Is Pho Good For Weight Loss? (5 Tips For Weight Loss)
Pho is definitely one of the most popular dishes that is loved everywhere. It’s a hearty dish that has a ton of flavor and a unique taste that has taken the hearts of noodle lovers everywhere. Although the dish is healthy, the question remains, is Pho good for weight loss?
Pho is fine to eat in moderation when aiming for weight loss as it is a food that consists mainly of carbs and fat. These two are essential macronutrients and can be managed in a healthy diet. A typical bowl of Pho does lack in protein which means some lean meat to supplement the dish would create a better balance.
In this article we are going to go over what goes into your typical Pho dish and the nutritional facts about Pho. We summed it up to five tips and facts about Pho that will help you stick to your fitness goals while enjoying your favorite Vietnamese dish. Here are the five facts and tips listed below:
What Is Pho?
How Many Calories Are In pho nd What Are The Macronutrients?
How Many Calories Do You Need To Consume In a Day?
Eat The Leaner Protein Toppings
Eat Pho With The Bean Sprouts
Now that we’ve got our list, let’s dive into each of these topics to see what we can find out about pho and how you can stay in shape while eating it.
What Is Pho?
Pho, pronounced “fuh,” is a popular soup noodle that originated from Vietnam. Its origins started out as a street food that was not only eaten for lunch and dinner but also for breakfast too. Contrary to popular beliefs, the name pho actually refers to the noodles and not the soup. But, the broth is undoubtedly the most important component. It is a widely held belief that the tell tale signs of a high quality pho is all in its broth. The characteristics of the broth are light and refreshing.
Traditional pho broth is usually beef broth that is made by simmering beef bones and flank. This way of making the broth actually makes it very nutritious. From boiling the bones, the broth is packed with minerals and collagen that offer a ton of health benefits such as being great for joint health and digestion. Sometimes pho could be made with chicken broth, which is made by simmering a whole chicken.
Another critical factor for pho broth is its spices. Its signature taste comes from a combination of spices such as cinnamon, star anise, cloves, and cardamom. After the broth, slices of different meats, tendons, and meatballs are added for protein and then rice noodles are added to complete the dish.
Another component of pho is the garnishes. When ordering pho, instead of having all the garnish put in for you, you have control of what you want to add in there. It is all up to your personal taste and preferences. The usual garnishes that are paired with pho are: Thai basil for a sharp taste, bean sprouts for a refreshing crunch, some type of chili for a hint of spice, and slices of lime for an added tangy flavor.
The last component, but not a necessary component of pho is the condiments. The three base condiments that are commonly offered are: hoisin sauce, sriracha, and fish sauce. It is recommended that you enjoy the broth first in its purest form before adding the condiments because a lot of careful and diligent work is being put into a quality pho broth. Adding different condiments into it would completely mask the broth’s original flavor.
But at the end of the day, if you enjoy adding condiments into your pho, by all means continue to do so.As you can see, pho is made up of relatively healthy ingredients, the way the broth is made and the meats that are added on makes this meal very nutritious and high in protein.
The only downside of pho is the sodium content.
For a bowl of pho there is usually at least 1,000mg of sodium and the ideal limit for most adults is no more than 1,500mg a day. Too much sodium can contribute to health issues and increase blood pressure due to its nature of making your body hold on to excess fluids.
Increased blood pressure can also lead to higher chances of strokes and heart failure. While these facts are daunting, it is still totally fine and perfectly healthy to have pho. Just remember to keep in mind your sodium intake, eat in moderation, and stay hydrated to counteract your intake of sodium if it is on the higher end of the spectrum.
How Many Calories Are In Pho and What Are The Macronutrients?
For a medium bowl of pho, you are looking at around 350-500 calories depending on what is in it. For its macros, a medium bowl would give you around 30 grams of protein, 40-50 grams of carbs, and around 20g of fat; but for the fat it also depends on what type of meat and how much of it is in there.
Now what are macronutrients? Macronutrients are the measures of foods that we need to consume and the three macronutrients are carbohydrates, protein, and fats.
Carbohydrates have a bad reputation of being bad for weight loss and are a cause for weight gain. But, your body actually needs a decent amount of carbohydrates to function properly because carbohydrates is your body’s main energy source. One gram of carbohydrates contains 4 calories.
