When dining out, choosing a dish full of healthy ingredients, such as Pad Thai, can support your overall health and fitness goals. But beware, this Thai noodle dish can be packed with unexpected calories.
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Restaurant Pad Thai's calories start out at a base of 32 calories per ounce. The total calorie content of your dish will depend on the restaurant's specific recipe and ingredients, including meat and vegetables.
Know Pad Thai Basics
Pad Thai is served in every Thai restaurant in the nation, and in most others around the world. The dish originated in Thailand in the 1930s and 1940s, according to an article by the Morning News, as the country transitioned from its former identity as Siam to its current name, Thailand. This economically challenging time in the country opened the door for a cheap, filling dish centered around rice noodles, chopped vegetables and inexpensive proteins.
Although there are many variations on Pad Thai, with each restaurant serving up their own particular recipe, there are some ingredients that are common throughout. The USDA's FoodData Central makes it easy to estimate the number of calories in each ingredient.
- Rice noodles: 400 calories per 3.5-ounce serving.
- Palm sugar: 64 calories per tablespoon. Presume 1.5 tablespoons or 96 calories according to a traditional recipe posted in The Morning News.
- Tamarind concentrate: 8.7 calories per tablespoon. The Morning News recipe has 1 tablespoon per serving.
- Fish sauce: There's a half teaspoon in each serving of Pad Thai, adding 7.5 calories from this savory sauce.
- Red shallots: Estimate 1 tablespoon of chopped shallots in each serving, adding 7.2 calories.
- Eggs: Presume approximately 1.5 eggs in your Pad Thai, with a calorie count of 214.15
- Peanuts: There are 1 to 2 tablespoons of peanuts in the dish, adding 170 to 340 calories.
- Bean sprouts: At 5.1 calories per cup, bean sprouts are your friend.
Read more: 4 Health Benefits of Rice Noodles
Count Restaurant Pad Thai Calories
It's easy to count the calories in that restaurant Pad Thai. As of May 2018, the Food and Drug Administration requires restaurant chains with 20 or more establishments to list their dishes' calorie counts on their menus or menu boards. Although your local mom-and-pop Thai eatery or local food truck isn't required to list this information, you can easily keep track by choosing a chain restaurant that lists Pad Thai's nutrition.
Magic Wok: This restaurant's recipe lists rice noodles and homemade Pad Thai sauce as the base for the dish as well as bean sprouts, fried shallots, green onions, ground peanuts and cilantro. Choose from shrimp (630 calories per serving), tofu (670 calories) or chicken (680 calories).
Ruby Thai Kitchen: If you have a craving for Thai food when you're spending the afternoon at the mall, chances are you'll find a Ruby Thai Kitchen in the food court. A 10-ounce serving of this restaurant's Pad Thai contains 560 calories.
Thai Express: This restaurant's basic Pad Thai (354 calories, 12.4 ounces) starts with the basic stir-fried rice noodles combined with sweet and sour sauce, egg, bean sprouts, green onion, tofu and salted radish. Pick your protein: there's shrimp, beef, chicken, tofu or vegetables.
For lower Pad Thai calories, try Pad See Ew, consisting of wide rice noodles mixed with Chinese broccoli and your choice of protein options. Calories in Pad See Ew come in at only 192 for a 6.8-ounce serving.
UCLA: Restaurant-style Pad Thai might be as close as your university cafeteria. At UCLA, the dish has just 555 calories for a 16-ounce portion, making it a diet-friendly way to fill your belly. The university's recipe includes rice noodles in Thai chili sauce, served with scrambled eggs, organic tofu, bean sprouts and green onions. The dish comes garnished with cilantro, carrots, cabbage, a lime wedge and traditional peanuts.
Read more: 10 Healthy Chicken Recipes From Keto Enchiladas to Pad Thai Zoodles
The university also offers shrimp Pad Thai at 518 calories per 16 ounces, or a 5-ounce serving of chicken and shrimp Pad Thai with 240 calories. Don't let the smaller overall calorie count fool you, though. This dish packs 48 calories per ounce, compared with 32.3 for the shrimp Pad Thai. If you're good at portion control, you could opt to take half of the larger portion home for another meal.
- The Morning News: "Pad Thai is the Most Misunderstood Noodle"
- UCLA Dining Services: "Pad Thai"
- Thai Express: "Noodles"
- Thai Express: "Nutritionals"
- Food and Drug Administration: "Calories on the Menu"
- Magic Wok: "Nutrition Information"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Rice Noodles"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Palm Sugar"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Tamarind"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Fish Sauce"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Shallots, Raw"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Eggs"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Peanuts"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Bean Sprouts"