Many Thai food entrees include vegetables. This has helped the cuisine earn a reputation as being one of the healthier restaurant options, but that's not necessarily true. While certain Thai foods are healthy and supply essential vitamins and minerals, other options contain too much saturated fat or sodium. Learn more about the ingredients and preparation methods of Thai foods before you order your next meal, and you'll be able to enjoy the food without going overboard on calories, fat or salt.
While the shrimp or fish cakes might be calling your name, don't give into the temptation. They're deep-fried, which means they contain far too much saturated fat. Opt for fresh spring rolls, which contain vegetables that add fiber and vitamin A to your meal, and they are lower in fat. Satay is another healthier choice. The meat is grilled instead of deep-fried, so it's lower in fat. A 3.5-ounce serving of grilled chicken breast contains 3.6 grams of fat as well as nearly 100 percent of the niacin you need on a daily basis. Use just a small amount of the dipping sauce, because it can be high in sodium. Better yet, have a papaya salad, which is low in fat and calories but supplies a good dose of nutrients. One cup of raw papaya adds 2.5 grams of fiber and 88 milligrams of vitamin C -- about all you need for the entire day. The papaya also provides 1,378 international units of vitamin A -- 60 percent of what women need each day.
Order a broth-based soup and you'll consume less fat and fewer calories than you would by eating a creamy soup. Try Tom yum goong, which is hot and sour shrimp soup. It contains about 300 calories per serving and it's low in fat. Shrimp is a good source of protein, too. Stick to one serving because the soup can contain more than 900 milligrams of sodium per 1-cup serving -- about 40 percent of your daily limit of 2,300 milligrams. Pass on soups made with coconut milk, which is high in saturated fat and calories but doesn't add a significant boost of nutrition. If you eat a bowl of soup that contains 1 cup of coconut milk, you'll consume at least 75 percent of the 65 grams of fat you should limit yourself to each day if you're following a 2,000-calorie diet. Skip Tom kha goong, which is shrimp soup made with coconut milk. It contains two day's worth of saturated fat. That's roughly 44 grams of saturated if you're following a 2,000-calorie diet. Tom ka gai is a soup made with chicken and coconut milk, and it's also high in saturated fat.
Gai pad mamuang him ma pahn, or cashew chicken, is among the healthiest foods you can order at a Thai restaurant. The chicken is a good source of protein and a 1/2-cup serving of cashews adds heart-healthy unsaturated fat to your meal. The cashews also supply 0.63 gram of vitamin E to the dish -- about 10 percent of what you need each day. Pad Thai is another nutritious entree. The noodles supply fiber and the peanuts and shrimp are healthy sources of protein. Add an egg to your pad Thai for 6 grams of protein and 63 percent of your daily vitamin B-12 needs. It can be high in sodium though. Pass on Musamun curry, which is duck, fatty beef or dark-meat chicken cooked with coconut milk and cream. It's high in saturated fat and sodium. Replace fried rice with steamed rice as another way to reduce the fat content of your meal.
Gluay kaeg is one of the most common desserts served in Thai restaurants. The dessert is made by dipping banana slices in coconut batter and deep-frying them. The banana supplies potassium, but not enough to outweigh the amount of fat and calories in the dessert. Skip coconut ice cream too. A 1/2-cup serving contains about 2.2 grams of saturated fat, which is about 10 percent of your daily limit if you follow a 2,000-calorie diet. Have fruit ice or fresh fruit instead. Many Thai restaurants serve these fruit-based desserts. They're lower in calories, fat and sugar, and they supply potassium and vitamin C.
- HelpGuide: Healthy Fast Food
- Cooking Light: Menu Navigator: Best (and Worst) Choices at Thai Restaurants
- American Heart Association: Tips for Eating Thai Food
- MayoClinic.com: Dietary Fats: Know Which Types to Choose
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference
- MedlinePlus: Niacin
- National Institutes of Health: Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Vitamin A
- National Institutes of Health: Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Vitamin E
- National Institutes of Health: Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Vitamin B12
Sara Ipatenco has taught writing, health and nutrition. She started writing in 2007 and has been published in Teaching Tolerance magazine. Ipatenco holds a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in education, both from the University of Denver.