Finding healthy Thai food is easy if you know what to ask for. When you go out to eat at a Thai restaurant, you might unknowingly order a dish that's high in fats, sugars or both. You can avoid unhealthy dishes by learning more about Thai cuisine.
Try Fresh Thai Fruits
When you're on a diet, eating out can be challenging. You want to stick to your plan without buying and eating something tasteless. Thankfully, healthy Thai options can be flavorful.
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Fresh fruit is an example of healthy Thai food. The country is close to the Equator, and its warm, humid conditions are perfect for growing fruit. Eating more fruit is associated with lower rates of cardiovascular disease, cancer and premature death according to a June 2017 study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology.
Mango is a fruit commonly found in Thailand, but you can also find it in most grocery stores in the U.S. Many Thai restaurants have mango salads or use them as part of a dessert dish. These juicy fruits contain natural sugars and fiber.
One cup of sliced mangoes has about 100 calories, 24 grams of carbs and 3 grams of fiber. It's low in protein and fat but high in sugar. With its naturally sweet flavor, mango is a healthier alternative to desserts like ice cream and cake.
Coconut is another native fruit to Thailand. You can drink coconut water or eat the meat. Some Thai dishes use coconut milk as well since it forms a rich and creamy base. A Thai coconut curry from the company Smart Soup, for example, has only 102 calories, 2.5 grams of protein, 3 grams of fat and 18 grams of carbs.
Coconut milk, when used as a base, can be a healthy alternative to heavy cream because it has less fat. It still adds flavor and fullness to the dish so that you won't feel like you're missing an ingredient. Coconut water is useful as a replacement for sugary sodas. The USDA reports that one 8-ounce glass of coconut water has 40 calories, 10 grams of carbs and various vitamins and minerals.
Famous Healthy Thai Dishes
Pad Thai is perhaps the most well-known dish from Thailand. It's a mix of noodles, vegetables, peanuts and your choice of meat or tofu. Some chefs add spices, sauce or eggs to the dish as well. When you order pad Thai at a restaurant, there are some small adjustments you can make to cut calories.
Generally, the meat you choose to go with your pad Thai is optional. Beef, pork, chicken and tofu are some common options.
The American Heart Association notes that red meat, such as beef, is higher in saturated fat than chicken. If you're trying to reduce your fat intake, opt for poultry instead. Tofu is another viable option if you are vegetarian.
Even healthy pad Thai dishes can be high in fat, depending on how they're cooked. You can ask the chef to use less cooking oil when preparing your dish. An April 2014 review published in Vascular Pharmacology has found that reheated vegetable oils had fewer nutrients and lost most of their health benefits.
Reheating vegetable oils may also increase the risk of developing high blood pressure and clogged arteries, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke, according to the above review. Asking your chef to cook your pad Thai without oil can help you avoid these pitfalls.
Thai curry is another healthy Thai dish, which is made from a base of spices and liquid, such as coconut milk. It may also contain potatoes, vegetables and meat. A Thai curry dish from Upton's Naturals Company is made from jackfruit, coconut milk, water, lemongrass and various spices. A 3.5-ounce serving has only 53 calories and 9 grams of carbs, with 4 grams of fiber. It's a healthy base that you can add chicken or tofu to if you want more protein.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: "Thai Curry"
- Vascular Pharmacology: "Heated Vegetable Oils and Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors"
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: "Coconut Water, Unsweetened (Liquid From Coconuts)"
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: "Smart Soup, Thai Coconut Curry"
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: "Mango"
- International Journal of Epidemiology: "Fruit and Vegetable Intake and the Risk of Cardiovascular Disease, Total Cancer and All-Cause Mortality—a Systematic Review and Dose-Response Meta-Analysis of Prospective Studies"
- American Heart Association: "Meat, Poultry, and Fish: Picking Healthy Proteins"