The carbohydrates in pho mainly comes from the rice noodles and trace amounts from vegetables. In terms of healthiness, rice noodles are considered better than egg or flour noodles because they are gluten free and have less carbohydrates compared to egg and flour noodles.
Having a slightly lower carbohydrates content, this equates to rice noodles also having a lower calories content when compared to other noodles. Therefore, making pho one of the best noodle dishes for health and weight loss goals.
Fats contain the highest energy content out of the three macronutrients. One gram of fat contains 9 calories, doubling the amount of carbohydrates and protein per gram. So for weight loss goals and a healthier lifestyle, it is ideal to keep your fat intake at a moderate level.
We also do not want to have too low of a fat intake because fat is important for keeping our hormones regulated. But the two types of fats you should really try to limit your intake of are saturated and trans fats.
The lower the amount of saturated and trans fats, the lower the risks of heart disease, high cholesterol, and developing type 2 diabetes.
Most of the fats for pho will come from the meats as the broth is very light in oil to give it its light and refreshing taste. Therefore making it less caloric and fattening when compared to other noodle dishes.
Because most of the fats come from the slices of meat or meatball, you can make this even more low fat than it already is by replacing some of the regular meats for leaner cuts of meat and/ or protein sources.
Pho is a great dish to have when trying to keep your diet at a moderate fat level while also being able to have a hearty and satisfying meal.
Protein, I would say, is the most important macronutrient out of the three and the one you should try to consume the most.
One gram of protein contains 4 calories. An average adult would be recommended to consume around 40-50 grams of protein a day. Protein is a very important building block for your body and it is the best macronutrient for weight loss.
In terms of macronutrients, pho has a very good balance of all three which makes it a healthy and balanced meal that is great for weight loss and making healthier choices.
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How Many Calories Do You Need To Consume In a Day?
A calorie is the amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water through 1 degree Celsius. It is a unit of energy and our body needs a certain amount of energy to function day to day. Even if you are just laying in bed all day, your body still needs energy to keep your organs working and to maintain your muscles.
The standard rule for how many calories a person should be consuming is 2,000 calories for a moderately active female and 2,500 calories for a moderately active male. But this standardized intake does not fit everyone’s needs.
How many calories a person needs in a day is unique to the individual because the caloric daily intake will depend on the gender, age, height, weight, and daily activity levels. It is important that you know how many calories you need for yourself to maintain your body weight first if you are trying to count calories to lose weight.
The calories that you need to maintain your current weight is called your Total Daily Energy Expenditure or TDEE. This is calculated by figuring out your Basal Metabolic Rate or BMR first and then multiplying the value by your activity measurement. BMR is how many calories you need to keep your body functioning.
This sounds like a very complicated process, but thankfully there is a copious amount of online TDEE and BMR calculators that you can use. All you have to do is plug in a couple numbers and information and then it will give you your estimated caloric intake needs.
While these calculators might not be spot on, finding out your TDEE through these calculators is much more beneficial and efficient than relying on the standardized caloric intake. Now after you have figured out your TDEE, adjust your caloric intake by what your goals are.
If your goal is to lose weight, set your caloric intake to be lower than your TDEE. If your goal is to gain weight, set your caloric intake to be higher than your TDEE. If you just want to maintain where you are, just stay at your TDEE. There you go!
This is the best way to figure out how many calories you need in a day. But, I do have a tip when it comes to weight loss calories. If you are trying to lose weight, make sure you eat less than your TDEE but do not drop your calories below 1,500 calories if you are a male and do not drop below 1,200 calories if you are a female.
Going too low will mess with your metabolism in the long run and eventually when you do eat more, you are going to gain weight back very quickly because your body has been starved. Try not to drop your calories too drastically for a steadier and more sustainable weight loss.
Eat The Leaner Protein Toppings
Leading off from the last point, getting as much protein as you can is very important and if you can replace as much carbohydrates for protein, the better for weight loss. Although pho already contains a significant amount of protein and is fairly healthy, you can really make this dish an even more weight loss friendly dish by minimizing how much noodles you consume or even taking it out all together and just load up on the meats, vegetables, and broth.
