If you plan to travel to Thailand and want to eat healthy while at sit-in restaurants, read this article…

It’s an urban myth that Thai food is inherently healthy for you. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people talk about how healthy Thai food dishes are just because quite a few of them have fresh vegetables.

Yes, the emphasis on Thai food is to use fresh ingredients. Yes, there’s often a lot of vegetables used in the dishes and an assortment of salads. But many Thai dishes are absolutely loaded with processed sugars, MSG, heavy doses of sodium and artificial flavorings to ‘enhance’ the taste while masking the low-quality cuts of meat used in most of the dishes. More than a few Thai dishes are often starchy carb heavy, one of the big 7 nutritional sins of Paleo. And then there’s the minimal-to-no regulation of steroids and antibiotic usage on farm animals. Yes, that chicken you enjoy eating in Thailand is pumped with more steroids than Ronnie Coleman ever was in his prime.

So no, as a whole the Thai ‘diet’ is not a healthy one. And even more, the regular Thai diet is definitely nowhere near Paleo, with starchy carbs like rice and noodles being the majority source of calories for the average Thai person.

What does this all mean? Well, eating Paleo in Thailand is for the most part not that easy.

Now the good news is that I’m here to help guide you through the unhealthy mess that is Thai food.

YES, there are still ‘healthy’ Thai food dishes out there (with ‘healthy’ in this case meaning minimally processed with fresh ingredients). And from these ‘healthy’ dishes you can cherry pick some of the more Paleo-friendly dishes of the bunch.

Read why Paleo is such a beneficial diet for keeping healthy, losing weight, and transforming your body

Many of the more healthy dishes are actually from the north and northeastern part of Thailand from a province called Isaan. And the good news is that some of these Isaan dishes are considered the ‘staples’ of the Thai diet meaning you can easily find these dishes at any restaurant.

Keep in mind that while in Thailand, you are going to have to relax your Paleo standards slightly if you don’t want to completely starve here. Yes, you can put together a selection of dishes of veggies (non-starchy carbs), fresh fruits, and protein. However, just be aware that some of the salad dishes and some of the lean protein dishes MAY have sauces and flavorings that would not be considered Paleo back home.

Problem Thai Ingredients

Before we actually look at the more Paleo-friendly dishes, let’s look at some of the problematic ingredients that make up a lot of the Thai food, healthy or not, you’ll find in restaurants and street stalls:

  • MSG
  • Processed Sugars
  • Palm Oil
  • Vegetable Oil
  • Soy Sauce
  • Oyster Sauce
  • Fish Sauce

What to Do to ‘Healthify’ Your Thai Food Dishes

Depending on where you are eating, you can request some of these ingredients not be used by the chef when cooking your food. But it’s a toss up IF the person cooking your food will actually listen. I’ve asked for no MSG on my food plenty of times only to have the chef secretly sprinkle it in there, fearing the dish wouldn’t taste the same.

By far, the biggest issue you may have is with Fish Sauce. Most Thai dishes will have fish sauce. Fish Sauce can be 100% Paleo IF it’s made only from fermented fish. But many of the off-the-shelf brands mix in processed ingredients. You can either relax your Paleo standards slightly while in Thailand or bring your own Paleo-friendly Fish Sauce and hand it to the chefs to use.

If you want to make your meals more healthy and more Paleo-friendly, do the following when ordering your food from a restaurant:

  • Ask for no-MSG (but it’s a hit or miss as to whether your Thai chef will listen to you on this one) — SAY mai sai pong chuu rot
  • Ask for less salt — SAY ‘mai sai gluea
  • Ask for no sugar /little sugar –SAY ‘Mai Sai Nam Tan
  • Ask for no soy sauce
  • Ask for no oyster sauce SAY mai ow narm mun hoy
  • Ask for no fish sauce SAY mai sai nam plaa
  • OR replace the oyster or soy sauce with fish sauce
  • Avoid the dipping sauces that come with your dishes
  • Remove the skin from grilled meats (this saves you from the salt, sugar, and soy sauce that might be in the glaze/marinade)
  • If you are super picky, give the chef you Paleo-friendly fish sauce brand (Red Boat Fish Sauce) to use when cooking your meal for the fish sauce

Even IF you are don’t follow any of the points above (I mean, we are on vacation), you can probably be 95 percent on track with your Paleo diet just by picking the foods on the list below.

I’ve done my best to provide the Top 16 Best Paleo Thai Food Dishes in Thailand. There are plenty of other dishes that are Paleo friendly that I left off of this list, but these selections are all widely available pretty much at any restaurant and at most street vendors.

