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The 15 Healthiest Thai Food Dishes in Thailand

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There is a bit of a misconception that just because there is an abundance of freshly-cooked food sourced from local ingredients that Thai food is inherently healthy.

This is not true.

Most of the local dishes are very high in sodium, sugar, fat, and MSG. They are also heavy on carbs and very light on protein, with the protein usually being the fattier, cheap pieces of meat, especially if you eat Thai food from street stalls or the cheaper restaurants. If you are down here training Muay Thai, it’s important to get enough protein in your diet to repair muscle (not to mention keep what muscle you have if you are doing a lot of cardio). It’s hard to do that if you don’t go out of your way to pick protein heavy dishes.

However, there are a number of healthy (and cheap!) options you can choose if you look around. Many of these dishes are quite common and can be found in local-style restaurants or street stalls (the cheapest option). I personally eat at a mix of street stalls and local style restaurants. The quality of the food (quality of meat cuts, cleanliness, portion sizes etc) tend to be better at the cheap-eat in restaurants by the side of the road but actual street stalls are your cheapest option if you need to save money.

Most of the healthier Thai dishes come from the North Eastern part of Thailand (Issan) and are generally more simple fare like grilled chicken or fish dishes and vegetable salads with some type of sauce on top. By healthier options, I mean Thai dishes with lean, grilled proteins, salads, soups, and basic carbs that are not fried (steamed rice or sticky rice). I will warn you though, if you do stick to the healthy food options, you may shortly find yourself pretty tired of Thai food. This has been the case for me, having lived down in Thailand for 3 years. I find myself rotating between local (cheap) Thai food options on this list and western food every two days or so.

Want to Learn How to Cook Thai Food?

Cooking BookIf you ever want to learn how to cook Thai food, I highly recommend you pick up the book Nong’s Thai Kitchen: 84 Recipes that are Quick, Healthy and Delicious. This book is full of all of the traditional Thai dishes and teaches you how to make the sauces all from scratch. Nong became famous after she beat celebrity Chef Bobby Flay with her pad thai, in the food networks cooking competition.

I have learned a few different Thai cooking recipes over the years, and this book is by far the most comprehensive cook book you will find. If you want to impress people at home with your Thai cooking skills, I recommend you check out this book.

The benefit of cooking food yourself is you know exactly what ingredients are added to the recipes, so you can cater it to your own needs.

Click here to see the most recent reviews of Nong’s Thai Kitchen on Amazon

Before we go into a list of The Best Healthy Thai Food Dishes, let’s talk about what you should generally try and avoid, especially if you are conscious of calories, heavy carbs, sodium, sugar, MSG, and the like. If you are in Thailand and trying to lose weight, well this article goes perfectly with my other article How to Lose Weight for Real and How to Lose Weight in Thailand. You can use it to guide your meal choices, which of course determine your caloric intake. Note that this list of foods is not specifically Paleo (we are including dishes with starchy carbs). However, we’ve written a number of Best Paleo Thai Food articles IF you are following a more strict Paleo Diet program.

Avoid These Foods

  • Coconut-Based Curries (loaded with sugar and coconut cream thus calorific)
  • MSG-ridden soups (the debate is still open about MSG, but I find it gives me a racing heart)
  • Pad Thai (heavy on refined carbs, loaded with oil and fat, high on sodium — around 600 cals)
  • Deep Fried Fish (full of salt and oily)
  • Spring Rolls (soaked in oil)
  • Tom Ka Gai (calorific with the coconut milk and sugar added)
  • Coconut Rice (loaded with sugar and milk, very high on calories)
  • Mango Sticky Rice (loaded with sugar and milk, very high on calories)
  • Thai-style coffee/tea (loaded with condensed milk and sugar, very high on calories)

General Tips for Making Healthy Thai Food Choices

  • If you can stand it, get the chef to crank up the heat. Thai food is spiced with fresh chilies, which contain capsaicins; these come with a host of health benefits such as lowing cholesterol, boosting your metabolic rate (burn more calories) and contain lots of vitamin C.
  • Choose grilled meats over fried
  • Avoid the fried foods (spring rolls, fried meats, etc)
  • Avoid stir fried noodle dishes (pad thai, etc)
  • Choose broth-based soups, not coconut based ones. Ask for NO MSG
  • Choose jungle curries over regular curies (red, green, yellow). Avoid Massamon curry, which is the most caloric of the curries.
  • Opt for the salty over sweet dishes. Many of the sweet dishes contain coconut milk, sugar, oyster sauce, pineapple, sweet-and-sour sauce and are heavy on calories because of the sugar.
  • Order steamed rice over fried rice and fragrant rice options. A serving of steamed rice will be around 300 cals. Fried rice and coconut rice around 600 calories.

