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Thai food is definitely one of America’s favorite ethnic cuisines. Those exotic dishes are really quite different from other Asian fare, with unique flavors like coconut, basil, vegetables, curries, lemongrass, shrimp paste and plum sauce. Served with aromatic jasmine rice, and often artful presentation, Thai cuisine is a pleasure for the senses.
It’s also healthy in that many dishes contain a wide variety of vegetables, and it’s possible to make lean protein choices like shrimp, chicken or tofu. However, as many of us would suspect, but perhaps really would prefer not to know (as we delight in finishing an entire dish of Pad Thai), some Thai dishes have a lot more calories and fat than you might expect. Coconut milk and fried dishes are two of the main culprits. Fish sauce, shrimp paste and curry paste all are high in sodium.
As with any restaurant eating, a little advance knowledge and pre-planning goes a long way in avoiding high calorie choices but enjoying yourself nonetheless!
Here’s a list of best and worst Thai restaurant dishes, and some tweaks for making some of your favorites at home with less calories.
1. Pad Thai – Sigh…everyone’s favorite dish is probably the worst offender on the Thai restaurant menu. This tasty stir fried noodle dish can pack 700 – 1400 categories in a restaurant serving. The extra calories come from the fact that this dish is made primarily of rice noodles that are then stir fried in oil. One cup of rice noodles on its own is 200 calories, but many restaurant Pad Thai servings contain 4 cups of noodles or more. Traditional Pad Thai is actually supposed to be light and dry rather than heavily oiled as it is in many restaurants. See below for a less calorie laden Pad Thai recipe to make at home.
2. Coconut Curry – Thai coconut curries can range 600 – 800 calories per serving not including the rice. Musaman is typically the richest, using the most coconut milk of any curry. Coconut milk contains around 200 calories per serving. Additional calories come from oil and fatty meats like duck, dark meat chicken, or fatty beef. For those of us that can’t live without curry, see below for ways to make this dish healthier at home.
3. Thai Iced Tea – It may not sound so bad, but this sweet drink can contain as many calories as a Starbucks Frappucino. Often containing coconut milk and sweetened with condensed milk, a serving averages around 200 calories per serving.
4. Sticky Rice Dessert with Mango – Can rice and fruit really be so bad? Yes, unfortunately it can. Made with glutinous rice, coconut milk and sugar, this dessert is absolutely incredible. However, it packs more than 500 calories per serving.
1. Tom Yum (Hot & Sour) Soup – This flavorful chicken or vegetable broth based soup is made of shrimp, mushrooms, curry, lemongrass and chiles, and only contains about 140 calories per serving. Beware, however, there is also a version made with coconut milk called Tom Yum Kha.
2. Stir Fried Vegetable Dishes – These come in many variations, but often include mixed vegetables and chicken, shrimp or beef. Depending on how much oil is used in the stir frying, these dishes typically run around 300 calories.
3. Cashew Chicken – Another stir fried dish that typically includes some vegetables, cashew chicken generally runs around 375 calories per serving. However, a serving is often only 1/3 of the portion served at the Thai restaurant.
4. Salad Rolls – These are appetizers made of soft rice paper wrapped around steamed shrimp, lettuce, cilantro, cucumber and carrot and dipped in a dipping sauce. Since these are not deep fried, they’re quite healthy and low in calories at about 60 calories per roll.
5. Chicken Satay – While it is an appetizer on most Thai menus, chicken satay can make a great entree too! These chicken skewers which are dipped in peanut sauce are super tasty and have only about 300 calories per serving. But do go easy on the dipping sauce!
Of all of the Thai restaurant dishes, there are two that are particular temptations for most of us, and that we truly miss when we’re watching our waistline! These are Pad Thai and Coconut Curry. But never fear! Below are some great Thai recipes with low calorie tweaks to these favorites!
Low Calorie Pad Thai Recipe
Preparing Pad Thai at home will make it MUCH easier for you to control how much oil is being used and therefore, how many calories you’re taking in. Consider using less noodles and more bean sprouts to cut calories even further. This fantastic Pad Thai recipe from Eating Well has only 385 calories and uses only 2 tsp of oil! If you choose to add chicken to your dish, choose breast meat and trim excess fat.
Low Calorie Coconut Curry Recipe
One obvious swap in coconut curry is choosing light coconut milk over regular coconut milk. This will save you some calories. For a Thai curry with very few calories, try this recipe from All Recipes, which swaps evaporated coconut milk for skim milk and coconut essence. It also uses cooking spray in lieu of oil, making this dish only 210 calories per serving.
At Athlean-XX for Women, we’re all about healthy nutrition because it helps us lose weight and have energy for our tough workouts! Our nutrition plan recommends combining proteins and slow-burning carbohydrates at every meal and snack to help keep you feeling full. In fact, the Athlean-XX for Women nutrition plan is anything but a diet – we actually recommend you eat more – 5 – 6 times per day! This type of diet will help turn your metabolism into a fat burning machine – when combined with our killer 30 minute workouts. Yes, with Athlean-XX for Women, eat more, exercise shorter but harder and weigh less! Join us on Team Athlean to start your lifestyle makeover now!
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