Make sure you check out the other ‘Best Healthy Thai Food’ articles I’ve written up.

The 20 Healthiest (Restaurant) Thai Food Dishes in Thailand

Here’s my detailed list of the healthiest dishes I’ve found in the five years of living in Thailand.

1. Pla Neung Manao (Poached Fish with Lime)

Find it at:  Restaurants

Cost: 120-200 baht (fish size dependent)

(PROTEIN HEAVY, CARB LIGHT, MODERATE CALORIES)

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Succulent whole whitefish lightly poached in a lemony-based sauce and flavored with Thai herbs

What it is: A steamed white fish with a healthy dose of lime dressing poured on top. It’s simple, yet totally delicious — and it’s healthy to boot. The basic ingredients are usually some combination of garlic, chilies, fish sauce, lime juice, and a tiny bit of sugar. Understand though there is a great variation in how this dish is prepared and the ingredients used.

Why you should eat it: steamed fish is a great no-nonsense source of lean protein. The dish can be quite spicy with the chilies so you get a metabolic kick to help burn a few more calories as well as the host of nutritional benefits fresh chilies bring. The dish is low calorie — basically just steamed fish in a light sauce (it can either be boiled/poached in the sauce with water as a sort of saucy broth or just with the sauce poured over it).

How Paleo is Pla Nueng Manao: Very much Paleo — lean protein, no carbs, and fresh ingredients. You may have to be wary of the sugar added in and the fish sauce (which may have some processed ingredients), but again this is an issue you will have anywhere with any dish in Thailand. You can request no sugar to be added, but be warned this will change up the mixture of flavors. You do kind of want the sweet to balance out the spicy and sour.

Local Eating Tip: This dish can change up quite a bit depending on where you get it. I’ve had versions of this which are like a soup — the fish is poached in a sort of thin bubbling saucy broth and served to you in a heated container. This is my favorite version as it’s more of a sort of soup with a whole fish sticking out of it. I think this version tastes the best and it’s not (as sweet) as the other method. The other way I’ve seen this dish done is the actual steamed fish is served on a plate fairly swimming in a thin spicy-sweet-sour sauce. This dish can be spicy with all the fresh chilies; ask for no spice if you can’t handle it (say mai pet). The dish is usually pretty big and with a non-starchy carb side dish, can make up your complete meal. It’s often even big enough for 2-4 people to share (with other dishes ordered).

2. Gung Chae Nam Pla (กุ้งแชน้ำปล่า) (Thai Marinated Raw Prawns)

Find it at:  Restaurants

Cost: 120-200 baht (size dependent)

goong-chae-nam-pla-300x225 gung chae nam pla

Raw shrimp with lime juice and fish sauce poured over. If you are a fan of sashimi (or Mexican ceviche) this dish is perfect for you. Even if you are not, it’s still pretty damn tasty, if slightly expensive.
What it is: raw shrimp lightly marinated with lime juice, fish sauce, and fragrant Thai herbs served garnished with a few light greens (cucumbers or seaweed) and chilies.
Why you should eat it: raw shrimp and fresh Thai herbs? A good kick of spicy fresh protein with little other than just fresh herbs added in.
Paleo and Gung Chae Nam Pla: Paleo friendly on all regards, which only the fish sauce possibly containing some additives, brand depending. You are getting a good source of protein here, some vitamins and minerals from the herbs and seaweed (if it includes seaweed) and chilies. There is pretty much no carbs to this dish, however.
Local eating tip: this dish is only found at restaurants and tends to be more on the expensive side. Eat this as an occasional treat, but don’t expect to find it at cheap street stalls!

3. SOM TAM (Papaya Salad)

som tam

Thailand’s most famous salad. Perfect mix of sweet, sour, and hot. And it’s an awesome source of non-starchy carbs

What it is: you haven’t had Thai food until you try this. It’s awesome, low calorie and it’s a good source of Paleo-friendly carbs. I’ve mentioned this dish extensively on all my Healthy Thai food articles.

Why you should eat it: Great source of carbs and it’s tasty. Isn’t that enough?

4. SOM TAM POMLAMAI (ส้มตำผลไม้) (Spicy Fruit Salad)

Find it at:  Restaurants

Cost: 40-60 baht 

Som Tam Ponlamai Som Tam Pon La Mai

Just like Papaya salad, but sans the papaya and with fruit instead

What is it: The sweetness of a fruit salad with the spicy sour heat of lime juice, fish sauce, and chili peppers. You’ve never tried a fruit salad like this before.