The Healthiest Local Thai Food Dishes for Fighters

With hundreds (or more) of local dishes in Thailand, there are obviously other healthy food dishes to be found, especially if you go to some remote village corner and find some unique rural dishes. But all the food listed on this list are all fairly well-known Thai dishes that you can pretty much find ANYWHERE in Thailand at most restaurants across the country. So please don’t nail me to the wall because some dish you tried while attending some meditation camp in a rural part of Thailand did not make the list!

Want More Healthy Thai Eats? Check out our Top 10 Paleo Street Food Dishes in Thailand

These dishes are good for people who are looking for:

  • high protein, low/moderate carb
  • fresh vegetables/salads
  • low calorie meals
  • healthy snacks
  • low sodium, low sugar
  • no MSG

People who would benefit from eating the food on the following list:

  • fighters training in Thailand
  • people trying to lose weight
  • those on Paleo/Keto/low carb diets
  • those who want natural, non-processed food

How to Ask for NO MSG in your FOOD

Thai Phrase: Mai Sai Pong Shu Rot (pronounced: My Sigh Pong Shoe Rote)

This phrase literally means No Put MSG. You will find that even some of the healhtier Thai dishes like Som Tam will have the cooks load them with MSG. By telling the cook this phrase, they will avoid tainting your food with high sodium junk. Sometimes they will try and add it when you aren’t looking, but this is your best bet to get the healthiest food possible.

1. Khao Man Gai (Chicken and Rice)

Cost: 30-60 baht

Find it at: Street Stalls and Local Restaurants

(PROTEIN MODERATE, CARB HEAVY, MODERATE CALORIES)

khao man kai

What it is: chicken and rice, basically (‘’Khao Man Gai’’ literally means ‘’rice fat chicken’’ in Thai). You get about half (or 1/3, depending) a chicken breast cut up and placed on top a portion of rice with a small bowl of soup on the side and a plate of Thai-style vegetables.

Why You Should Eat It:  this is one of the healthier, cheap-eating options in Thailand that you can find among street food vendors. It’s the staple of many Thai’s due to the cheap cost and carb + protein combo. If there was any ”staple” fighter diet, this would probably be it. Plenty of the Thai Nak Muay (Thai Boxers) will eat this for lunch or dinner. The protein helps with muscle repair while the carbs fuel you through the long cardio workouts.

Khao Man Gai has the highest protein-to-carb ratio out of any street food that you are likely to find in a single one-off “all-in-one dish”. And for a price ranging from 30-60 baht (1-2 dollars), it’s hard to beat that price. Personally, I can get away with one, but with double chicken portions and an egg added to the mix.  Mind you, if you are roaring hungry, you can probably do two of these. Or three. I knew this one guy I used to train with who would literally take down 4 of these for lunch! Mind you, this is a guy who, at group dinners with people from my Muay Thai gym would, after eating an entire pizza himself, would ask for everyone’s left over pizza crusts.

Now, if you are comparing the ‘’health’’ aspects in this dish to say something you’d find at an all-vegan restaurant back home, well, you might find yourself a bit disappointed. But you’re going to have to relax your requirements a bit, seeing as you are IN THAILAND. And for fuck’s sake, it’s 1-2 bucks!

Overall, if you are in Thailand, on a budget, and want something healthy with protein, Kao Man Gai is a pretty good bang for your buck and fairly healthy to boot, if you are not trying to go low-carb here.

Local Eating Tip: watch out for the variable quality of the meat, depending on the place you order from. Some restaurants/stalls include chicken skin on the meat, while some do not; some food stalls give you lean chicken breast meat while others opt for the cheaper, and fattier thigh meat. Try to get the chicken breast and get them to remove the skin from the breast.

The rice included with the meat also has chicken fat mixed in so it’s not as low calorie as you might think and if  you pour the sauce that comes with the dish (Khao Man Gai always includes special sauce to pour on) over the rice and chicken you add even more calories to the dish — so skip the sauce if you are worried about that.

The soup (like 99 percent of the soups in Thailand) probably has MSG in it too.

If you want to increase your lean protein to carb ratio, you can request double or triple chicken portions; it’s usually 10 baht more per portion of chicken. If you want even more protein, you can ask for a fried egg or two on top (just say “kai dao” which means fried egg). There is usually two options for the chicken — fried chicken breasts/thighs or non-fried. Go with the non-fried.

