Food & Nutrition

Let’s Go Out for… Thai

This spicy cuisine can be both interesting and healthy — if you order wisely.

What to Know     What to Eat      

Thai food has become an American favorite, in part because of the perfect balance of flavors that hits every taste bud in your mouth. “In almost every dish, you'll find sweet, sour, salty and spicy flavors coming together,” says chef David Bank, a native of Thailand who owns the Land Thai and PURE Thai Shop House restaurants in New York City.

It’s not uncommon for a meal at a Thai restaurant to pack 25 SmartPoints values or more. Use some of these tips, and you can cut that figure in half without losing flavor.

Be a heat-seeker.  As the heat increases, you will generally cut back on portions, because the flavors are more satisfying.

Go with a smart protein. Thai menus often offer the same dish with a choice of meats and proteins, but not all are equal. Duck may seem like an easy exchange for chicken, but you're adding a lot of saturated fat, Thai cuisine presents the perfect opportunity to enjoy a vegetarian meal. With so many bold flavors, chances are you won’t even miss the meat.

Hold the nuts. A sprinkling of nuts is fine, but peanut sauce delivers a concentration of calories and fat, with at least 2 SmartPoints value per tablespoon. Ask for a side of hot chili sauce instead. It will add big flavor at little to no caloric cost.

Opt for rice over noodles. The most common starches found in Thai cuisine are rice and rice noodles made from rice flour and water. Of the two, rice is usually the lighter pick. Noodles can hide lots of oil and fat. You're safer with the rice, or better yet, ask for a plate of vegetables instead. It will eliminate about 6 SmartPoints value for 1 cup.

Cool off with a Singha. Crave a cold beer to go along with your spicy food? Try Thailand’s signature beer, Singha. Like most Asian beers, it’s a crisp, light lager that refreshes the mouth after the most searing Thai cuisine. It contains about 5 SmartPoints value per 12 ounces, and be forewarned: it’s relatively potent at 6 percent alcohol.

Know Your Rices

Rice is a foundation of Thai cuisine. “In Thailand, Jasmine rice is quite expensive, and would only be served in a very fine restaurant, but in the U.S., it is the most characteristic rice of any Thai dish,” says Bank. You’ll also find plain white rice, which Bank often prefers as a sort of ‘neutral canvas’ to temper spicy dishes. Sticky rice, also called glutinous rice, has a special starchy consistency and is used as both a side and in desserts. Note that glutinous has nothing to do with gluten: all rice is gluten-free. Brown rice is becoming increasingly popular in Thai cuisine, according to Bank, who offers it in his restaurants. Like white rice, it has 6 SmartPoints value per cup, but is more nutritious. “The benefit of brown rice is you will up the fiber by three times, which helps you to feel fuller and eat less,” says Sheth.

Choose smart apps. Some of the healthiest dishes of Thai cuisine are soups and salads. “It gets some protein, like shrimp, in your belly and leaves you less room to continue on,” says Sheth. Focus on broth-based soups with vegetables or seafood for the leanest options.

Watch out for coconut. Coconut, whether it’s shredded meat, milk or cream, can make a cameo at any course in Thai cuisine. The flavor is delicious, but you are adding loads of calories and saturated fat to the meal. Choose milk over cream, and flaked coconut over milk.

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