Why you should eat it: A nice way to carb up with some non-starchy fruits. And it’s bloody delicious. You’ve never tried a fruit salad like Som Tam Ponlamai.

How Paleo is Som Tam Ponlamai? Paleo friendly. Just be careful that some sugar may be used in the sauce and there may be peanuts.

5. JIM JUM (Thai Clay Hot Pot)

Find it at:  sit-in Restaurants, street-side restaurants

Cost: 150-400 baht ( dependent)

(PROTEIN HEAVY, CARB LIGHT, MODERATE-HEAVY CALORIES)

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A virtual buffet of fresh Thai vegetables, herbs, and meats in a Do-It-Yourself clay hot pot. Make sure you go hungry as hell!

What it is: Jim Jum is the street side Thai version of the Asian ‘Hot Pot’ experience, something that anyone who’s ever been to Asia will be very familiar with. You are usually given various  Thai vegetables and herbs to add to boiling clay pot of broth (usually chicken or pork stock). You then order selections of meat you that you ‘cook’ for a couple minutes in the pot then fish out with chopsticks then dip into various sauces before eating. The broth in the Hot Pot becomes more favorable with time as you add more ingredients to it.

Why you should eat it: Jim Jum is the quintessential Asian social eating experience. Bring a few friends and have a blast stuffing yourselves silly. The quality of the ingredients and soups can vary dramatically depending on where you go. It’s best to get a local recommendation for the best hot pots restaurants. Jim Jum can also be a pretty healthy meal — high in protein and low in starchy carbs (if you avoid the noodles and use only veggies).

How Paleo is Jim Jum: This dish is Paleo friendly. Many hot pot restaurants will furnish you with noodles to add to your soup and sauces to dip your cooked meat in. If you ONLY stick to veggies, however, and avoid dipping the meat in the sauce dips (the sauces definitely have additives, sugar, and Paleo-unfriendly stuff in them), Jim Jum is Paleo. The broth stock quality can vary, but it’s usually pretty basic itself without processed ingredients. You should ask for no MSG, though, just to be sure.

Local eating tips: Jim Jum is usually a communal dish. So make sure your friends are in line with your Paleo expectations, otherwise people will likely dump noodles and the starchy carb items into the bowl. Some restaurant chains in malls in Thailand do offer individual hot pots with all you can eat for about $350 baht (10 USD), though these are not clay hot pots.

6. PAD PAK (Stir Fried Vegetables)

Find it at:  Any restaurant

Cost: 20-50 baht

(PROTEIN HEAVY, CARB LIGHT, MODERATE-HEAVY CALORIES)

pad pak

Thai stir fried veggies. You can order the garden variety veggies or a specific type of veggie. If you are eating Paleo, Pad Pak dishes will make up the majority of your carb intake.

What it is: Pad Pak is just the generic term for stir fried veggies (also known as Pad Pak Ruam Mit). You can opt for the usual corn, carrots, cauliflower, bell peppers, and corn OR you can order a more specialized dish that features a single type of veggie, like morning glory, eggplant, or bitter melon.

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Here are some of the more popular types of vegetable stir fries. These are all dense green veggies so you’ll get the most nutrition from the following:

Pad Pak Ruam Mit (another word for Pad Pak meaning the same thing):

pad pak

Pad Pak Bung Fai Daeng (Stir Fried Morning Glory) :

Pad Pak Bung Fai Daeng

Pad Pal Yord Mala (Stir Fried Melon Leaves):

Pad Pak Yord Mala

Pad Pak Gachet (Stir Fried Water Minosa):

Pad Pak Gachet

Why you should eat it: If you are eating Paleo, Pad Pak dishes will likely make up the bulk of your carb intake.

How Paleo is Pad Pak: Broadly Paleo. However, Thai chefs, depending on where you order this dish, may try and add MSG, soy sauce, palm sugar, oyster sauce to the stir fry. If you want to make this dish more Paleo friendly, you’ll have to ask for NO MSG, no sugar, and for the chefs to substitute fish sauce in for the oyster sauce or soy sauce.

7. GOONG PAO (กุ้งเผา) (Grilled Shrimp)

Find it at:  Some restaurants

Cost: 120-200 baht (fish size dependent)

goong pao

Go to any seafood restaurant in Thailand and you’ll see succulent whole prawns grilling on a BBQ

What it is: A simple seafood dish: fresh jumbo prawns grilled over a charcoal fire, rubbed with salt. The heads are not removed which locks in the flavor and juices.