Nutritional Information: about 350 calories for the soup + rice + chicken with 20 – 25 grams of protein. If you have a lot of rice and double up the meat portions, you could make it around 500 calories and 40 grams of protein.

2. Gai Yang (Marinated Grilled Thai Chicken)

Cost: 40-100 baht

Find it at: Street Stalls and Local Restaurants

(PROTEIN HEAVY, CARB LIGHT, MODERATE CALORIES)

KaiYangGrilledChicken KaiYang

If you wander among the street stalls, you might stumble across street stall chicken being grilled over cut out oil drums. Ignoring the fact that grilling food over charcoal is probably carcinogenic, this is one of the healthier food options in Thailand.

From what I’ve seen (and I’ve seen a lot of Thai food options, after three years of living here), this is the best you are going to do in Thailand for a high protein, low carb meal.

What it is: the Thai version of frilled BBQ chicken. The chicken is usually basted/marinated with a sort of salty/sweet sauce (this depends entirely on the street stall) and comes with some Thai sweet orange sugary sauce to dip it in.

Why you should eat it: you can usually pick up a drumstick + thigh, half a chicken, or just the whole chicken breast. Needless to say, you are getting a good amount of protein here – anywhere from 30 grams to a whopping 100 grams if you go for the half chicken option. I usually opt for the grilled whole chicken breast, which is the healthiest option, but also not as tasty as the fattier meat cuts. If you need some carbs added, you can request some sticky rice (10 baht) or a papaya salad (30-50 baht).

Local Eating Tip: for healthiest option choose the chicken breast, if the street stall has it. Some places might only have a drumstick+thigh combo while other stalls might have an entire half or whole chicken available.

Chicken naturally goes with something else as a side. Go with either a papaya salad for a low carb option if you need more than just protein. Or if you don’t mind some carbs, then you can add some sticky rice, which usually sells for 10 baht (30cents) at the same place. Avoid dipping the chicken in the sweet sauce that’s included if you can; it’s often unnecessary as the chicken has flavor already.

Nutritional Information: chicken + thigh, about 350 calories with 30-40 grams of protein. Half Chicken, about 500 calories with about 100 grams of protein. Double breast about 500 calories and 50-60 grams of protein

3. Satay Gai (Braised/Marinated Chicken Skewers with Peanut Sauce)

Cost: 10-15 baht per skewer.

Find it at: Street Stalls and Local Restaurants

(PROTEIN HEAVY, CARB LIGHT, MODERATE CALORIES)

chicken-sataySatay44-thumb-596x350-247721

What it is: thin strips of chicken breast, skewered and grilled. Satay Gai is a popular Thai dish and can be found both pretty much any Thai restaurants and at many local (Thai) street food venders (any decent sized night market here in Thailand will have them).

There are two kinds of satay you find on the street: chicken skewers and pork skewers. We are opting for the chicken option here as it’s generally lean chicken breast meat while the pork versions are very fatty, more calorific, high in fat, though a bit cheaper.

Why You Should Eat It: Probably the leanest source of protein you’ll find IF the skewer is chicken breast meat (sometimes, cheaper stalls will sell skewers made from chicken thighs or non-breast meat).

Sometimes, the chicken is pretty thin, so you’ll need to eat them in quantity, but they are so delicious that’s not really going to be a problem.

Unlike the BBQ chicken mentioned above (Kai Yang), Satay Gai are not overly saturated with sweet sauces before being grilled, which make them a bit healthier than Kai Yang. While sometimes they are covered in sauce, sometimes they are not. The majority of the flavoring will come from the calorific peanut sauce dip included with the skewers.

Local Eating Tip: You are probably going to need to eat, depending on how thin they are, 4-6 of these to get your 30-50 grams of protein in. Think of satay gai as your protein source for a meal, but not the full meal itself – you are going to need to east something else OTHER than just a few satay gai to fill you up!

I usually will order a half dozen of these to get my protein intake in for a meal, then a side dish of sticky rice or papaya salad for the carbs. If you can, avoid the Thai peanut sauce dip which is loaded with sugar and fats.

Nutritional information: depends on the size. Each skewer is probably around 70-80 calories and 7-10 grams of protein.

4. Pla Nueng Manao (Poached Fish with Lime)

Find it at:  Restaurants

Cost: 120-200 baht (fish size dependent)

(PROTEIN HEAVY, CARB LIGHT, MODERATE CALORIES)

P1340956steamed-b-30-7-2012

What it is: a steamed whole fish with a lime dressing. Sometimes the fish is boiled in this limey sauce and sometimes it’s poached.

