What’s Pho Good For?


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Recently, I’ve heard comments such as “Let’s go for Pho – it’s healthy”, or “Because I am trying to watch fat in my diet, I’ve been eating more Pho,” from clients, so naturally, I wanted to look into this perception in a bit more detail to confirm whether or not Pho is actually the answer to our healthy fast food conundrum.

For those who are not familiar with Pho, it is a traditional Vietnamese dish which contains vegetables, noodles, as well as beef or chicken, all of which are cooked in a broth of meat bones and marrow along with a series of spices. It is a very popular street food in Vietnam that has now become commonplace in the Western World, similar to sushi’s popularity over the past 20 years. As is the case with sushi, Pho is much more conveniently enjoyed as take-out option as compared to its preparation in a home kitchen, simply because it takes several hours for the flavours to simmer together. In other words, Pho at home is a project, rather than a weeknight dinner affair.

As a fast food option, Pho is desirable because it is easily accessible, affordable, and appears to contain healthier ingredients and cooking methods than other fast food options. So, is Pho really ‘good’ for you?

Taking a closer look at Pho’s ingredients might help shed light on the matter, because preparation methods of stewing are generally low-fat, which works in favor of Pho as a fast food option as compared to most other take-out choices.

1) Beef: Higher in saturated fat, beef intake should be monitored in the diet, with fish, chicken, and vegetarian options used in its place. However, Pho is available in vegetarian or chicken varieties to help reduce saturated fat intake.

2) Sodium: Pho is made with fish sauce and Hoisin sauce, so it is very difficult to control its sodium content, unless you make it at home. There is very little available in terms of  nutrition information or labels on Pho nutrients, but sodium content is generally higher than 1,500 mg per day, or the daily sodium recommendation for adults. Because Pho is pre-made in a high-sodium broth, it is going to be very difficult to ask for accommodations from restaurants for a lower sodium option, so it is important to realize that when you take Pho, you are consuming in excessive amounts of sodium.

3) Fibre: Pho contains noodles that are made from refined rice flour, so you are getting very little fibre from the grain in this case. Vegetable content of restaurant-style Pho is often inadequate (we should be aiming for 2 cups per meal), so you could ask the restaurant to add extra vegetables for you. If you do decide to make Pho at home, it will be easier to use whole grain noodles and a greater amount of vegetables in the stew.

To answer the question, Pho may have fewer calories than other fast food options because of its preparation method. All factors considered, the excess sodium and inadequate vegetable content are significant drawbacks to including Pho on a regular basis as a suitable fast food choice. Sorry, Pho.

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About danirenouf

I have been a registered dietitian since 2003, and very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work in industry, clinical nutrition, public health, and private practice. Currently, I am extremely excited about pursuing entrepreneurial ventures which start with my private consulting practice and branch out into the food and culinary industry. I am busy every day developing my own food products and recipes, adapting traditional cooking techniques and incorporating new and innovative ways to prepare nutritious, delicious food. I am passionate about everything food-related, and aspire to engage others in "getting to know their food" - not all of us are cooks, or need to be, but all of us need to eat.
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