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Does All That Deep Frying Mean Egg Rolls Can’t Be Saved Nutritionally?

Why don’t you finish that giant takeout container of egg rolls before you click?

If you want to annoy a recent immigrant from China, be sure to mention to them that egg rolls are your favorite form of Chinese food. If the person you’re assailing with your poor culinary taste even knows what you’re alluding to, they’ll probably be quick to inform you that egg rolls are an illegitimate form of Chinese food — having been invented (most likely) in New York City during the 1930s — and have no authentic link to classic, mainland Chinese cuisine. And, if they want to be technical, they may even point out that the name “egg roll” is an obvious misnomer insofar as most egg rolls incorporate no form of egg in their creation, neither in the filling, nor the wrapping.

Of course, you don’t care about any of this, do you? All you want to know is how a seemingly benign food item composed principally of low-calorie vegetables, a teensy bit of meat and a smattering of flour could possibly be unhealthy.

Exactly! Everything inside of an egg roll is healthy, so how could it possibly be unhealthy?

I can understand why you might think an egg roll would be healthy. When you crack one open and examine its contents, it’s essentially a bunch of chopped-up vegetables, pork and seasoning. From there, it’s tightly wrapped and bound by a flour tortilla.

If we left it there, all would be right with the world. However, we all know the reason we’re obligated to “crack” the egg roll open to begin with is because it’s been deep fried. Owing to the deep-frying element of its preparation, all of the true nutrient value of the egg roll is fried straight to oblivion.

What is so bad about deep frying?

Where should I begin?

Straight out of the gate, frying food depletes much of its vitamin content. For example, if you take a vitamin A treasure trove like a sweet potato, and then you dice it up and submerge it in oil to be served as a side dish alongside a burger, the vitamin A content of that sweet potato would be expected to plummet. While all cooking methods automatically cause nutrient degradation in most foods, studies have demonstrated that frying causes significantly greater nutrient depletion than other cooking methods.

So when you take the most prominent vegetable found in an egg roll — the cabbage — which has very little macronutrient value except for some vitamin C and vitamin K, and you fry it in hot oil, what emerges is essentially a steamy pocket of roughage and not much else.

Aside from stripping away nutrients from your food, the deep-frying process also causes the food contents to absorb additional fat, which isn’t an altogether bad thing, but it can take what would otherwise have been 70 combined calories worth of cabbage, carrots and pork, and elevate them into the 150-to-200-calorie range. Four egg rolls later, and you’ve ingested 600 to 800 calories worth of a pre-meal appetizer, and that’s before you’ve chowed down on the almond chicken and beef-fried rice.

Are you saying egg rolls are unhealthy?

Nope. What I’m saying is that they’re not inherently healthy, and the way you’re most likely to consume them in conjunction with other foods is definitely unhealthy. Eating four of them, even if you abstain from dipping them in soy sauce, duck sauce or any other type of sauce, will propel you to well past two-thirds of your recommended daily sodium intake and fat intake, and the only real macronutrient benefit you’re getting out of the deal is the 20-plus grams of protein. 

Basically, eating three to four egg rolls is the equivalent of eating a less than healthy meal, and I don’t know of a living soul who only orders egg rolls without also getting two to three other takeout selections, along with a fortune cookie or two. All things considered, when there’s a legitimate debate to be had about whether or not consuming 20 or so 30-calorie fortune cookies is a healthier choice than eating four egg rolls, you know something questionable is afoot.