Why you should eat it: poached fish is a great source of lean protein. The fish comes with a nice lemony sauce which is low on calories (it’s not a thick sauce, more like a thin, soup) and it’s usually spicy so you get that metabolic kick from the chili’s. It’s great on its own or on top of some steamed rice.

Eating Tip: this dish can be big or small, depending on the size of the fish. You usually put the fish and the sauce over rice, otherwise you end up eating this dish as a sort of thin fish stew. This dish is often big enough for multiple people, fish size depending.

5. Som Tam ส้มตำไท (Papya Salad)

Cost: 30-40 baht

Find it at: Street Stalls and Restaurants

(PROTEIN LIGHT, CARB LIGHT, LOW CALORIES)

som tamsom tom

One of the more famous Thai dishes, Som Tam is actually pretty healthy.

What it is: freshly sliced papayas mixed with fish sauce, Thai chillies, and a number of other spices. The standard som tam includes shredded green papaya, tomatoes, string beans, dried shrimp, garlic, and chillies. It may or may not come with shrimps and fish sauce. There are a number of different versions of this salad and every restaurant might have their own house take on it; the Som Tam Thai version, is covered in a nice, piquant sauce consisting of fish sauce, cane sugar, lime juice and tamarind juice.

Why you should eat it: because there’s a lot of good stuff in the ingredients. As Thai food goes, it’s one of the healthier options in Thailand. This is one of my go-to sources for fiber intake when I’m in Thailand. Green papayas  are a good source of fiber, vitamin C, A, magnesium. This dish is also low in fat. and the Thai chili’s add a nice kick to your metabolism as well.

Overall, it’s low calorie, low carb, high in fiber and vitamin C and has a decent amount of protein for a salad (includes tiny little dried shrimps). And it’s cheap!

Local Eating Tip: You are going to need more than a papaya salad to fill up. I personally use this as my veggie intake for a meal. It’s great when combined with some lean protein (BBQ chicken for example). And you could consider it low carb as well. Some versions of Som Tam are swimming in fish sauce and other version barely have any sauce at all — so don’t eat at one place and assume all the Som Tam’s are the same! I personally prefer the lighter version that has less sauce.

If you want hot, ask for Pet. If you want really hot, ask for Pet Pet. Warning, these dishes can be almost unbearably spicy if the Thai food vender takes you up on your challenge. Be warned!

Nutritional Information: about 200 calories and 7 grams of protein.

 6. Yam Mamuang (Green Mango Salad)

Find it at: Local Restaurants

Cost: 40-60 baht

(PROTEIN LIGHT, CARB LIGHT, LOW CALORIES)

P516038420913462330

What it Is: My personal favorite. It’s similar to Som Tam, but instead of shredded papaya, it includes sour green mangoes which is offset by salty fish sauce and a hint of lemon. Sometimes it includes pieces of cashews. It’s a fresh tasting salad that’s a nice change over the Som Tam.

Why You Should Eat It: Same benefits and nutritional profile as the papaya salad, but different taste. As they like to say in Thailand, same same but different! Personally, I find it a bit more fresh tasting with the green mango, lemony taste, and the sweet nutty cashews (Som Tam has peanuts, not cashews). In my experience, this the Yam Mamuang is not usually swimming in sauce like Som Tam is.

Nutritional Profile: 150-200 calories.

7. Yam Talay ยำทะเล (Seafood Salad)

Find it at: Local Restaurants

Cost: 40-70 baht

(PROTEIN HEAVY, CARB LIGHT, LOW CALORIES)

Yam Talay2 Yam Talay

What it is: basically a mixed seafood salad. You get a Thai sweet and sour sauce (usually fish-sauce base with lemon) poured over prawns and/or squid mixed in with ripe tomatoes, onions, and a few other vegetable garnishings.

Why You should eat it: low calorie, low carb, fresh vegetables topped with a light sauce. It’s also extremely delicious and on most Thai restaurant menus. On its own it’s not enough for a full after training, but it’s a good snack, a side dish, or a means to get your protein in (contains enough protein for a full meal).

Nutritional Profile: about 300 calories with 30-40 grams of protein.

8. Pad Pak Bung Fai Daeng ผัดผักบุ้งไฟแดง (Stir Fried Morning Glory with Oyster Sauce)

Find it at: Local Restaurants

Cost: 50-70 baht

(PROTEIN LIGHT, CARB LIGHT, LOW CALORIES)

pad pak bung fai dish thai food Pad Pak Bung Fai Daeng

What it is: morning glory and chilies stir-fried with oyster sauce and fermented bean past.

