Thailand’s rich gastronomic scene is delicious as it is healthy. If you’re looking for more reasons to indulge in your favorite pad thai, you’ve come to the right place.
Thai dishes are often cooked in woks over high heat. By doing this, the ingredients get cooked more quickly, effectively retaining their flavor profile without relying heavily on oil, salt or refined sugar. Instead, Thai chefs use healthier substitutes like broth, fish sauce, and palm sugar. These not only make these dishes lower in their sugar, salt, or fat content, but they also naturally bring out the best in the vegetables and protein present in the dish.
But what really sets Thai food apart is the unique herbs and spices commonly used in their dishes that have been associated with their cuisine. I’m talking about lemongrass, ginger, galangal, and lime. These spices work together in perfect harmony to make every dish memorable.
Signature Thai Ingredients & Their Health Benefits
Various common Thai cooking ingredients. Photo: Asian Inspiration
Lemongrass, for instance, is a great source of iron and potassium. Ginger, on the other hand, is an immune-boosting root crop with antioxidant properties. Ginger helps reduce inflammation and can be useful in treating an upset stomach.
Galangal or Thai ginger is known for its healing qualities, being a common ingredient in Chinese herbal medicine. One of its benefits comes in helping with digestion.
Limes and other citrus fruits common in Thai foods are another source of vitamins and minerals, boosting the immune system and providing a good balance of nutrients.
Thai cuisine is also famed for its heat, with green curry as the forefront of these classic spicy Thai dishes. Anyone who loves spicy food can actually reap the benefits of the chilies as they are also good sources of vitamins.
Other great spices Thai chefs swear by include basil, coriander, and kaffir leaves. These spices pack a lot of punch, add an aromatic quality, as well as turn the dishes into natural sources of fiber, minerals, and antioxidants.
Healthiest Thai Dishes
1. Tom Yum Soup
This classic Thai sour soup is created with all of the good stuff including lime, chiles, galangal, and lemongrass. You can taste the heat of the broth as well as the perfect combination of the spices, elevating the fresh variety of veggies. For protein options, you can choose between tofu, chicken, shrimp or all of them combined.
Photo: Spruce Eats
Broth-based soups are usually lower in fat and calories than soups made with coconut milk. But don’t let that stop you from trying a version with a splash of coconut milk for a creamier and richer meal.
Tom yum has fewer calories, fat, and carbohydrates per cup. Thais often eat the soup for cold and flu relief because of its ingredients such as lemongrass, chili and lime – all known to have antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and immunity-boosting properties.
2. Fresh Spring Rolls
Fresh spring rolls, also known as summer rolls, are a staple in Thai cuisine. With calories fewer than 140 each, these rolls make for an excellent appetizer.
Photo: Delightful Plate
Summer rolls feature a medley of fresh veggies like lettuce or cabbage, carrots, cucumber, basil or mint, along with noodles, tofu, or shrimp. Some add mangoes for an extra kick of sweetness. These refreshing ingredients are wrapped in a rice-paper skin and served with a delicious dipping sauce.
Depending of course on the veggies stuffed inside the summer rolls, this meal can be a source of a lot of nutritional value.
Eating this before the heavier and more calorie-dense dishes is also helpful for filling you up first with vegetables.
3. Papaya Salad
Papaya salad is another appetizer that’s a go-to option when going to Thai restaurants. The refreshing salad typically comes with shredded green papaya, string beans, pomelo, and tomatoes.
Photo: Thai Caliente
The unripe papaya is the star of this meal, and for good reason. Not only is it vibrant, crispy, and refreshing, but it also has enough vitamin C an individual needs in a day. One cup of it also serves up to 3 grams of fiber.
The cherry, or in this case, the peanuts on top of this exquisite salad also add that very important crunch. Peanuts are great sources of protein as well as heart-healthy unsaturated fat.
4. Pad Thai
Pad Thai is made with stir-fried rice noodles sauteed with spices, peanuts, bean sprouts, and egg. Some love chicken and shrimp Pad Thai, and others opt for the healthier version of just vegetable Pad Thai.
Photo: Cuisine at Home
Although Pad Thai clocks in at around 300 calories a serving, the veggies provide fiber and vitamins. Those who love Pad Thai know that the dish is so good that it’s easy to indulge it in large portions.
To lighten the meal, some choose to add in tofu as the protein source, and reduce the amount of rice noodles cooked with the dish.
Thai’s stir fries are a healthier alternative to pad thai just because you can bulk up the dish with more vegetables instead of the rice noodles.
Photo: Healthy Thai Recipes
Ingredients of common stir fries often include protein like tofu with vegetables like broccoli and string beans. This is easily a wonderfully nutritional dish complete with protein, vitamins, and minerals. The different herbs and spices sprinkled on this dish also makes for a comforting meal.
Most choose to order the dish with brown rice for a more fibrous and healthier version of the meal.
6. Green Curry
This dish combines protein, usually chicken, aromatic vegetables in a steaming hot broth, coconut milk, and green curry paste.
Photo: Spruce Eats
Green curry with chicken provides essential proteins as well as high levels of the recommended daily intake of iron. One serving of green curry chicken also includes fiber and carbohydrates. And if you can handle the heat, try getting it spicy. A compound in chili peppers called capsaicin has healing properties and can help protect you against cancer and heart disease.
Though green curry dishes can be high in fat, the overall nutritional value is good because of the vitamins and minerals you can derive from the meal.
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