Why you should eat it: There’s nothing processed about this, just juicy prawn tossed onto a grill with salt. A great source of protein and a nice treat to boot. Keep in mind this is more of an expensive treat, so if you are looking to save money by eating only street food, this is not the dish you are looking for.

How Paleo is Goong Pao: It’s Paleo. If you are trying to keep your salt intake down, you can request no salt or little salt.

Local Eating Tips: Sometimes this dish may have sauces added to the grilled prawns, so not all Goon Pao is the same.

8. Gai Pad Prik Gaeng (วิธีทำ ไก่ผัดพริกแกง) (Spicy Thai Chicken and Veggies)

Find it at:  Street side restaurants, site in restaurants, street vendors

Cost: 40-60 baht 

Gai Pad Prik Gaeng 2 Gai Pad Prik Gaeng

A popular street restaurant dish that you can find anywhere in Thailand

What it is: chicken stir fried with fresh Thai herbs, basil, and red curry paste. This dish can have quite a nice kick from the chili paste and fresh chilies added.

Why you should eat it: it’s widely available pretty much everywhere, it’s cheap, and it’s a good source of protein. It’s also pretty simple fare with only a handful of ingredients used.

How Paleo is Gai Pad Prik Gaeng: Broadly Paleo. There may be some sugar added and some oyster sauce / soy sauce depending. You can request these ingredients to be withheld, however, and substitute the more healthy fish sauce instead. This dish is a good source of protein (especially if higher quality cuts of meat like Chicken breasts are used) and low carb.

Local Eating Tips: Cheaper eats will likely use chicken thighs instead of chicken breasts. Be aware of MSG and other processed ingredients being tossed in.

9. Laarb Gai

Find it at: All Restaurants

Cost 60-120 baht

(PROTEIN HEAVY, CARB LIGHT, LOW CALORIES)

larb gai cheap street food laarb gai

One of the more unique tasting Issan dishes in Thailand, you can find this at most restaurants. Laarb is also one of the healthiest dishes you’ll find with a good amount of protein and plenty of wholesome fresh ingredients added. It’s a simple dish with simple ingredients but powerfully delicious and once you taste it, you won’t forget that taste!

What it is: Laarb Gai is a mash-up of ground chicken, ground sesame seeds, lime juice, mint, shallots, cilantro, fish sauce, and chilies. Of course, the recipe might vary depending on the region and restaurant, so don’t expect all Laarb Gia to taste the same.

Why you should eat it: A nice dose of protein from the ground chicken and a wholesome assortment of fresh ingredients packed with vitamins and minerals — lime, sesame seeds, garlic, shallots, and a healthy dose of chilies — you can’t go wrong with this dish. It’s mostly protein with almost no carbs, this is a Paleo friendly dish.

How paleo is laarb gai: Laarb Gai is very Paleo friendly, with high protein, low carb, and fresh herbs and vegetables. Your only issue will be the fish sauce, which may include some processed elements, depending on the brand of fish sauce used. However, this is a problem you will run into with pretty much every Thai food dished that uses fish sauce; fish sauce aside, you can’t get more Paleo friendly in Thailand than Laarb Gai. Local Eating Tips: You can substitute other meats instead of chicken. A popular alternative is Laarb Moo which is Minced Pork Salad. The pork adds a very different flavor.

Nutritional Info: 250-300 calories with 35 grams of protein

10. NAM TOK (เนื้อน้ำตก) (Grilled Meat Salad)

Find it at:  Restaurants

Cost: 40-70 baht

(PROTEIN HEAVY, CARB LIGHT, LOW CALORIES)

nam tok moo

A minty tasting pork salad that’s fragrantly delicious. It has a very distinct taste — once you try it, you’ll love it. This dish hails from the Isaan region of Thailand, which often some of the healthiest, freshest and most fragrant of all the Thai dishes.

What it is: This dish is literally translated as ‘waterfall’ which refers to the juice dripping from a steak while cooking. With a name like that, how can you go wrong?

The dish is absolutely packed with Thai flavors. The salad is basically grilled meat without a marinade, cutting and seasoning it then mixing it into a salad. Traditionally, the dish comes with pork (Nam Tok Moo), but you can get it with chicken (Nam Tak Gai) or even beef. It has elements of Laarb as both use mint leaves, cilantro, and roasted sesame seeds in the ingredient, but Nam Tok has a distinct flavor.