If you wish to increase the protein content, simply order extra orders until you feel the amount is sufficient. But also keep in mind the type of meats you want to order are lean meats. Here are a couple lean choices that might be offered at your Vietnamese restaurant of choice:
Flank steak is one of the healthiest and best beef cuts for weight loss. Being made from the cow’s abdominal muscles, this cut of beef is very lean with very low fat. For 3 ounces, you are looking at getting 24 grams of protein and only 6 grams of fat.
Eye of Round
Eye of round is also a very lean cut of beef and another great choice of beef cut for weight loss. This cut of beef is made from the rump and hind legs of the cow. For 5 ounces, you are looking at 41 grams of protein and 7 grams of fat.
Not all Vietnamese restaurants that serve pho will have seafood as an option, but if they do and you enjoy seafood, by all means go for it. Your choices of seafood will depend on the restaurant but in general seafood is a great source of protein while also containing less fat than other animal sources. It is also low in cholesterol which is good for heart health.
Chicken breast is a great choice or substitution for the usual red meats and it is the best for you in terms of health. Poultry is a hearty healthy protein. Also very low in fat and high in protein. For 3 ounces of chicken breast, you are looking to get 19 grams of protein and only 2 grams of fat. Chicken breast is not the only option though as some places might be using chicken thighs.
While it is a little bit higher in fat when compared to the breast, chicken thighs are still a great source of protein while offering a little more tenderness to your meal. For 3 ounces of chicken thighs, you are looking at 19 grams of protein and 9 grams of fat.
Tripe and Beef Tendon
You might be surprised to hear that tripe and beef tendon are actually good for you! While it’s creamy, gelatinous, and chewy texture might remind you of fat and does not exactly resemble what we think of as a lean protein source, a serving of four ounces gives 20 grams of fat and only around one gram of saturated fat! So by all means if you enjoy these delicacies. Keep them in for a protein boost.
Now let’s rehash and talk about why protein is so good for us and why you should maximize your intake for optimal health. Protein, as stated before, is the most important macronutrient and it is essential for your body to get at least 40-50 grams a day as an adult. Here are some reasons why protein is essential:
Protein is the building block for bones, cartilage, and skin. Your hair and nails are mostly made out of protein.
Protein repairs tissues and aids in recovery.
Protein aids in digestion and cell regeneration by helping your body make enzymes.
Protein helps regulate hormones.
Not only is regular protein consumption beneficial for your general health and body, a high protein diet also benefits in ways that propel your fitness goals. Eating a high protein diet is essential for maintaining and building lean muscles.
These lean muscles are built when you tear muscle fibers from exercising and protein comes in to repair it and makes it grow. Not only does it repair your muscles, eating a significant amount of protein also aids in faster recovery after exercising and injuries.
Protein is also an important contributor to weight loss. When it comes to weight loss it is again all about calories in vs calories out and if you eat too many calories, even if it’s protein, you are not going to make any progress. So I wanted to preface this by saying that I am not saying you should eat as much protein as you can.
To lose weight, you need to make sure you are eating at a caloric deficit but having most of your calories be made up of protein. Why is this recommended? Because protein is the macronutrient that curbs hunger and fills you up the most. It does this by reducing the levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin while increasing levels of peptide YY which is a hormone that helps you feel full. Therefore, leading you to feel more satiated for a longer period of time even if you are in a calorie deficit.
The fuller you are, the less you are going to eat meaning you will have a better and easier time at staying in your caloric deficit as opposed to eating less protein and eating more carbohydrates and fats which can actually spike your hunger levels which makes it easier to over eat and stall your weight loss goals.
Not only does protein make you feel fuller but it also boosts your metabolism! Protein has the highest thermic effect compared to carbs and fat. Thermic effect refers to the energy required by your body to digest, absorb, and dispose of ingested nutrients.
So this means that the body uses the most calories or energy to digest protein. Therefore, eating a high protein diet will lead you burn more calories overall without you doing anything extra when compared to a low protein diet. You definitely cannot go wrong with eating a high protein diet when you are on a weight loss journey.
Eat Pho With The Bean Sprouts
The plate of bean sprouts that is brought out as an optional garnish with your pho is grown from sprouting mung beans. This bean is a very popular culinary vegetable that is commonly found in East Asian cuisine. Crisp and lightly sweet, adding bean sprouts to your pho will add a nutritious and refreshing crunch.
