Packed with a delectable array of flavours and textures, Thai cuisine has become one of the world’s favourites – but what are the healthiest Thai dishes?
This crisp, raw salad packs a powerful punch of flavour
Bursting with flavour and brimming with fresh, local ingredients, Thai cuisine offers a diverse array of gastronomic treats for those on holiday in the Kingdom. From steaming noodle and broth dishes served at local street food stalls, to marinated and grilled meats enjoyed alfresco at your private villa, there’s something for everyone’s taste buds to savour.
Known for its creamy curries and delectable fried rice and noodle dishes, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Thai cuisine isn’t the healthiest of choices – particularly if you’re trying to maintain a healthy diet whilst on vacation. But, like many other Asian culinary traditions, Thailand’s menus are well stocked with nutritious goodies – you just have to know what to look out for. If you’re staying in one of Thailand’s private rental villas where it’s easy to liaise with the property’s professional chef, there are also plenty of substitutions you can make to ensure each dish meets your dietary requirements. We’ve put together this taster healthy meal plan to tempt you to try a few Thai good eats.
An appetising start
Filled to the brim with freshly-blanched or raw vegetables, Thai summer rolls are chockfull of nutrients
Every meal should start with a tasty appetiser – something crisp and fresh to really get your taste buds going, anticipating the gorgeous feast that’s to come. If you’re trying to stick to a healthy diet whilst in Thailand, pass up the chance to gorge on fried or creamy appetizers in favour of those that are loaded with fresh vegetables.
Summer rolls are a great solution. They are filled with a plethora of colourful herbs and veggies, including carrot, cucumber, mint, Thai basil and coriander. If you’re not a vegetarian, prawns could also be used as a high-protein, low-fat filling. The veggies are quickly blanched (or even served raw) in order to retain their nutrients, before being wrapped in a rice paper roll. These tasty treats form a delicious yet healthy alternative to deep-fried spring rolls.
For something a little spicier, choose som tam – papaya salad in English. Shredded raw vegetables and sometimes crab or dried shrimp are served in an infusion of spices and lime juice. Fish sauce is added for a salty kick, but if you’re trying to cut down on sodium simply ask your villa chef to omit this ingredient and let the chillies do the talking.
The main event
High in protein, this dish is a favourite Thai main meal
Once you’ve devoured your plate of summer rolls or som tam, you’ll be ready for the main course. If you’re keen to consume a lighter meal, a traditional Thai vegetable soup could well hit the spot. Unlike other Thai soups with a coconut milk base, kaeng liang pak ruam is made with pork or chicken stock instead. A colourful collection of vegetables is added, including baby corn, pumpkin and mushrooms.
Of course, if you want something heavier and rich in protein, chicken with cashew nuts (gai pad med manuang) is a fine choice. It might be fried, but the high protein and low fat content of the ingredients means you can enjoy it largely guilt-free. The nuts should also fill you up enough to you don’t need to order a portion of rice to accompany the main dish.
Thanks to its countless miles of coastline, Thailand is famed for its array of tasty seafood dishes – and it’s worth bearing in mind that the fruits of the ocean bring a whole load of diverse nutrients to your plate, too. Pla chon lui suan is one of the Kingdom’s most popular fish dishes, and comprises steamed fish covered in garlic, chillies and mint leaves. Served over a plate of freshly steamed veggies, this dish is a winner when it comes to eating healthily on holiday.
On the side
With an array of vegetable dishes on Thailand’s staple menu there’s no reason to miss out on your greens
Go to any Thai eatery, be it a family-run restaurant by the beach or a high-end establishment in the city, and you’ll find the menu rich with vegetable side dishes to complement your main. That means there’s no excuse for missing out on your five a day whilst you’re on holiday.
Pad pak is one of the simplest – and most satisfying – option. Essentially this dish translates to fried vegetables, so you can’t really go wrong when ordering it at your villa. Expect to carrots, broccoli, cauliflower and mushrooms appear on your plate, sometimes prepared with a little bit of soy sauce and palm sugar for extra flavour – it’s easy to ask the chef to omit this if you’re on a real health kick.
Cooked in oyster sauce, pad pak bung fai daeng (stir fried Morning Glory) is another green Thai special that you shouldn’t miss out on if you’re trying to pack in as many vegetables as possible.
Sweet tooth cravings
Thailand is the perfect place to sample an array of exotic, locally produced fruits
If, like many people, dessert is the highlight of your meal, then being on a healthy eating plan doesn’t mean you have to miss out on the sweet goodies. Thailand produces such an array of exquisite tropical fruits that you have the chance to make a tasty, nutritious rainbow on your plate.
Classic offerings include watermelon, pineapple and mango but there’s also a host of adventurous fruits that you may not have had the chance to sample back home, including mangosteens, rambutans and dragon fruits. With such an array of delectable fresh produce, your healthy Thai dessert could end up being one of the best fruit salads of your life.
Packed with electrolytes, this thirst-quenching drink is the ideal fluid to re-hydrate your body
If you’re keen to stick to nutritious goodies then there are plenty of choices in Thailand beyond bottles of local beer and glasses of sweet, milky tea. The water of a fresh, young coconut is probably one of nature’s healthiest drinks – and it’s available in plentiful supply in Thailand. Not only does this drink taste fantastic– especially when served chilled – it’s filled with naturally occurring electrolytes to help your body rehydrate in the tropical climate.
Still craving a naughty meal that doesn’t meet your diet plan? A few simple substitutions can keep your favourite Thai dishes healthy
- For a creamy and delicious, tom yum goong (hot and sour soup with shrimp), switch the coconut milk base to a fish stock broth for a tasty alternative that’s loaded with fewer calories.
- If you’re ordering a plate of som tam, some of the marinades include palm sugar to create a sweet taste. Just ask for yours “mai wan” if you want it without sugar.
- If you want to savour the flavour of summer rolls without consuming meat or fish, ask your villa’s private chef to substitute this part of the dish with tofu so you can still get your protein.