Why you should eat it: besides being about the best damn tasting meaty salad you’ll ever eat, it’s packed with (flavorfull) pprotein from the grilled meat. Unlike some of the other salads with meat mixed in, Nam Tok includes a healthy amount of lean meat — enough to get your protein level for a meal. The ingredients are usually Thai chilies, mint leaves, garlic, shallots, coriander, cilantro, dried/roasted sesame seeds, lime juice, tamarind sauce and fish sauce.

Paleo and Nam Tok: This dish is very paleo friendly. It is heavy in lean grilled protein and includes plenty of fresh fragrant herbs mixed in. Sometimes the dish may come with a side of fresh Thai whole veggies sliced up, so you get a good mix of protein and non-starchy carbs in a single meal. On its own, though, Nam Tok is mostly protein and low carb. Potential issues could be if you are avoiding rice and toasted rice grains are used INSTEAD of sesame seeds. And of course, the every problematic use of non-Paleo Fish Sauce. However, overall it’s pretty damn Paleo. If you make this at home you can make it 100% percent Paleo.

Local eating tip: Nam Tok goes very well with some carbs. It’s great on rice, though if you are completely Paleo, you won’t eat rice. You can switch up the type of meat from Pork to Chicken to Beef. The pork flavor tastes the best, but do try different meats as each type of meat will add a different flavor. The dish also tastes very different depending on where you eat it, so sample different restaurants!

Nutritional Profile: 200-250 calories, 25-35 grams of protein, 6-12 grams of fat

11. Yum Nuea (Spicy Beef Salad)

Find it at: Restaurants
Cost: 50-70 baht
(PROTEIN HEAVY, CARB LIGHT, MODERATE CALORIES)
Yum Nuea Spicy Beef SaladYum Nuea paleo thai food
A wonderful dish that’s high in protein with a good amount of (non starchy) carbs. Perfect if you are looking for a full Paleo meal. This is one of my favorite dishes.
What it is: a blend of beef strips with onions, shallots, lime juice, and chili peppers and fish sauce.
Why You Should Eat It: Can you see lean protein with a medley of fresh herbs and veggies? The actual veggies portions are somewhat small however, usually a tomato, some cucumbers, and chilies. However, there is a decent amount of protein in this dish — a great way to supplement your meal’s protein.
How Paleo is It? Like most of the dishes, it’s Paleo friendly, especially if it’s prepared right. Note that SOME chefs will add in sugar (likely processed sugar) so you might want to ask for NO sugar when the dish is being prepared. And like all other Thai dishes with fish sauce (which is most of them), the fish sauce is probably the cheaper variety which may have unwanted additives.
Local Eating Tip: Ask for NO sugar to be added to your dish, as some chefs will put sugar in the recipe. The dish is mostly protein — the veggies that are in the dish are small so you won’t be getting a substantial amount of carbs. You’ll need more than just this dish to fill you up!

Nutritional Profile: (per 1 cup) 300-350 calories, 25-30 grams of protein, 6-12 grams of fat, 33 grams of carbs, 10 grams of fat

12. Yam Talay (Thai Seafood Salad)

Find it at: Restaurants
Cost: 40-70 baht
(PROTEIN HEAVY, CARB LIGHT, MODERATE CALORIES)

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This delicious dish can be found in almost any restaurant and combines spiciness with sweet.
What it is: A fresh seafood salad garnished with lettuce leaves, lime juice, fish sauce, fresh or dried chilies, and herbs. The seafood is usually a steamed mixture of squid and shrimps or fish/crab. This dish can be pretty hot, so make sure you tell the server you don’t want spicy at all (mai phet) when you order or just a little spicy (phet nit noi). You can eat this as a stand alone or as an appetizer.
Why You Should Eat It: A nice spicy kick of fragrant protein garnished on a bed of fresh greens — what’s not to love? You get protein and some non-starchy carbs and it’s low calorie.
Paleo and Yam Talay: You’ve got the fresh protein and non-starchy carbs. There may be some sugar added, depending (I’ve usually found Yam Talay to be sweet tasting), and there may be fish sauced with processed ingredients. You can ask for no sugar to be added, but the flavors will change substantially. As for the fish sauce, you may just have to live with it, or bring your own Paleo-friendly version and give it to the server to use instead.
Local Eating Tip: This can make a great side dish, but it’s not enough to fill you up. You may get a decent amount of protein, but I’d order another protein-heavy dish and another non-starchy carb dish to get more carbs and protein in for your meal.

