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Thai food’s extraordinary balance of flavours has a way of leaving us constantly coming back for more. Considering our deep love for it, it’s probably wise to identify what’s healthy in Thai cuisine, to also get a good balance of nutrients through the aromatic and vibrant dishes. That’s exactly you’re going to find as you read on: the best options for healthy food in Thai cuisine!

 

Starters

 

A mainstay of Thai cooking around the world, the spicy Tom Yum Gung Soup is rich in herbal ingredients like coriander, lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves and galangal roots – all of which have recently been in the limelight as effective inhibitors of digestive tract tumours.1Unsurprisingly, Thailand has one of the lowest incidences of digestive tract cancers in the world!Even papaya salads have these healthy ingredients, but with an added punch of vitamin C, proteins, fibre, calcium, phosphorous, iron and some B vitamins.  The green papaya that’s used in these salads contains citric and malic acids, both of which are effective against Helicobacter pylori, a harmful type of bacteria that causes gastric ulcers and cancers.3 It also has an enzyme called papain, which helps the body break down proteins and, in doing so, aids digestion.For non-vegetarians, satay chicken makes a good starter since it provides a lean source of protein. This dish is often complemented with peanut sauce – which is good, because peanuts are rich in biotin, which is essential for hair structure, and vitamin E, which protects hair and skin from sun damage.5 It’s also a source of resveratrol, the antioxidant that’s famous for being found in red wine.6

 

Mains

 

Coconut Milk Based Curries:

 

Coconut milk-based Thai curries often have more than 350 calories – but are justified by their nutritional value. While coconut milk is admittedly high in saturated fat, most of that comes from lauric acid, which has been shown to boost immunity. It also reduces bad (LDL) cholesterol, and therefore decreases the risk of heart disease.7, 8 The cooling coconut milk in these curries is opposed with the fiery flavour of chilli peppers, which are rich in vitamins B6, C and K, and are a source of antioxidants and vitamin A through their carotenoid content. They also have a compound called capsaicin, which shows great potential in pain relief, weight loss and cancer prevention.9, 10

 

Protein-Source:

 

For non-vegetarians, pick fish for your protein source, made even more nutritious when it contains omega-3 fatty acids.11 As for vegetarians, there are plenty of fresh vegetables to choose from. Non-vegetarians can also get their share of veggies by ordering a side of them, generally laced with ginger, garlic, and chillies. They pack huge flavour and nutrition for few calories. The garlic comes with heart-healthy compounds, and ginger is very good for alleviating digestive issues.12

 

Grains:

 

Complement your curry with steamed rice (240 calories/cup) instead of fried rice or coconut rice options – these likely to have twice the calories. Although it depends on the restaurant, Pad Thai, the traditional Thai noodles, is infamous for being high in calories, fat and sodium (too much of which can increase blood pressure). If you’re really keen on it, try and limit your portion to 1 cup (approximately 350 calories).

 

Additional Tips

 

Avoid the fried prawn crackers, as they are likely to have bad fats (‘trans’ fats) that increase the bad (LDL) cholesterol in blood and the concomitant risk of heart disease. Don’t be shy of lemongrass, though; this flavour-enhancer that makes an appearance in almost all Thai dishes exhibits an antifungal effect on a range of different fungi and can improve blood circulation. You can also conclude your meal with a soothing cup of lemongrass tea.13 As long as we keep our calorie count from soaring, a Thai restaurant meal, which is known for its liberal use of herbs and spices, can be a particularly pleasing culinary experience – and a healthy one!

 

 

References:

 

1. Siripongvutikorn S, et al. LWT – Food Science and Technology 2005, 38(4): 347-352.

2. CNN. Health benefits of Thai soup under study. CNN. 2001 3rd January 2001.

3. Agha A, et al. Aliment Pharmacol Ther 2005, 21(9): 1145-1148.

4. Krishna K, et al. Natural product radiance 2008, 7(4): 364-373.

5. Finner AM. Dermatologic Clinics 2013, 31(1): 167-172.

6. Frémont L. Life Sciences 2000, 66(8): 663-673.

7. de Roos N, et al. J Nutr 2001, 131(2): 242-245.

8. Mensink RP, et al. Am J Clin Nutr 2003, 77(5): 1146-1155.

9. Reyes-Escogido Mde L, et al. Molecules 2011, 16(2): 1253-1270.

10. WHfoods. World’s Healthiest Foods: About Chili Peppers.  2015  [cited] Available from: http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=29#nutritionalprofile

11. Ooraikul B, et al. In: De Meester F, Watson R (eds). Wild-Type Food in Health Promotion and Disease Prevention. Humana Press, 2008, pp 515-533.

12. Rahman K, Lowe GM. The Journal of nutrition 2006, 136(3): 736S-740S.

13. Tzortzakis NG, Economakis CD. Innovative Food Science & Emerging Technologies 2007, 8(2): 253-258.

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