Is General Tso Chicken high carb?

General Tso’s chicken is a popular Chinese takeout dish in American Chinese restaurants. The dish consists of deep-fried chicken that is sauteed in a sweet and spicy sauce. With its crispy exterior and flavorful sauce, it has become a favorite among American diners. However, as more people pay attention to their carb and calorie intake, some have wondered – is General Tso’s chicken high in carbs?

The Origins of General Tso’s Chicken

General Tso’s chicken was invented by Chef Peng Chang-kuei in Taiwan in the 1950s. Peng had fled China after the Communist revolution and wanted to create new dishes to appeal to Taiwanese tastes. Taking inspiration from Hunan cuisine, he came up with General Tso’s chicken, naming it after a 19th century Hunan statesman and military leader. The dish became popular in Taiwan and eventually made its way to the United States, likely brought over by Peng himself when he moved to New York City to open a restaurant.

In the United States, the dish was tailored to American tastes – the sauce became sweeter and thicker, the chicken was battered and fried instead of pan fried, and broccoli was added. This Americanized version became ubiquitous in Chinese takeout restaurants across the country in the 1970s and 1980s. Despite the alterations, the dish remains recognizably Hunan in style with its spicy, ginger-garlic flavored sauce.

Ingredients in General Tso’s Chicken

There are several main ingredients that go into making the traditional General Tso’s chicken dish:

  • Chicken – boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts cut into bite-sized pieces
  • Cornstarch – used to coat the chicken before frying
  • Vegetable oil – for deep frying the chicken
  • Ginger and garlic – fundamental ingredients in Hunan cuisine
  • Chili peppers – dried red chilies are used to make chili oil, adding heat
  • Sugar – used in the sauce to balance out hot, salty, and sour flavors
  • Rice vinegar – adds tanginess
  • Soy sauce – for saltiness and savory umami flavor
  • Chicken stock – enhances flavor of the sauce
  • Cornstarch – thickens the sauce

The chicken is fried and then sauteed in the spicy sauce along with aromatics like ginger and garlic. The sauce ingredients and cooking techniques give the dish its signature taste – crispy fried chicken in a sweet, savory, and spicy sauce.

Nutritional Value of General Tso’s Chicken

The exact nutrition information for General Tso’s chicken can vary depending on the specific recipe, but here are some general nutrition facts about the dish:

  • Protein – A 6oz portion of General Tso’s chicken will provide 25-30g of protein from the chicken.
  • Carbohydrates – Around 15-30g net carbs per serving. The coating and frying method add extra carbs.
  • Fat – Can range from 10-20g of fat per serving. Deep frying adds considerable oil.
  • Sodium – Most recipes call for 1-2 Tbsp soy sauce, adding up to around 500-1000mg sodium.
  • Sugar – Recipes can include 1-3 Tbsp white sugar or other sweeteners.
  • Vitamins/Minerals – Small amounts from garlic, ginger, chicken and other aromatics. No significant vitamin/mineral content.
  • Calories – A 6oz portion will provide 300-500 calories, depending on recipe.

When ordering General Tso’s chicken from a restaurant, nutrition information can vary even more widely depending on preparation methods and portion sizes. Fried, greasy takeout dishes tend to be higher in calories, fat, and sodium compared to lighter homemade versions.

Is General Tso’s Chicken High in Carbs?

When examining the nutrition facts, General Tso’s chicken has a moderate carbohydrate content. A 6oz portion contains around 15-30g net carbs, coming mostly from:

  • Breading/batter on the fried chicken
  • Cornstarch used to thicken the sauce
  • Sugar added to the sauce

The exact carb count will depend on the recipe, but a typical serving of General Tso’s chicken contains around 20-25g net carbs. Compared to many other Chinese food dishes, this lands around mid-range in terms of carb content – not as low carb as plain grilled meats and tofu, but not nearly as high carb as fried rice or lo mein noodles.

How Does it Fit Different Diets?

Here is how General Tso’s chicken may fit into low carb, Keto, diabetic, and other diets:

  • Low carb/Keto diets – Too high in carbs to fit strict keto macros (under 20g daily carbs), but can potentially fit into a more moderate low carb diet.
  • Diabetic diet – The carb count falls within the recommended range for diabetic meal plans (45-60g carbs per meal).
  • Paleo diet – The fried, breaded chicken would not be considered Paleo compliant. A modified version could potentially work.
  • Whole30 – Not compliant due to batter, cornstarch, and sugar. Would need modifications.
  • Gluten-free – Most recipes are naturally gluten-free, just confirm no soy sauce contains wheat.
  • Vegetarian/Vegan – Requires substituting chicken for a plant-based protein like tofu or seitan.

Overall, General Tso’s chicken would need some adjustments to fit into low carb, Keto, Paleo, or Whole30 diets. But it can likely be enjoyed in moderation as part of a balanced diabetic, gluten-free, or plant-based diet.

How to Make a Low Carb General Tso’s Chicken

For those on a low carb or Keto diet, there are some easy ways to modify General Tso’s chicken to reduce the carbohydrates:

  • Skip breading the chicken – coat in egg and cornstarch only or seasonings only.
  • Use almond or coconut flour instead of regular flour for breading.
  • Replace cornstarch with arrowroot starch to thicken sauce.
  • Cut back on sugar or use alternative sweeteners like erythritol or stevia.
  • Use full-fat coconut milk in place of heavy cream.
  • Serve over cauliflower rice instead of regular rice.
  • Increase the protein by adding extra chicken.
  • Add more non-starchy vegetables like broccoli, bell peppers, snap peas.

