If your knowledge of Thai cuisine begins and ends with pad thai, it is time to do some penance. Thailand is blessed with an immense array of spices, vegetables, seafood, and fruit. The aromatic dishes overwhelm the palate with balanced blasts of sweet, sour, spicy, and savory. While there are plenty of fried foods and oily noodles, Thai food can also be very healthy. A focus on fresh ingredients and plenty of herbs delivers a phytonutrient punch. Read to learn 10 healthy Thai foods and ingredients to eat.
This Thai staple is easy to find whether you are in Bangkok or Baltimore. Think of it as the Thai chicken tender, except it is unbreaded and instead cooked with a delicious peanut sauce. About 4 of these is equivalent to a 40 gram serving of protein.
Tom Yum Soup
This hot and sour has converted countless diners to Thai cuisine and inspired more than a few trips abroad. It’s a complex mixture of lemon grass, chilies, ginger, garlic, galanga, lime, mushrooms and more. Usually a bug-eyed prawn is found floating the yellow water. This dish is also a brew of powerful antioxidants.
It’s low calorie, high protein, filled with vitamin c and 1′- acetoxychavicol acetate (ACA), an antioxidant that has been shown to help inhibit growth of cancerous cells.
Vegetable Summer Rolls
Spring rolls at cheap takeout restaurants are deep fried grease bombs, stuffed with a stringy mystery meat/vegetable mixture, and dipped in a saccharine sauce. They’re a guaranteed recipe for a stomach ache and vows to change your eating habits for good.
On the opposite end of the spectrum sits the mighty spring roll. Wrapped in a thin and chewy rice wrap, these little guys are bursting with fresh herbs (usually a hearty helping of mint and basil), raw veg (stringy carrots and cucumbers are popular), lettuce, and, for a few extra baht, some shrimp or chicken. Dip it in a peanut sauce or some chili oil. Walk away feeling refreshed instead of bloated.
So maybe you aren’t ready to be a vegetarian or a vegan, but you still want lighter and healthy ways to eat your meat. If you’re part of the growing school that believes meat should be used to flavor a dish- not be the entire dish itself -then you’ll love laarb, the meat salads of northern Thailand.
They’re prepared with beef, pork, or chicken, with the latter being the obvious choice if you’re in the mood for eating healthy. Laarb Gai (that’s the chicken version) is finely minced chicken mixed with a heaping portion of fresh scallions, basil, cilantro, mint, chili, lime juice, fish sauce, and toasted rice powder. It is an intensely aromatic dish with a crunchy texture and savory flavor.
Green Papaya Salad
It’s a sweltering hot day in Chiang Rai and you need to escape the unrelenting sun. So you duck into a little storefront that has a big blowing fan and sells regional dishes. You’re still full from lunch but you need something refreshing to munch on. It’s the perfect occasion for a spicy green papaya salad, one of the most popular dishes in the region.
A green papaya salad contains shredded, you guessed it, green papaya, as well as garlic, tomato, peanuts, and shrimp paste. The papaya is full of fiber to help with digestion, as well as an antioxidant known as lycopene, which has anticancer properties.
Pad Pak Bung Fai Daeng
This tasty vegetable dish is morning glory stir fried with garlic and chili. Morning glory is known as water spinach, a leafy green vegetable that fortifies the liver, protects against insomnia, and is rich in iron.
The lynchpin of Thai cuisine. The bringer of heat and enhancer of flavor. You can’t go more than a block in Thailand without the fragrant aroma of frying chilis hitting your nostrils and causing your mouth (and eyes) to water.
Capascin is what makes chilis spicy. In addition to burning your tounge, it delivers high dosage of vitamin A, C, iron, and potassium.
One word of warning: if you’ve suffered digestive problems or stomach ulcers, steer clear of the chili. It can compound the issues.
A squid appetizer that isn’t calamari. This seafood salad incorporates gives you a fresh catch of local prawn and squid mixed with a generous heaping of ripe tomatoes, ginger, basil, chili, and more. It is a great beach snack, served in little cafes that give welcome shade from the sun and hot midday sand.
Squid is rich in B-12, magnesium, calcium, and Vitamin A. The vegetables give their own heaping of antioxidants and phytonutrients. Best of all, the dish can be delicious without salt or sugar.
You haven’t had a fruit salad til you’ve been to Thailand. There’s no shortage of fresh and tasty fruits growing in the jungles. One of the most popular is the mango. The sweet and slightly spicy orange flesh of this fruit is brimming with vitamins. One cup contains 25% of your daily value of vitamin A, as well as high levels of Vitamin C and B6.
One word of warning: tread carefully with the mango sticky rice. While this sumptuous desert is undeniably delicious, it also contains an alarming amount of sugar and calories. Instead of putting mango slices on top of rice, put the rice on top of mango slices. A small spoonful spread across a mango will give you the creamy flavor and texture of sticky rice without forcing you to commit to all the calories.
This aromatic herb, also known as Cymbopogon, breathes life into many Thai curries and soups. It contains flavonoids like teolin, glycosides, quercetin, kaempferol, elimicin, catecol, and chlorogenic acid, which aid in everything from digestion to depression. It also contains a trace amount of minerals like potassium and magnesium, as well as vitamins A, B1, and C.