Nutritional Profile: (per 1.5 cups) 300  calories, 40 grams of protein, 2 grams of fat, 28 grams of carbs

13. Yam Khor Moo Yang

Find it at: Restaurants

Cost: 30-60 baht

yam-kor-moo-yang-300x225 Yam Khor Moo Yang Thailand famous dish

A delicious tender grilled pork salad mixed with green garnishing, fiery chilies, and lemon juice

What it is: Similar to Yum Nuea (Spicy Beef Salad), this is a slightly different take on it with grilled pork instead of thinly sliced, partially rare beef. Moo Yang, in Thai, means grilled pork while Khor means neck. Yam is salad. So roughly translated this is a grilled pork neck tossed salad. The tender meat goes perfectly with the fire of the chilies and sourness of the lemon juice. This is low carb and high protein!

Why you should eat it: this is a healthy, fresh meat salad with a unique taste — it’s not the same as Nam Tok nor is it the same as Yum Nuea. Give it a try.

14. Nam Phrik Pla Tu (น้ำพริก) (Chili paste with fresh or boiled vegetable with Fish)

Find it at: Restaurants

Cost: 30-60 baht

nam phrik thai dishNam Phrik Pla Tu paleo
(PROTEIN MODERATE, CARB MODERATE, LOW CALORIES)

You might see this vegetable dish at some local restaurants. It’s cheap and offers pretty much the perfect Paleo combination of raw whole veggies with grilled whole mackerel fish on the side. Protein and non-starchy carbs! Be warned though, the fish paste dip given with the Nam Phrik is some powerful stuff, both in taste and smell — you’ll either like it a lot or absolutely detest it.

What it is: This dish is basically a  vegetable salad with grilled fish on the side with carrots, corn, cucumbers, and Thailand-specific vegetables sliced up with a spicy chili fish-paste sauce to dip them in.

Why you should eat it: Fresh uncooked veggies, grilled fish, chili paste dip? A great source of micronutrients, non-starchy carbs, and lean protein. This is the BEST single Thai dish out there for pure green veggies.

How Paleo is Nam Prik Pla Tu: Paleo with the only issue being the chili paste dip which MAY contain fish sauce (which sometimes is not Paleo as there are processed additives added to the cheap ones) and palm oil. However, this is easily rectified by NOT eating the chili paste dip sauce that comes with the Nam Prik Pla Tu dish.

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Local eating tip: You can get this dish WITHOUT the fish side by just asking for Nam Prik. I’ve found the chili paste dip is quite a bit different depending on where you get it. On a whole, though, the chili paste is pretty pungent and sometimes smelly — it can also be hot as hell too. It’s usually made from fermented shrimp mixed with fish sauce and chilies. Most westerners probably won’t like the taste of it, but give it a try. Avoiding the dip will also keep your dish completely Paleo since you won’t run the risk of having processed additives, which MAY be mixed in with the sauce, depending.

15. Gang Jued (Thai clear soup with pork)

Find it at: Restaurants and Street Vendors

Cost: 30-50 baht

(PROTEIN LOW, CARB MODERATE, LOW CALORIES)

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A light soup that loaded with herbs

Gang Jued gets a lot less publicity than the more well-known Thai soup dishes like Tom Yum Gong but if you want something that’s both light and fairly healthy, Gang Jued does the trick. This is the Thai version of ‘mom’s sick soup’ and it’s often given to people who are in bed sick.

What it is: a delicious and fragrant soup that’s brothy with a healthy dose of fresh Thai herbs; particularly the fresh Thai coriander stands out in the taste. The soup is usually meat-based and includes Chinese cabbage and seaweed. This is a hearty soup that you’ll just fall in love with.

How Paleo is Gang Jued : a meat-based broth with pungent Thai herbs, tofu, and cabbage. Overall, very healthy. Again, like all Thai dishes, there is always the risk of some type of MSG being added — so make sure you ask for the NO MSG version, if possible. This soup is definitely low carb.

16. Tom Yum (Hot and Sour Soup)

Find it at: Restaurants and street vendors

Cost: 60-120 baht (location depending)

(PROTEIN HEAVY, CARB LIGHT, VERY LOW CALORIES)