Implementing some of these swaps can help reduce the total carb count to around 10-15g net carbs per serving. This puts it within reach for a Keto diet as an occasional treat.

Low Carb General Tso’s Chicken Recipe

Here is a sample recipe for a low carb version of General Tso’s chicken:


  • 1 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 Tbsp cornstarch
  • 3 Tbsp avocado oil or coconut oil, divided
  • Sauce Ingredients:
    • 1 Tbsp finely minced garlic
    • 1 Tbsp finely minced ginger
    • 1/4 cup chicken broth or water
    • 3 Tbsp coconut aminos or soy sauce
    • 2 Tbsp rice vinegar
    • 2 tsp erythritol or stevia
    • 1 tsp sesame oil
    • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
    • 1 Tbsp arrowroot starch
  • 1 cup broccoli florets
  • 2 Tbsp sesame seeds, garnish


  1. Toss chicken pieces with egg and cornstarch to coat.
  2. Heat 2 Tbsp oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Add chicken and cook for 2-3 minutes per side until browned and crispy.
  3. Remove chicken from skillet and set aside.
  4. Add remaining 1 Tbsp oil to skillet. Add garlic and ginger and cook for 30 seconds until fragrant.
  5. Whisk in chicken broth, coconut aminos, vinegar, erythritol, sesame oil and red pepper flakes. Bring to a simmer.
  6. Mix arrowroot starch with 1 Tbsp water. Add to skillet and cook for 2-3 minutes until sauce thickens.
  7. Add cooked chicken and broccoli to skillet with sauce. Toss to coat and cook for 1-2 minutes until broccoli is tender.
  8. Garnish with sesame seeds. Serve over cauliflower rice or wilted greens.

This version uses just a touch of cornstarch and swaps out sugar for erythritol to create a low carb General Tso’s chicken recipe. Enjoy it as an occasional treat if you are limiting carbs or eating Keto.

Healthier General Tso’s Chicken

For those simply looking to lighten up their General Tso’s chicken, there are a few easy healthier substitutions:

  • Use olive or avocado oil instead of vegetable oil for frying.
  • Opt for whole grain flour or panko breadcrumbs for the coating.
  • Skip the deep frying and just pan fry or bake the chicken.
  • Use fresh ginger and garlic instead of powdered.
  • Sub in lower sodium soy sauce or coconut aminos.
  • Add in more vegetables like carrots, bell peppers, snap peas.
  • Serve over brown rice instead of white rice.
  • Top with chopped scallions, cilantro or toasted sesame seeds.

Focusing on simple, fresh ingredients and healthier cooking methods can help make a lighter and more nutritious version of General Tso’s chicken perfect for a weeknight dinner.

General Tso’s Chicken Takeout Nutrition

Ordering General Tso’s chicken from a takeout restaurant often packs in additional calories, carbs, fat and sodium. Here are some nutrition comparisons:

Homemade vs Takeout

Nutrition Facts Homemade Takeout
Calories 400 670
Total Fat 15g 27g
Carbs 20g 44g
Protein 30g 25g
Sodium 500mg 1300mg

As you can see, takeout General Tso’s chicken often contains significantly more calories, sodium, carbs, and fat compared to homemade. This is mainly due to large serving sizes, heavy battering, deep frying, sugary sauces, and loads of MSG flavor enhancers.

General Tso’s vs Other Takeout

Comparing General Tso’s nutrition to other popular takeout dishes:

Dish (6oz serving) Calories Carbs Sodium
General Tso’s Chicken 670 44g 1300mg
Beef with Broccoli 590 21g 980mg
Sesame Chicken 800 42g 1160mg
Kung Pao Shrimp 560 18g 1560mg
Chicken Lo Mein 565 55g 1030mg

General Tso’s falls around the middle carb and sodium-wise compared to other popular Chinese dishes. The heavy battering does add more carbs. Watch sodium levels in all dishes and limit portion sizes.

Healthier Ways to Enjoy General Tso’s Chicken

Here are some tips for enjoying General Tso’s chicken in a healthier way:

Make it at home

Preparing General Tso’s chicken yourself allows you to control ingredients, reduce sodium, and keep portions reasonable. Baking instead of deep frying also limits excess calories and fat.

Size your portions

Restaurant servings can be 2-3x a proper portion size. Stick to single servings around 6oz cooked chicken with 1 cup vegetables and 1/2 cup rice.

Load up on veggies

Make veggies like broccoli, carrots, snap peas the bulk of your meal. Limit high carb fried rice or lo mein.

Watch the sauce

Thick, sugary sauces add excess carbs and sodium. Opt for sauce on the side or ask for lower sodium.

Balance with other foods

Pair your General Tso’s chicken with lighter side dishes like a green salad, steamed veggies, or a broth-based soup.


General Tso’s chicken has a moderate carbohydrate content at around 20-25g carbs per serving. The fried coating and cornstarch-thickened sauce boost carbs slightly higher compared to plain grilled chicken. Still, it can potentially fit into a low carb diet in moderate amounts. Making adjustments to the recipe and reducing portion sizes can also help make this takeout favorite healthier and more diet-friendly.

Overall, General Tso’s chicken lives up to its reputation as a tasty and crave-worthy Chinese food dish. With some mindfulness, it can be enjoyed as part of an overall balanced diet for many people.

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