs, but they also provide very poor nutrition.
  • Orange Chicken. Their signature dish with 49g net carbs. That’s not a mistake, 5.7oz of chicken contains half a hundred carbs; probably delicious, but you shall never know.
  • SweetFire Chicken Breast. Orange chicken’s younger cousin with 46g net carbs.
  • Sweet & Sour Chicken Breast. Wish it were “cream” instead of “sweet”, but the latter clearly justifies having 39g net carbs.
  • Beijing Beef. They try to tangle you with this not-saying-much name. The proper one would be “Sugary Beef” due to 45g net carbs.
  • Honey Walnut Shrimp. As you know from the famous documentary about one yellow teddy, bears don’t eat shrimp because they spend all their money on a little something. You though, shouldn’t eat this particular shrimp because of 33g net carbs.

These dishes are outstandingly high in carb content and you should never order them unless your intent is to kick yourself out of ketosis immediately. However, the other ones are not entirely keto-friendly either; it’s time to break them down.

What to Order at Panda Express

Since you’re reading this guide, you apparently know that the world is going crazy about eating healthy. Good news, Panda Express is aware of this trend and tries to respond. Why “tries”? Because they understand healthy as low in calories; their wok smart section specifies it as “at least 8g of protein and 300 calories or less.”

Extrapolating their logic, the healthiest dish contains minimum calories and maximum protein; their next step would probably be to start serving protein shakes. However, the bear from the previously mentioned documentary didn’t have a brain, so this is a venial mistake.

You know that a healthy dish is the one that has a proper nutrient balance. Ordering that sort of meal is challenging at Panda Express, but is still possible. Let’s see what options are available.

Super Greens

Nutrition: 90 calories, 2.5g fat, 6g protein, 5g net carbs per serving.

This is the one and only keto-friendly side in here. They call it “A healthful medley of broccoli, kale and cabbage.” And it’s wholesome indeed: entirely green with relatively low net carbs. What’s even better, many customers say this mix consists mainly of broccoli, so the actual net carb content might be slightly lower.

After much deliberation on sides, it’s time to pick out an entree option. Speaking of entrees, depending on their number (1, 2, or 3) Panda Express is serving your meal in a bowl, a plate, or a bigger plate, respectively.

Grilled Teriyaki Chicken

Nutrition: 300 calories, 13g fat, 36g protein, and 8g net carbs per serving.

Luckily for all keto-foodies, this isn’t a chewy breast; it’s a sliced-to-order juicy grilled chicken thigh. It’s basically the equivalent of grilled nuggets which are one of the keto options at Chick-fil-A. No breading, bite-sized pieces, relatively low carb content. However, the former is a little bit higher in carbs due to the teriyaki marinade, but its flavor is also better for the same reason.

They probably don’t consider it succulent enough and thus serve it with an extra teriyaki sauce. Be careful, you must count sauce nutrition additionally. Sauces are mentioned onward in their own section, but, jumping ahead, teriyaki has 16g net carbs.  

String Bean Chicken Breast

Nutrition: 190 calories, 9g fat, 14g protein, and 9g net carbs per serving.

A not-very-satiating mix of chicken breast, green beans, and onions tossed in mild ginger soy sauce. Nevertheless, this dish is savory and delicious; if you need to stave off your hunger with a snack, this one could come in handy.

Mushroom Chicken

Nutrition: 220 calories, 14g fat, 12g protein, 10g net carbs per serving.

A delicate combination of chicken, mushrooms and zucchini wok-tossed with a light ginger soy sauce” — this is how they describe it. Just wondering why it is delicate. Is that because of weak nutrition? Nonetheless, it has a decent flavor, tastes good, and is keto-friendly as well.

Broccoli Beef   

Nutrition: 150 calories, 7g fat, 9g protein, and 11g net carbs per serving.

This is what they should’ve called a delicate combination — so delicate they could’ve served it in china cups. Seriously, Panda Express, have you ever seen a cow? It’s clearly a form of inexplicable modern art, to cook beef in a way it provides 150 calories. However, the Chinese have always been inventors: at first the compass, now frail beef… Oh, yeah, the content: tender beef, broccoli, and ginger soy sauce.

Kung Pao Chicken

Nutrition: 290 calories, 19g fat, 16g protein, 12g net carbs per serving.

While they say it’s a Szechwan-inspired dish, Liu Kang’s best friend is still sad for getting zero royalties. But let’s put this just-one-letter drama aside; this authentic Chinese dish is made of peanuts, chili peppers, vegetables, and chicken. This is the only keto-friendly option that is marked as spicy. People say it’s no more than medium hot, but that’s still better than nothing.

Black Pepper Chicken

Nutrition: 280 calories, 19g fat, 13g protein, 14g net carbs per serving.

Chicken, celery, and onions tossed in a black pepper sauce. The very last option that has below 15g net carbs per serving. Celery and onions are good for keto; the majority of carbs come from the sauce as usual. Overall, it has a nice flavor and taste, but its carb content is nearly beyond the threshold.

Other menu items can’t be considered keto friendly. What is more, you have to be careful when ordering those dishes listed above. Ordering a bowl means that you have to pick one side and one entree, ordering a plate means you want one side and two entrees, and so on. But could you really afford to have a side and more than one entree?

The answer is probably not. Even if you order super greens plus a double grilled teriyaki chicken, you’ll get 21g net carbs, which is already too much for a meal. Or, if you have severe carbohydrate restrictions, it might be too much for an entire day.

In that case, the best option could be to omit sides completely and order a double entree in a carton box. Or, get a singular entree and order an extra keto-friendly sauce.

Keto-Friendly Sauces and Beverages at Panda Express

It’s a crime to use the word “chicken” in a sentence without having “sauce” nearby. Those two go together like peas and carrots, except that they go together like chicken and sauce, which is even closer. So, it’s time to know what’s good and what’s not. (Numbers are per pack.)

These are your friends: Chili sauce (2g net carbs), Soy sauce (zero carbs), Potsticker sauce (3g net carbs), Hot Mustard (zero carbs), Plum Sauce (3g net carbs).

These are your foes: Teriyaki Sauce (16g net carbs) and Sweet & Sour Sauce (21g net carbs).

Regarding drinks, this is the ultimate list:

  • Diet Pepsi. Each serving size has zero nutritional value.
  • Lipton No Calorie Brisk Peach. Same story, zero everything.
  • Sobe Lean. Nothing is different.
  • China Mist Iced Tea. Suddenly, zero energy value.

Their nutrition list doesn’t contain any water, but surely they have it at their joints. What their website doesn’t say as well is that they can offer you a complimentary water cup; if you want to discover how small water cups could be Panda Express is the best place to go. And if only you dare to ask for a bigger size, they will certainly charge you extra.

The Takeaway

Pandas look cute and cuddly, but that’s a massive delusion. Not only do they have one of the strongest bite forces of any carnivores, but also they have an intense sex drive. And not just intense, but productive as well — a grown panda can mate nearly fifty times in several hours.

This might be shocking to digest right away, but you should probably stay away from pandas. The same is partly true for Panda Express; not the part about their lust, but the one about bypassing it when possible. Their whole menu is built upon a high-carb basis; you get 200–300 calories from protein sources, and 500 more calories from rice-noodle sides.

However, you shouldn’t avoid it by any means. If there’s nothing else in your area, or if you absolutely must go there for some reason, just do it. Moderation is your key to success when eating out at Panda Express, and nothing will interrupt your ketosis if you carefully follow this guide.

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