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The ultra famous Thai soup, known throughout the world. This soup is the poster boy for Thai cuisine with the rich herbal flavors combining the sourness of lemon juice with the heat of the Thai chilies. If you haven’t tried Tom Yum Goong, you haven’t really tried Thai food yet.
What it is: hot and sour soup with a number of different variations on the dish. You can get it village style with just the basic broth and Thai herbs or you can get more elaborate versions with coconut milk, tamarind sauce, or milk mixed in). We recommend the broth sans coconut milk for the more healthy, less calorific version. Typically, you’ll find a whole whack of fragrant herbs thrown in like ginger, mushrooms, lemongrass, Thai chilies, garlic, and cilantro. The typical Tom Yum comes with Prawns (Tom Yum Goong), but you can get it with chicken (Tom Yum Gai), fish (Tom Yum pla) or even pork (Tom Yum Moo).
Why you should eat it: comes with more nutrients than you can shake a stick at, and if you opt for the NON-coconut milk version, it’s low calorie. There’s a lot of to love about this soup, especially the fact it’s both healthy and it tastes amazing; there’s even some ongoing scientific studies being done on the health benefits of Tom Yum. There is often a decent amount of protein in the soup as well from the prawns, chicken, or fish. The amount of protein can vary of course. I’ve had Tom Yam Goong with less than 5 prawns and I’ve had it with more than a dozen.
How is Paleo is Tom Yam? Depending on where you get it, Tom Yam can be very Paleo. You just have to make sure no MSG and no sugar is added. Sugar is sometimes added to Tom Yam to add the sweetness, especially if you don’t have coconut milk mixed in. Keep in mind though that if you don’t have MSG or Coconut Milk added in, you may not like the flavor as it’s quite a bit more basic tasting. Just saying…
Local eating tips: By far the most famous version is the prawn version (Tom Yum Goon). But you can substitute for other meats if you ask. I personally like the fish version (Tom Yum Pla). Tom Yum also combines well with coconut milk with that version of Tom Yum called Tom Yam Kah. The coconut version is generally much tastier but at the cost of a lot more calories. If you don’t mind the calories, I recommend that version.
Nutritional Profile: 2 full cups (about a bowl) about 200 calories and 25 grams of protein, assuming NO COCONUT OR MILK added. Double the calories at least if you add coconut milk.

17. Kaeng Liang (Spicy Herbal Vegetable Soup)

Find it at:  Restaurants

Cost: 40-70 baht

gang liang

A spicy home-style vegetable soup

What it is: fragrant Thai herbs and veggies soft boiled to perfection. If you are looking for something light Kaeng Liang is a wonderfully tasty dish. It also functions well as a sick soup. This dish can be pretty spicy, so beware.

Why you should eat it: Low calorie, low carb, no meat, and packed with nutritionally dense vegetables and Thai herbs. There are often prawns added to this dish, so it’s probably not strictly vegetarian unless you eat it at a vegetarian-only eatery.

18. Tom Som Pla Kra Bork ( Sweet and sour fish soup with lots of Ginger)

Find it at:  Sit-in Restaurants and Street Side Restaurants

Cost: 60-120 baht (fish size dependent)

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Southern Thai food at it’s best: A sweet and sour fish soup that’s loaded with ginger. This delectable dish has it’s own taste, completely distinct from Tom Yum

What it is: a hearty blend of Thai herbs, fish, sweet, sour, and hot. The sourness originates from the Tamarind

Why you should eat it: If your experience with Thai soups is only of Tom Yum and local street cart soups, then give this Southern Thai dish a slurp. The wonderful sourness of the Tamarind is balanced perfectly by the slight sweetness of the sugar and spiciness of the chili. The fragrance of the coriander, crushed pepper, and cloves help kick up the flavor profile. This is a healthy Thai soup that’s high on the protein and low on the carbs and salts, with minimally processed ingredients added.

How Paleo is Tom Som Pla Kra Bork: Overall, it’s pretty Paleo, with the only issues being the palm sugar added to the soup to give the sweetness. Like all Thai soups, you will have to request no MSG as Thai chefs love tossing that in to increase the flavor profile.

Local Eating Tips: This soup usually comes with a half or whole fish included, rather than being sold by the bowl. The fish is usually white fish. You can if you want to bring a fresh fish and have the restaurant cook this dish with your fish. White or red snapper works well.

19. Tom Jab Chai (ต้มจับฉ่าย) (Chinese Mixed Vegetable Soup)

Find it at:  Some Restaurants

Cost: 50-100 baht 

(PROTEIN HEAVY, CARB LIGHT, MODERATE CALORIES)

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A Chinese-inspired Thai soup with soft vegetables in a chicken or pork base. The meat and veggies are so soft they melt in your mouth

What it is: A succulent combination of tomatoes, onions, cabbage, various Thai greens. The veggies are boiled for hours, often in a pork or chicken base, until they fall to pieces at a touch. The result is a delicious soup with an assortment of Thai flavors. Overall, Tom Jab Chai is softer tasting than some of the other Thai soups. It’s referred to as ‘Chinese soup’ because the veggies used are often of Chinese origin.