We highly recommend you add as much bean sprouts as you can because bean sprouts offer a plethora of health benefits. The mung bean itself is already fairly nutritious but going through the process of sprouting actually enhances its nutritional value! Bean sprouts is a good source of vitamin c, k, folic acid and fiber while having an extremely low calorie content for its volume. A whole cup of bean sprouts only clocks in around 31 calories!
One of the benefits of eating bean sprouts is that it supports heart health. Bean sprouts are a good source of potassium which helps your organs function normally, regulates blood pressure, and improves cardiovascular strength, especially if you exercise.
Also vitamin k, which is an important vitamin that supports blood clotting that prevents excessive blood loss. Another great benefit of bean sprouts is its fiber content. Being high in fiber, bean sprouts offer a variety of great health benefits.
Eating a high fiber diet helps lower LDL cholesterol levels, promotes hormone balance, aids in weight loss and digestion, and it helps reduce blood sugar spikes after a high carbohydrate meal.
The two benefits I really want to emphasize when it comes to fiber is the aid in weight loss and digestion and its role in reducing blood sugar spikes.
It is great that bean sprouts are a good source of fiber because fiber is one of the best aids for weight loss due to its ability to help you feel fuller which leads to you feeling like you don’t need to eat as much. Therefore your caloric intake will be lower than it would be as opposed to not eating any fiber.
Fiber accomplishes this by soaking up water in your intestine and slows the absorption of nutrients. Not only is it beneficial in weight loss but it is also a great promoter of digestion. Eating more fiber aids digestion and reduces constipation. It does this by feeding the bacteria that are located in your intestines.
Bacteria might sound scary and you might be thinking why would I want to sustain the bacteria in my body? Isn’t bacteria bad for you? Actually, not all bacteria is bad for you and your body needs these bacteria to function properly and to stay healthy! The good bacteria that fiber feeds is called the gut flora. With a proper intake of fiber, this allows the gut flora to flourish and continue to digest food effectively, produce vitamins for your body, and improve your immune system.
Reducing blood sugar spikes after a carb heavy meal is another great benefit of fiber. Blood sugar spikes happen after you eat simple carb heavy meals. Blood sugar spikes can cause you to feel fatigued and hungry, which is definitely not ideal when you are trying to lose weight. Therefore, making sure you have a good amount of fiber along with your meals is important for reducing the possibilities of spiking your blood sugar.
This is a great reason why you should load up on bean sprouts when eating pho because pho is a higher carb meal due to the rice noodles. But, if eaten along with the bean sprouts which provide fiber, you will be able to feel fuller and more satisfied than you would without it.
This is a reason why pho is a great choice for weight loss especially if you are craving noodles because its ingredients are all meant to make you feel full as opposed to dishes such as pastas which are very carb heavy and loaded with much more fats and less fiber, therefore leading to blood spikes which is something we want to avoid.
So the verdict is, pho is healthy! When you break it down into its components and look at the health value of its ingredients, pho is actually a very healthy option if you are craving noodles. For only around 300 calories for a medium bowl, moderate in carbohydrates, high in protein, and low in fat, pho is a very balanced and healthy meal.
Even its garnishes of bean sprouts,chilis, Thai basil, and lime offer great benefits and only adds to the overall nutritional value. So by all means if you are craving pho, go get some and feel assured that there is nothing guilty about this meal. The only thing you would need to look out for is the sodium content.
Having a high sodium content does not necessarily make it unhealthy. Pho is still a great option as long as you are not eating one of those challenge bowls or eating five bowls at once. One bowl is perfectly healthy, just make sure to stay hydrated to counteract any excess sodium.
There It Is!
To lose weight while eating pho, make sure to still count your calories even though pho is a relatively low calorie meal. If you feel like a medium bowl is not enough to fill you up, order an extra serving of lean meats and load up on bean sprouts! Bean sprouts are a great food for volume while being low calories.
Don’t forget its ability to reduce your blood sugar spike from its fiber, making you feel more full and satisfied. Now go and enjoy a nice warm, but refreshing bowl of pho. No regrets, no guilt!
Jasmine Chang is a fitness enthusiast who started her fitness journey in high school. Being self-trained for four years, she has gone through all of the trails and tribulations of diets and exercises. Jasmine is extremely passionate and is here to help others achieve their fitness goals. Jasmine’s strengths lie in listening to a client’s needs and understanding his or her wants and needs.