Why You Should Eat it. Of the salad options, this is probably among the lesser healthy, seeing that the morning glory is cooked (losses some of the health benefits there) and the oyster sauce is high in sodium and other badish stuff. But if you don’t mind a salad dish that’s a bit more salty and hungering for something…hot instead of cold like the other salad dishes…you can opt for this one.  It’s still a low carb and low calories. Very low protein though.

Nutritional Profile: I’m kind of having to guesstimate for this one, but likely around 200-300 if you eat the whole plate. Protein likely around 7-15 grams. High in iron, vitamin A and Vitamin C, and calcium from the greens though.

9. Kuay Teow Lui Suan (ก๋วยเตี๋ยวลุยสวน) (Fresh Spring Rolls)

Find it at: Street Stalls and Local Restaurants

Cost: 15-25 baht a spring roll

(PROTEIN LIGHT, CARB LIGHT, LOW CALORIES)

Kuay Teow Lui Suan ก๋วยเตี๋ยวลุยสวน Kuay Teow Lui Suan1

What it Is:  fresh vegetable spring rolls. Packed with lettuce, basil, and minced meet (chicken, pork, shrimp or mushroom). What makes or breaks this dish is the dipping sauce – usually sour, sweet, a bit tangy and an explosion of fresh flavor.

Why you Should Eat It: while it’s not packed with dense nutritional vegetables (mostly lettuce and basil leaves), it’s low calorie, includes some vegetables,  and most importantly, is pretty damn tasty to boot. The sauce, which is usually light, lemony, and spicy, is low calorie too. This is a perfect snack, in between meals, before training, or as a guilt free appetizer. Definitely not enough for a full meal by itself, however. I used to buy and eat 3-5 full Kuay Teow Lui Suan (spring rolls) + a chicken and rice (khao man gai) as lunch before my afternoon Muay Thai training.

 Nutritional Profile:  roughly 80-100 calories per spring roll (100 if you dip it in sauce). Protein 3 grams.

10. Nam Phrik  (น้ำพริก) (Chili paste with fresh or boiled vegetable)

Find it at:Restaurants

(PROTEIN LIGHT, CARB LIGHT, LOW CALORIES)

Nam-Prik-Pla-Tunam-prik-ong1 Nam Prik- Spicy Shrimp with Mackerel764px-Nam_phrik_pla_salat_ponน้ำพริกปลาสลาดป่น5323

What it is: chili paste with fresh Thai vegetables. The chili paste sometimes has ground up shrimp in it. The vegetables can vary  but are usually exotic Thai ones, not your usual carrots, corn, and celery, though some Nam Phrik dishes can come with those types too.

Why you should eat it: fresh, often uncooked, vegetables loaded with vitamins and fiber and healthy low calorie chili paste to dip it in. This dish is healthy to the max. It’s also filling because the vegetables stuff your stomach.

Local Eating Tips: Add ”Pla Tu” at the end of the name(Nam Phrik Pla Tu) if you want protein added to the mix for the ultimate low carb meal. The meat version will include a mackerel or two on the side, adding a good amount of protein to them mix, making it pretty much a complete meal.

11. TOM YUM GOONG (prawns) NAM SIGH (Hot and Sour Soup)

Find it at: Restaurants and NightMarket street stalls

Cost: 60-120 baht (location depending)

(PROTEIN HEAVY, CARB LIGHT, VERY LOW CALORIES)

tom yum tom yum goong

What it is: a hot and sour soup; probably the most famous Thai dish outside of Thailand. There are a number of different varieties of Tom Yum, depending on the meat added and the flavoring (coconut milk added, tamarind sauce,  chili paste, milk, etc). There are two main variations of Tom Yum you will order. Tom Yum Nam Kon is the coconut creamy version and Tom Yum Nam Sigh is the clear version that is healthier

We also recommend if you are either watching your calories or want a low fat dish, is the tom yam (pla) version, which is a clear soup WITHOUT coconut milk and chili paste. It’s basically fish (or prawns or chicken) with ginger, mushrooms, garlic, lemon grass, chilies, and a number of other thai herbs added.

Why you should eat it: packed with nutrients and high protein, low calorie meal choice. There are a number of scientific studies right now on the health benefits of Tom Yum. If you opt for the healthier, low calorie version with no coconut milk.