Why you should eat it: veggies and meat in a soup, this is low calorie and low carb, but also tastes pretty damn good to boot. If you want a change from some of the more standard Thai soups, Tom Jab Chai will clean out your palate with something fresh tasting.

How Paleo is Tom Jab Chai: Meat and veggies are good. But be careful about and MSG as Thai soups tend to be loaded with them. The soup may also have soy sauce, fish sauce, and palm sugar. If you are in a Thai restaurant, you can request all these elements be left out to make sure the dish is completely Paleo.

Local eating tips: This soup can be completely vegetable based, making it friendly to vegetarians. Or it can be meat based, with the soup stock made from pork belly.

20. Curries

Curries are a staple of the Thai diet and arguably the flagship food that represents Thai cuisine. Think ‘Thai food’ and the rich, sumptuous curries usually come to mind. Done right, curries can be a healthy (and Paleo friendly) addition to your diet. Some curries, however, are more healthy than other curries.

Types of Curries

There are a number of different styles of curries you’ll find in Thailand. Red, Yellow, and Green curry are different because of the type of chilies used and type of chili past. Massaman curry is the richest tasting of the bunch but at the cost of a ton of calories. Penang is another style of curry from Malaysia but eaten in southern Thailand. It’s drier than the other curries and less calorific.  All these curries sans the Penang curry have coconut milk added, which makes them heavy on the calories. Mind you, there are dozens of curries in Thailand, so I’m only touching on them here.

If you want lower calorie curries with less sugar and potentially processed additives added, opt for Jungle Curries, which are basically home-style curries with NO coconut or dairy added and usually so hot the devil himself would cry. Jungle Curries are the simplest in terms of ingredients and by far the most ‘Paleo’ of the bunch.  You can opt to try the southern Thai Dry Curry specialty, which is basically dry curry paste with ground pork, chicken or beef that really soaks in the flavor from the curry. It’s a southern Thai specialty and probably a curry you’ve never tried before. Remedy that!  It’s my favorite curry and extremely flavorful.

Green Curry (the healthiest between red, green, and yellow):

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Yellow Curry:

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Red Curry:

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Massaman Curry (the heaviest/most calorific of the bunch):

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Panang Curry:

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Jungle Curry (Gaeng Pah) (the lowest calories, most paleo of the bunch):

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Dry Curry (Kua Kling) (lower calorie):

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Generally, curries are broadly Paleo but have a few strikes against them when it comes to being pure Paleo, usually in the form of additives.

  • Most curries, especially local style curries from cheap restaurants or street vendors, use O6 vegetable oil rather than Paleo-friendly unprocessed oil.
  • There may be soy sauce which contains gluten
  • There may be MSG added to increase flavor
  • There may be processed sugar added (palm sugar, for example) to balance out the spiciness
  • Sometimes includes dairy (which can be subbed for coconut milk)
  • There may be peanuts in some curries (Massaman, for example)

You can make your curry order more Paleo by manually telling the server you don’t want MSG or soy sauce or peanuts. The Thai chefs may or may not listen to you. If you opt to make your own curries, you can control the ingredients and easily make any Thai curry 100% Paleo.

IF you want the healthiest curry options, we recommend you go with Gaeng Pah Curries, which are often called ‘Jungle Curries’ — these types of curries do not include dairy, creme, or coconut milk. They often lack the sweetness of the other curries. But hands down they are the healthiest type of curry and the lowest calorie option too.

Other Healthy Dishes

This list, of course, only touches the tip of Thai cuisine. There’s plenty of other Thai food dishes that are healthy and Paleo. I’ve picked out some of the more well known, more easy to find Restaurant dishes. So use this as a base healthy Paleo-Friendly Thai food guide, but don’t be afraid try new things. Thailand is a big place and there are a LOT of local dishes. If you take control of how the chef cooks your food, you can make a lot of ‘normal’ Thai food dishes Paleo friendly. If there is one region that generally has the healthiest, more Paleo friendly food, that would be Issan food. So if you are trying for a Paleo diet or you want to eat lower calorie meals with lower carbs and more protein, try eating at Isaan restaurants and ordering Isaan food.

I’ve excluded some other dishes that have made some of my other ‘Healthy Thai Food’ lists because I’ve already written about them and I’m just too damn lazy to write any more on the subject of healthy Thai food (give a man a break, this is almost 7000 words!).

So before you write me about glaring these omissions, check the other lists FIRST, please.

So do absolutely read: