Are lettuce wraps from Pei Wei healthy?


Lettuce wraps have become a popular low-carb and gluten-free alternative to traditional wraps and sandwiches. Restaurant chains like Pei Wei Asian Diner offer lettuce wraps on their menu as a lighter, veggie-packed option. But are lettuce wraps actually a healthy choice? Here is a comprehensive look at the nutrition facts and ingredients behind lettuce wraps from Pei Wei to help you decide if they fit into a balanced diet.

What are lettuce wraps?

Lettuce wraps are made using large lettuce leaves like iceberg or romaine in place of tortillas or bread. Fillings like meat, rice, vegetables, and sauce are stuffed into the lettuce leaves and then wrapped up into portable lettuce cups. The lettuce acts as the wrap or shell to hold the ingredients together.

Lettuce wraps are commonly associated with Asian cuisine, as many Southeast Asian dishes use lettuce wraps to contain savory fillings. They are often served as an appetizer or light meal. Pei Wei features several lettuce wrap options inspired by dishes like Chinese mu shu and Vietnamese bánh cuốn.

Lettuce Wrap Options at Pei Wei

Pei Wei offers three types of lettuce wraps on their regular menu:

Chicken Lettuce Wraps

Pei Wei’s chicken lettuce wraps contain chopped chicken breast, mushrooms, water chestnuts, and celery tossed in a ginger soy sauce. It is served with a side of rice sticks.

Korean Steak Lettuce Wraps

Thinly sliced beef ribeye is marinated in a blend of Korean spices and sauce. It is served with rice sticks along with kimchi and sesame seeds for topping the lettuce wraps.

Spicy Tuna Lettuce Wraps

This lettuce wrap is made with tuna salad mixed with spicy Sriracha sauce and mayonnaise. It comes with avocado, sesame seeds, and cucumber for assembly.

Nutrition Information on Pei Wei Lettuce Wraps

Here is the nutrition information on the three regular lettuce wrap options from Pei Wei’s online menu:

Chicken Lettuce Wraps (4 wraps)

Calories 500
Total Fat 18g
Protein 44g
Sodium 1280mg
Carbohydrates 44g

Korean Steak Lettuce Wraps (4 wraps)

Calories 560
Total Fat 18g
Protein 44g
Sodium 1810mg
Carbohydrates 44g

Spicy Tuna Lettuce Wraps (4 wraps)

Calories 370
Total Fat 14g
Protein 26g
Sodium 810mg
Carbohydrates 31g

As you can see, the chicken and steak lettuce wraps are higher in calories and sodium compared to the spicy tuna option. The tuna lettuce wraps also contain less saturated fat and carbohydrates. All three provide a good amount of protein.

Are Pei Wei Lettuce Wraps Healthy?

Evaluating the health factor of Pei Wei’s lettuce wraps depends on a few key factors:


Pei Wei uses high-quality whole food ingredients like lean proteins, fresh produce, and nutrient-rich sauces in their lettuce wraps. This includes:

– Chicken breast – An excellent source of lean protein. Removes skin and fat to reduce saturated fat content.

– Tuna – Packed with heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Uses solid albacore tuna.

– Romaine and iceberg lettuce – Provide fiber, vitamins A, K, and C. Low calorie vegetable base.

– Mushrooms – Rich in B vitamins like riboflavin and excellent source of selenium antioxidant.

– Celery – Contains antioxidants and phytonutrients that reduce inflammation. Low calorie vegetable.

– Cabbage – In the Korean steak wraps, fermented cabbage (kimchi) offers probiotics for gut and immune health.

The sauces are made in-house from quality ingredients like ginger, garlic, soy sauce, sesame oil, and chili paste. This avoids high sodium, sugary bottled sauces.

Portion Size

One regular order of Pei Wei lettuce wraps contains 4 lettuce cups, which provides a satisfying portion for most adults. This single serving averages 420-560 calories, meeting 25-30% of daily calorie needs for an average 2000 calorie diet.

The wraps can be filling due to the protein and fiber from the meats, lettuce cups, mushrooms, and other vegetables. Be mindful of extra carb-containing sides like fried rice sticks or fried wontons, which can drive up calories and fat. Stick to one regular lettuce wrap order as the main dish or split it as an appetizer.

Nutrient Balance

Pei Wei lettuce wraps provide balanced nutrition from lean protein, fiber-rich lettuce, antioxidants from veggies like mushrooms and celery, and healthy fats from additions like avocado and tuna.

The wraps offer vitamins A, C, and K along with minerals like selenium and potassium. The wraps are also naturally gluten-free when avoiding fried sides made with wheat.

