Thai cuisine is traditionally prepared using delicious, nutritious ingredients. (Consider a vibrant, vegetable-filled coconut curry prepared with hundreds of health-promoting herbs and spices and served over a mound of rice.)
However, as is the case with many other cuisines that have flourished in America, you’ll find a sugarier, saltier, and fattier version of many Thai meals at most restaurants.
However, there is some good news: many famous Thai dishes are still healthful and satisfying (or at least can be with some slight order tweaks). After all, Thai cuisine places a premium on veggies and other plant-based foods—and many dishes substitute coconut milk for cream and herbs for cheese, according to nutritionist Amy Gorin, RDN, owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition in New York City.
Gorin discusses some of her favorite healthier Thai recipes, as well as little substitutions that might help you create a healthier supper. (Unsurprisingly, you’ll want to slurp noodles in moderation and consume as many vegetables as possible.)
Take this expert advice into consideration the next time you visit your favorite Thai restaurant (or find yourself reading their delivery menu).
1. Green Papaya Salad
“My number one piece of advice for dining in a Thai restaurant is, to begin with, a fresh salad,” Gorin adds. “Since so many Thai dishes—think fried pork with sauced noodles—is delectable yet filling, it’s a good idea to stock up on fresh vegetables.”
“My go-to is a papaya salad with a side of dressing,” she continues. “Typically, shredded green papaya, string beans, and tomatoes are used.”
Gorin likes to order the salad as an appetizer, but it readily converts into a light dinner when paired with grilled meats.
2. Chicken Satay
Any recipe that incorporates grilled meat is an excellent way to obtain some protein without consuming an excessive amount of oil, Gorin adds.
While most Thai restaurants serve skewers of grilled chicken satay as an appetizer, you can make it a meal by adding a side of vegetables and brown rice.
Take note that satay sauce is typically prepared with peanut butter and a high-sodium soy, fish, or oyster sauce. While this is perfectly OK in moderation, Gorin notes that too much may cause you to feel extremely full or bloated.
While we’re on the subject of grilled meat, here’s another protein-packed appetizer for you. If you’re in the desire for red meat but want to watch your saturated fat intake or portion sizes, Gorin thinks this dish is a perfect option.
Vegetables are mixed in a citrusy dressing and topped with a tiny amount of grilled meat in the majority of spicy beef salads.
4. Whole Steamed Fish
Steamed proteins are an excellent choice if you’re trying to stay on the healthier side of the menu, Gorin adds because they often do not include any oil and are generally lower in calories.
Fish is frequently cooked with aromatics (such as ginger, lemongrass, and kaffir lime leaves) and served with a sweet-salty-spicy sauce at Thai restaurants. Gorin suggests getting your sauce on the side to ensure that you just use what you need (and avoid going overboard on salt in the process).
5. Pad Thai (With Extra Vegetables)
The majority of Thai curries are created with a coconut milk sauce that contains spices, herbs, salty fish or soy sauce, and (yes, sugar). Although the sauce is creamy and rather high in fat and calories, a small amount goes a long way.
If you enjoy Thai curry (and who doesn’t? ), know that you don’t have to avoid it in order to maintain a healthy fat and calorie intake, Gorin adds. Simply supplement your curry with more veggies and a lean protein such as chicken or tofu to complete the meal. If you choose rice, choose brown rice to obtain additional vitamins and minerals.
Once you’ve eaten your fill, containerize the leftovers for lunch or dinner the following day.
7. Chicken Larb
8. Basil Tofu
“This is another go-to recipe for me, and I enjoy it because of the flavor and variety of vegetables,” Gorin adds. “Fried tofu is delectable, but if I’m watching my calories, I’ll request that the tofu not be fried.”
Increase the nutritional value of your meal by ordering additional veggies and, as usual, go for brown rice.
10. Fresh Summer Rolls
“Fresh summer rolls are an excellent way to get more vegetables into your dinner, and opting for them instead of fried spring rolls save both calories and saturated fat,” Gorin explains.
If you’re looking for a protein boost, opt for tofu or shrimp summer rolls. Keep it simple with straight-up vegetable rolls for a quick appetizer.