Local Eating Tip: The most famous Tom Yum would be Tom Yum Goon, which is Tom Yum with prawns added (Goon). You can make it the chicken by asking for Tom Yum Gai or you can op for the fish version, Tom Yum Pla. There are two versions I’ve seen down here, however, the coconut milk + red chili past version (sometimes called Tom Yam Kha) and the non-coconut milk version. I’m not going to lie to you here: the coconut milk version is a hell of a lot tastier and the creamy texture is to die for. This is that standard Tom Yum served in restaurants. However, like most things that actually taste pretty damn good, there’s a lot more unhealthiness to it in the form of a shit ton more calories from the sugar and the coconut milk. The more healthy option does NOT have coconut milk, but as you can expect,  doesn’t taste nearly as good.

Also note that many Thai soups have MSG added to them. If you are not an MSG fan (and who is?) then be sure to ask for the no MSG version. Keep in mind, Thai’s don’t like taking the MSG out by choice because the soup really doesn’t taste the same without it. Keep in mind though that the non-coconut, non MSG Tom Yam version is a pathetic shadow of it’s former delectable self. Don’t come crying to me if you don’t like it!

Nutritional Profile: 2 full cups (about a bowl) about 200 calories and 25 grams of protein, assuming NO COCONUT OR MILK added

12. Gaeng Pah Curries

Find it at: Restaurants (maybe at a night-market stall)

Cost: 40-80 baht (location depending — street stalls/nightmarket for cheapest)

(PROTEIN LOW, CARB LIGHT, MODERATE CALORIES)

gaeng pah jungle curry thailand Kaeng pa

What it is: Thailand is famous for it’s curries — green curries, yellow curries, red curries, massamon curries. However, these curries are often loaded with calories and not exactly a healthy choice due to the high sodium and sugar content, especially if you are watching calories. However, if you love curries, you don’t have to completely skip out on some of Thailand’s best culinary inventions. Opt for Gaeng Pah curries. These are known as “jungle curries” and hail from the northern part of Thailand, where coconuts do NOT grow due to the altitude and jungle canopies. It follows that Gaeng Pah curries are made without coconut milk, creme, or milk. Basically, the low calorie curry option.

Why you should eat it:  since Thailand is a land famous for it’s amazing curries, why should you suffer a complete absence from this delectable food? Gaeng Pah are the low fat, lower calorie version of some of the tasty curries. Water is used instead of coconut milk in the curries, giving them a thinner, soupy curry base.

Local Eating Tip: just like normal curries, you can order these with different meats: beef, chicken, and pork being the most common. Keep in mind there are different styles of Gaeng Pah depending on the region; the commonality is that water is used instead of coconut milk and they are spicy as hell!

13. Larb Gai (Thai Chicken Salad)

Find it at: Restaurants

Cost 60-120 baht

(PROTEIN HEAVY, CARB LIGHT, LOW CALORIES)

larb gai larb gai 2 larb gai

What it is: a popular northern Thai dish with a fragrant mix of ground chicken, rice powder, cilantro, shallows, green onions, onions, fish sauce, and lime juice. Optionally with fresh chilies.

Why you should eat it: high protein (it’s mostly ground chicken) and low carb, this is one of the most fragrant and tasty Thai dishes out there. Note the chicken may be high in saturated fa, but saturated fat is not the evil people make it out to be, in moderation.

With mostly only chicken and an assortment of Thai herbs and some light vegetable garnishings, it’s a must eat dish for those watching their calories, for those on a low carb diet, or for those who want a nice protein kick. Dammit, this dish is so good I’d eat it even if I didn’t care about health, calories, carbs, or any of that stuff.

As a side note, the worst food poison I had in the three years I’ve been in Thailand has been from a badly cooked dish of Larb Gai. After about a 10 hour date with my toilet, 2 nights of missed sleep, and a marathon puking session, it took me 2 years before I was able to stand the smell and taste of this dish again.

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

Gai Pad Mamuang (Stir Fried Chicken with Cashew Nuts)