With 18-26 grams of protein per serving, they make a filling meal that promotes muscle repair and slow digestion to keep you satisfied. The fiber content also stabilizes blood sugar response.

Preparation Method

Pei Wei lettuce wraps are free of deep frying, which sets them apart from egg rolls, potstickers, and fried rice you may find at other Asian eateries. They grill, roast, or pan sear meats and lightly sautée veggies without extensive oil for healthier preparation.

Customization Options

You can further boost nutrition or reduce unwanted ingredients by customizing your lettuce wrap order:

– Swap fried rice noodles for brown rice or quinoa
– Load up on extra vegetables
– Opt for steamed veggies instead of fried
– Ask for reduced sauce to cut sodium
– Substitute chicken breast for tofu to make vegetarian
– Add avocado for more heart-healthy fat
– Skip creamy dipping sauces that come on the side

This flexibility empowers you to craft lettuce wraps to meet your dietary needs. Avoid carb and sodium pitfalls with smart substitutions and additions.

Lettuce Wrap Nutrition Compared to Sandwiches & Tacos

Lettuce wraps make a lighter and fresher alternative to sandwiches and tacos wrapped in doughy carbs. Here is a nutrition comparison:

Regular Tuna Sandwich

– Made with 2 slices of white bread = 200 calories
– Higher in carbs and sodium
– No fresh vegetables

Taco Bell Crunchy Taco

– 170 calories for just 1 small taco
– 24g carbs from tortilla and taco shell
– Loaded with cheese, sour cream, processed meat

A Pei Wei spicy tuna lettuce wrap has around 370 calories for a filling 4-wrap order. It also boasts more protein, fiber, and nutrients from fresh ingredients versus a basic sandwich or fast food taco.

Lettuce leaves result in a lighter wrap than starchy bread or thick tortillas without sacrificing satisfaction. Romaine leaves also supply digestion-aiding insoluble fiber.

Potential Downsides of Pei Wei Lettuce Wraps

While Pei Wei’s lettuce wraps are generally a healthier choice, there are a few potential downsides to consider:

Higher Sodium

The wraps contain between 810-1810mg of sodium, which is 35-77% of the recommended daily sodium limit. Soy sauce, seasonings, and teriyaki glazes contribute to the high sodium tally. This makes the wraps a poor choice for those monitoring sodium intake.

Lean Protein Isn’t Always “Clean”

While chicken breast seems like a healthy choice, some of Pei Wei’s grilled meats may contain antibiotic or hormone residues if not sourced from responsibly raised poultry and livestock. Certain marinades and spice mixes may also contain chemical preservatives, colors, flavors, and anti-caking agents.

Refined Carbs in Rice and Sauces

The white rice and wheat flour-based soy sauce and other sauces are stripped of beneficial fiber, protein and nutrients during processing. Sticky white rice spikes blood sugar similar to white bread. Tamari or coconut aminos and cauliflower rice offer healthier swaps.

Lacks Some Veggies

While containing mushrooms, water chestnuts, and celery, the wraps could benefit from the addition of more veggies like shredded carrots, spinach, bean sprouts, and red bell pepper for a nutrition boost. Easy to request extra produce when ordering.

Can Contain Other Allergens

In addition to gluten, Pei Wei lettuce wraps may contain egg, shellfish, and peanut residues from facility production and soy sauce ingredients. Always inform your server of food allergies when ordering.

Healthier Lettuce Wrap Tips

You can optimize the nutrition of Pei Wei lettuce wraps with these tips:

– Ask for reduced sodium soy sauce
– Load up on extra vegetables
– Opt for brown rice or quinoa instead of white rice
– Substitute tofu or extra veggies for meat to reduce saturated fat and boost plant nutrients
– Skip cream-based dipping sauces for hot mustard or low sodium tamari
– Stay mindful of portion size and avoid fried extras like wontons or potstickers
– Enjoy lettuce wraps as part of an overall healthy diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, fiber, and lean protein

The Bottom Line

Pei Wei’s lettuce wraps provide a lighter and more vegetable-packed alternative to sandwiches and tacos made with starchy breads and tortillas. Using fresh, high-quality ingredients sets them apart from typical fast food.

The lettuce wraps supply filling protein, antioxidants, and important vitamins and minerals with less carbs and calories when avoiding fried sides. Just be mindful of sodium levels, refined carbs, and lean proteins that aren’t always the healthiest.

With smart substitutions and additions, Pei Wei lettuce wraps can be a solid part of a balanced diet, especially if you’re looking to reduce carbs and gluten or add more veggies. Just practice portion control and balance lettuce wraps with plenty of other whole foods for optimal nutrition.

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