5 Ways to Make Thai Food Healthier

I love guest posts on the Vitality Guide for Women; especially when they’re super informative. So this week, while I’m off gallivanting around Chicago, in celebration of my twenty seventh birthday, I’m happy to present to you some amazing guest features.


Compared to many types of Western fare, Thai food is very healthy. The fragrant herbs and fresh vegetables used so often in Thai dishes boost their nutrition without significantly increasing the calories. However, some Thai meals can contain high amounts of sugar and fat. If you love Thai food and want to eat it without guilt, then consider making it at home with some slight adjustments. Here are five ways to make Thai food healthier plus a delicious recipe perfect for summer.

Reduce or Replace Sugar in Recipes

Many Thai recipes call for large amounts of white or brown sugar. In dishes like Pad Thai, the final serving is topped with a pile of brown sugar at the end. Although the hint of sweetness is an important part of many Thai dishes, there are some ways to include that element without using unhealthy sugars. In many stir fries and soups, honey can work as a natural sweetener. If you would prefer a sweetener that does not have any calories, opt for Stevia. This plant-based sweetener has no calories but still boasts a sweet taste.

Increase the Use of Beneficial Herbs and Spices

Many of the most popular spices and herbs found in Thai dishes pack a nutritional punch that can really make food healthier. Rather than skipping some of the more exotic ingredients in a recipe, visit an Asian grocery store to find ingredients like galangal, turmeric, coriander and lemongrass. Galangal is very similar to ginger and can be used to assist digestion and relieve stomach pains. Turmeric has anti-inflammatory properties that can help the cardiovascular system, while coriander can cure infections, and lemongrass is known to relieve symptoms of the common cold.

Reduce Nuts in Dishes

Both peanuts and cashews are used frequently in Thai dishes. While both contain heart-healthy fats that are vital, the amount of calories in both can be a problem. If you choose to make Thai meals like Gai Pad Mamuang Him Ma Pahn, or cashew chicken, watch your portions or opt to just sprinkle a small spoon of cashews into each serving so that the amount of nuts per person is controlled.

Be Wary of Using Coconut

The flavor of coconut is a bold flavor found in a large number of Thai dishes. Most mild curries are made with coconut cream in order to add richness and smoothness to the dish. While it certainly adds flavor, it also increases the fat and calories. To get coconut flavor with fewer calories, learn a little about the different types of coconut ingredients. Coconut oil and coconut cream are higher in fat than coconut milk. To add flavor to curries, use coconut milk to cut down on the amount of calories in each portion. You can also use lite coconut milk to cut out fat calories.

Choose Light Appetizers

Many of the most calorie laden items on a Thai restaurant menu are the appetizers. Fried shrimp or crab cakes might taste delicious, but they are loaded with fat. To start your meal off with a light and nutritious appetizer, choose dishes like papaya salad, summer rolls, or satay. Papaya salad boasts raw fruits and vegetables, summer rolls are steamed rather than fried, and even satay can be filling and high in protein.

Green Mango and Crab Salad

1 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon coconut sugar
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 Thai red chiles, minced
3 carrots, finely julienned
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 cup fresh tangerine juice
1 shallot, minced
2 tablespoons Asian fish sauce
1/2 teaspoon sambal oelek or other Asian hot sauce (optional)
1/3 cup water
2 large green mangos (about 1 pound each), peeled and finely julienned
2 seedless cucumbers—peeled, seeded and finely julienned
Two 6-ounce bunches watercress, thick stems discarded
1/2 cup shredded basil leaves
1/3 cup coarsely chopped mint
1/4 cup coarsely chopped cilantro
1 pound jumbo lump crab
3 scallions, green parts only, thinly sliced

1. In a medium bowl, combine the vinegar with 1/4 cup of the sugar and half of the garlic and chiles. Add the carrots and let stand at room temperature for 1 hour.
2. Meanwhile, in a bowl, combine the lime and tangerine juices, shallot, fish sauce, sambal oelek and water. Stir in the remaining garlic, chiles and 1 tablespoon of sugar.
3. In a very large bowl, combine the green mango, cucumbers, watercress, basil, mint and cilantro. Drain the carrots, shaking off the excess liquid, and add them to the bowl. Add the dressing and toss well. Transfer the salad to plates and mound the crab on top. Garnish with the scallions and serve.
Notes: One Serving 180 cal, 2 gm fat, 0 gm sat fat, 11 gm carb, 4 gm fiber, 30 gm protein, 790 mg sodium.

Thai food features delicious, bold flavors and exotic ingredients in each dish. But with a few tweaks, you can make your recipes a little healthier, while still enjoying all your favorite dishes.