Find it at: Restaurants

Cost: 60-120 baht

(PROTEIN HEAVY, CARB LIGHT, MODERATE CALORIES)

cashew Hühnerfleisch Stir-fried-chicken-with-cashew-nuts-30

What it is: a well-known Thai dish (both in and out of Thailand) that’s one of the more tasty AND healthy choices you’ll find in a Thai restaurant. It’s basically chicken, cashews, and vegetables stir fried. There are variations on this dish, with some having a slightly sweet and sour flavor while other versions opting for a more salty. It goes without saying the saltier versions are less calorific.
Why you should eat this: the chicken and cashews gives a healthy dose of protein and the cashews themselves are a great source of unsaturated fat. It’s basically just chicken, cashews, and some stir-fried veggies; as meals go, it’s pretty low carb. Keep in mind though that cashews are calorie heavy, so if you keep chowing down, the calories will add up.
Local eating tips: one plate gives roughly 2 – 2.5 servings — enough for two people. You can power down a single dish by yourself, but expect to get around 600-800 calories due to the sheer number of cashews in the dish. It’s a dish best enjoyed with two or three people shared. If you want to go low carb, then eat it as is; if you don’t mind some carbs, it goes well over steamed rice.
Nutritional Info: about 400 calories per serving and 26 grams of protein

15. Thai Fresh Fruits

Find it at: Street Carts and any grocery store

Thailand is famous for it’s abundance of fresh fruits. If you want to power up on in a sweet snack, there is nothing that will beat some fresh fruit. Stick to the fruit grown here, not the imported stuff like apples, pears, oranges, grapes, strawberries, and the like.

Here’s a list of the major fruits and some pictures.

  • Pineapples
  • watermelon
  • thai mangos
  • jackfruit
  • tamarind
  • durians
  • rose apples
  • coconuts
  • bananads
  • lychee
  • jackfruit
  • Rambutan
  • mangosteen
  • Pomelo
  • Guava
  • Custard Apple

 Local Eating Tips: Many of these fruits are seasonal and the costs of some of the fruits double or triple when off season (Mangosteens for example). The cheapest place to buy local fruits is at Super Cheap. The local Super Cheaps usually only stock what’s in season'(the exception being the giant ones), however. If you don’t want to bother cutting the fruits, you can find the more common types at local street carts where you are given a bag of your fruit pick for about 10-20 baht.

dragonfruit tamerind mango jackfruit guava custardapple bananas coconut pomelo rambutanl mangosteen

 

 

About Author

Ben has been living, training, and fighting in Thailand for the past 3 years. He has fought in a number of different combat arts such as MMA, BJJ, Muay Thai, and Western Boxing. Ben follows the latest fitness and nutrition research and is especially interested in how it can apply to combat sports to improve a fighter's performance in the ring. You can read Ben's full bio page here.

22 Comments

    • Ah that’s right, thanks for the correction — I’ll change that. I keep forgetting Issan is more to the East, not the direct North.

      Cheers

      Ben

  1. davidbonnies@gmail.com'

    Well done, this is a well researched and unbiased view of thai food, excellent choices of healthy food. Another you could add is Nam Prik Ong (tomatoes) and and Nam Tok (dok?) moo; it’s a little like larb. Good luck with the fighting!

    • Som Tam is one of my favorite foods in Thailand. It’s also one of those dishes that can taste quite a bit different, depending on the place you eat it.

  2. briannaburrows@gmail.com'

    Let me just say that this article is heaven to me at the moment. I recently moved to Thailand from LA where I was a fitness instructor and I am utterly appalled at how unhealthy the food is in Thailand. It sucks that buying groceries here is more expensive than eating out. Thanks for writing this article!

  3. madmellyboo@hotmail.co.uk'

    Brilliant article- boy have i been eating unhealthy options. This is great, I feel more confident slimming down now. Thanks

  4. ksa6@uw.edu'

    Thank you so much for posting this! I’ve only been on Thailand for four days, and, despite training at least twice a day, feel like I’ve gained weight (haven’t found a scale yet, so who knows). Any tips on how often/much to be eating training 2-3 times per day in Thailand? I thought it would be pretty intuitive, like in the US, but the heat has been messing up my hunger cues a bit. I’m female and fight at 5’8.

    • If you train ONCE a day, 4-6 times a week, you can get away with eating 2 times a day just fine. Read my article about Intermittent Fasting — this is the diet I followed for years here in Thailand while training. WOrks very well to get lean while doing Muay Thai, provided you don’t drink and binge on the weekends.

