The dieter's guide to eating Thai

The flavours of Thailand are becoming more familiar and popular as more of us are discovering the subtle essence of Thai cookery.

Thai cooking relies on the principle of balancing five primary flavours - representing the five essential elements of our bodies, according to traditional Oriental medicine, to produce flavoursome and aromatic food.

Ingredients such as chilli, garlic, ginger or milder galangal, lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves, coconut, nam pla or fish sauce and coriander, as well as sugar and lime juice, are all frequently used to produce the salty, sweet, sour, hot and bitter primary flavours.

The wealth of steamed and stir-fried vegetable, fish and white meat dishes ensure that Thai food is a ‘go’ area for those of us watching our waists. Meals are often based around rice or noodles and all the courses of a Thai meal are served at once, so many different flavours can be enjoyed together.

Portions are small and there are many healthy choices. But, as ever, there are some ‘no-go’ foods on every menu.

Starters & Salad

Salads are probably a better option than starters as many starter dishes are deep-fried, such as egg rolls (po pia tod), spring rolls (paw pia sod) or fried tofu (tao hu tod), or are lavished with peanut sauce (satay) – never a low-fat option! Spicy chicken or mushrooms (larb gai or larb hed) could be a good option for anyone going all the way!

Salads are many and varied – cucumber features heavily (yum tang kwa), as do beans and bean sprouts (yum wun sen), fruit and vegetables such as cabbage, prawns or shrimp and thin strips of meat and poultry.

Dressings aren’t as rich or creamy as often seen in Western cookery – in fact, dairy products are seldom used in Thai cookery, but should still be served on the side.


Hot, clear soups with chicken (tom yam gai) or prawns (tom yum gung) are good options as they are very, very tasty while being low fat and low cal. Avoid soups based on coconut milk, such as chicken coconut soup (kai tom kha) or those with deep fried wontons (keow nam).

Noodles and Rice

Noodles are eaten both as a main dish in their own right and as an accompaniment to curries. They are often steamed or rapidly stir-fried and these are definitely a good option as they generally contain lots of veggies, white meat or fish, and aromatics. One to watch, however, is mee krob – deep-fried egg noodles.

Rice is a good option, too, if you go for the fragrant, steamed variety. However, rice cooked in coconut milk is loaded with fat AND saturated fat!


Green curry (gaeng khiad wan) is the hottest of the Thai curries, followed by the more mellow yellow curry (pad pung kari) and sweeter red curry (gaeng phat).

Other varieties include mutsaman curry, flavoured with cardamon, cinnamon and peanuts and panang curry, which balances many distinctive flavours. Unfortunately, these curries are often based on coconut or peanuts so stir-fried dishes are a better option.

Stir-fried meat and fish

The quick cooking and healthful ingredients makes these the dishes to go for, whether with chicken (gai), prawns (gung) or beef (neur). However, try to steer clear of stir-fries with nuts, satay sauces or coconut.


Thai desserts are often sticky rice creations based on coconut milk – the less said about these the better! A healthy diner would be much better off opting for tea, either spiced or iced, instead of one of these calorie-laden puddings.

So the next time you head to your local chilli club, bear these guidelines in mind: beware of deep-fried starters, watch out for the peanuts, satay and coconut and steer clear of sticky, starchy sweets.

Instead, go for salads, hot clear soups, stir-fries with loads of veggies and refreshing tea for afters. This leaves you with plenty of choices to spice up your evening out without making a complete noodle of your diet!

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