Panda Express is on a mission to make Chinese food a healthier option. After announcing that they were going to rebrand their image and renew their menu in March, the chain has permanently swapped their traditional white fried rice for brown fried rice this month.
“Aren’t we fabulous?” Lunde quipped to reporters at Business Week as he spoke of the chain’s decision to “healthify” the fatty side dish. The swap is only one of many changes to come that will push the restaurant further to having a menu full of items with “taste, quality, health, and sustainability.”
Although the restaurant is excited about their healthy change, the question arises if the change will actually be beneficial to customers’ health. While substituting white for brown rice will add fiber and nutrients such as manganese, magnesium, and zinc, any fried rice (no matter what grain) will still be high in fat and sodium
Bethany Thayer, registered dietician and Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spokesperson, told The Huffington Post that there are pros and cons with the new swap. "I do think that we need to be careful of the 'health halos' that sometimes end up on foods," she said, referring to the possibility that people will consume this new brown fried rice with a guilt-free conscience. However, looking on the bright side of things, Thayer also expressed that the change would positively affect those who would have chosen fried rice regardless because they will benefit from nutrients and fiber.
According to the company, their next step toward ‘healthifying’ their menu is whole grain chow mein.
Skyler Bouchard is a junior writer at the Daily Meal. Follow her on twitter at @skylerbouchard.