      Train twice a day and you can still eat 2 times a day, but you may find 3 meals a day works better. It depends on your body. Keep in mind if you do proper training like a run + Muay Thai (or some other activity that’s 2 hours long) twice a day, you are burning thousands of calories a day just from the cardio. And if you throw on weight lifting, that’s even more. You have at least a 2000 calorie deficit just from activities. If you eat twice a day only, you may find it very hard to get enough calories to make up for that deficit you’ve burned + your daily caloric requirement just for maintance. If you are 5’8 and a woman, you probably need about 1700 calories a day to maintain your weight if you don’t do any activity. Add in another 2000 calories defecit from training and you need to eat about 3700 calories a day just to keep your weight. That means almost 2,000 calories per each meal if you have 2 meals, which is a LOT of food to eat

  5. phil@gulfchartersthailand.com'

    This is by no means meant to be a criticism, loved the above list of foods but I think you’ve missed one that your readers might like to try, the Thai name Kanom jeen Nam Ya Pla Tu,

    Or rice Noodles with Curry fish sauce. I make this a lot for my staff often (we live in a pretty isolated area), but it can be purchased all over Thailand both at street stalls and road side restaurants. It can be a bit confusing for new comers because the ordering process is not entirely obvious at a glance. The sauce is primarily Krachai (a form of Ginger), chilly, and yes, some coconut cream (but not a lot generally, its not meant to be creamy) and a protein, generally Pla tu, but if you make it yourself canned tuna is perfect. This is simply poured over rice noodles (less carbs than rice) and as much fresh veggis as you chose to take (generally an awesome array of herbs and veggis), all fresh not cooked.
    It is actually very easy to order, chose a sauce, stick with the fish sauce (yellowish) as it will be the least hot (others may blow your head off), the vender will pour this over the noodles and deliver it to you at table stacked with fresh veggis from which you are free to mix with your dish as profusely as you can. Generally the cost is 40 baht.
    Hope I have not offended by posting this, I’ve only posted because I respect the quality of the advice above and would like to contribute.

    Phil.

    • By all means, thanks for the recommendation. There’s definitely a lot of other dishes can be added — I’ve listed the main once I’ve tried / eat living in in Thailand for 4 years.

      And good recommendation — I have tried the dish you’ve mentioned many times. I believe they like serving it especially in the south.

      I’ll add it to an updated list!

      Thanks!

      Ben

  6. karl@staticshift.com.au'

    Great article! The only thing I don’t like is the fact I didn’t find this 4 months ago when I arrived in Thailand and was actively searching for info like this! Thanks for putting such a thorough article together!

  7. billberry22@hotmail.com'

    Great article! If you are training hard, and NOT trying to cut weight, you can take some extra calories and a little sugar. I love Thai food but also supplement with home cooked food I prepare myself. I go to Super Tesco and buy a slow-cooker, an electric heating pan, tupperware and cutting board plus knife etc you can create a makeshift kitchen. I go to the butcher shop and buy new zealand lamb chops, australian or thai beef, pork roasts even whole ducks. I coat the cooker with olive oil, add the meat, chop up veggies, garlic, peppers, onion, and ginger. This cooks up in about 3 hours. I store in tupperware and heat up with the heating pan. Thailand does not use crockery-style slow cookers so I will bring my own with me next time I go. Universally what they are selling are metal rice cookers which also work, but too fast. Thai food is awesome, no doubt. I still need to supplement with home cooking. I also buy organ meats (kidneys/livers) and have the cooks add that to my breakfast scramble along with imported cheese. Thanks for the write-up, I will be back soon!

  8. hartztr@gmail.com'

    Thanks Ben! I’m here in the states, but this turned out to be helpful while trying to enjoy a night out with friends and stay on track.

  9. thomyates@gmail.com'

    Som Tum is not really low carb, unless you ask them not to put the palm sugar, or just a small touch in it. If you don’t say anything invariably they will put a heaping scoop of the sugar in it (probably 40-50 carbs worth). Just say to them ‘mai sai namtam’, and make sure you watch them because even when you say that they will want to put some in. They cannot believe someone not wanting it sweet. Or if you want a little make sure you monitor that. I have them put extra lime juice. If I get it for home I’ll mix a little stevia with it. Without the sugar it’s probably only about 15 carbs for the serving, with a third of that fiber.

    • Agreed — you have to watch what’s being put on the salads and of course, it helps if you give specific instructions. I do notice some thai cooks will still put in sugar and MSG even when you ask them not to.

  10. Pingback: What Are the Healthiest Thai Menu Items? | Thai Ginger

  11. kuba.szwiec@gmail.com'

    Great article! I have doubts about rice though. Guess eating a steam rice with every meal isn’t that healthy, is it? Rice generally isn’t allowed in slow carb diet.

    • It’s going to be hard to replace rice with something else in Thailand — it’s the mainstay food. If you are going paleo or low carb, then you’ll probably want to reduce or eliminate rice, yes.

      You’ll probably need to look at green-based carbs such as you find in papaya salad. It’s possible, but you’ll have to be careful because a lot of places add in sugar and msg to these ‘green’ dishes.

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