Thai people are, for the most part, thin and a lot of that has to do with the food they eat. I noticied in Bangkok that they also walk a lot, as the city is designed for ease-of-use via buses and metros.
The real secret to their lithe frames is that Thai food at its cores has a lot of nutritional value without being too calorically dense. Below I go through the healthy and (less thealthy) aspects of Thai food.
Thai Food Basics
First, let’s go over what you’ll find on a typical menu at a Thai restaurant.
It’ll be several pages of food, but most can be broken into a few categories
- Noodles, often quickly stir fried with veggies, herbs and lean protein (i.e. Pad Thai)
- Rice, often stir fried with veggies and protein (i.e. Fried Rice with Chicken)
- Soups, often spicy, hot and full of veggies, noodles and meat. (i.e. Tom Yum Goong, a spicy soup with shrimp)
- Curries, a stew with spices and coconut milk that come in a variety of colors/flavors
- BBQ, Steamed or Fried Seafood.
Below are the best parts of Thai food
1) Portions are small, compared to American standards, and each plate has everything you need.
Case in point, I arrived in Chiang Mai, a city in the mountainside region of Northern Thailand (also my favorite city of my trip) and was hungry for lunch. I walked outside to a restaurant with one page of menu items. Each was 45 bahts for a meal (about $1.50).
I chose the chicken stir fry. The chef heats up a wok, adds about a spoonful of oil, then quickly sautes about one cup of chopped up chicken. He serves it with a scoop of rice and sliced cucumbers. It’s probably about 400-500 calories and I’m full. The rice is filling and the protein helps stem any further appetite.
2) Veggies sneak their way into each dish
If you order Fried Rice there will almost always be fresh garlic, peas, carrots and green onions.
Pad Thai, a fried noodle dish will be made with cooked shallots, green onions and crunchy bean sprouts
Tom Yum soup will have tomatoes, mushrooms, lemon grass and more…take a guess…green onions.
The veggies add color, texture and nutrients in what would otherwise be simple dishes.
3) Everything, even fast food is fresh, never frozen.
Street vendors have huge carts with a wok and small bowls with everything they need to make dishes you order in a matter of minutes.
4) Everything is simple and wholesome: soups, noodles or rice
I appreciated how all the food was basic, and I found I never had stomach problems when eating from restaurants or local vendors.
The Less Healthy Side of Thai cuisine
Without painting a picture that Thai food as 100% healthy, here are some less nutritious aspects
1) Heavy uses of oil in some dishes.
Fried rice is made differently at every restaurant, some using a few teaspoons of oil (40-60 calories) vs a tablespoon or two (120-200 calories). Oil adds richness, flavor and toasts the rice, but can add calories quickly.
Also some dishes are deep-fried. This is not a bad thing, just something to consider. I had an incredible deep fried fish at a restaurant in Bangkok that had a fantastic crispy outside that complimented the flavors of the fish.
2) Coconut milk is delicious, but calorically dense
Curries use 1-2 cups of coconut milk, which comes from extracting the juice from the inside meat part of a young coconut. It’s rich and tasty, but if you eat curry everyday it can be a bit much on your stomach.
3) Carbs, carbs and more carbs
Sometimes eating noodles and rice all the time can get old. I mixed it up by eating more protein such as Chicken Satay or BBQ fished.
This Winter we’ll be teaching a lot of Thai dishes at 35+ elementary schools across Los Angeles. Enrollment is open at our schools! Register through the school or online here