I came to Thailand as a fit, healthy 70 kilogram Australian.
After six years in Thailand, I’m now a reasonably fit, healthy 76 kilogram Australian.
Why? Well, Thai food, despite its healthy appearance and fresh origins is also full of fats, sugars and salt. For example, compare your average Big Mac to an average Pad Thai and there’s at least double the kilojoules (or calories) in the Pad Thai. (There’s plenty of variation in Pad Thai servings but we took an average from three websites reporting on the nutritional value of Thai food). One website went as far as reporting that your average Pad Thai had FOUR times as many calories in it.
(A big Mac has 257 calories (1075 kilojoules) per 100 grams of weight and weighs approx. 200 grams)
Whilst Thai food is generally fresh, cooked quickly, full of nutrition (vegetables, carbohydrates and protein), it’s also full of calories.
But the problem goes deeper than this. And it partly answers the question as to why Thais, as a population, are growing taller and fatter than in the past – they’re getting a lot more calories than in the past.
Head to your local convenience store and scan the shelves. Anything fresh is difficult to find. Many foods that would have traditionally come without sugar are laced with additional sugar – yogurt, fruit juice, bread, just to start with.
Anecdotally, I would suggest that the ingredients for your average Thai meal have evolved over the past 100 years and now there is a lot more salts, sugars, MSG and saturated fats than a century ago (the MSG argument is something for another time).
Of course, all these things make most foods taste better, I won’t deny it.
Thai food is still a great source of all the nutrients you need to get through the day but eating large Thai meals with lost of noodles and white rice is not going to help you return to your 20-year-old surfer body. White rice has about as much nutrition as cardboard. Cook it in a sea of saturated fat (fried rice) and you’re on the way to a big calorie intake.
Nutritionists recommend avoiding six types of Thai foods including Pad Thai, yellow, green and red curries, Tom Kha soup (Tom Yum is ok), stir-fries and Thai tea (the orange sweet milky concoction).
Well, that’s about every Thai meal I love chefjohnhowie.com has a list of Thai food dos and don’ts.
Meanwhile, Hayden Rhodes, GM at RPM Health Club in Phuket, says there are three things to take into account when consuming our beloved Thai food.
1) Most food is fried, many times in cheap nasty rancid vegetable oils. Avoid fried Thai food.
2) Thai food over the years has followed the SAD… standard American & Australian Diet (very SAD) which means consuming more sugar per head per year. Sugar makes you fat. Period. Ask for no sugar to be added to Thai dishes (yes- it’s in everything!)
3) A lot of Thai food is full of chemicals ‘fresh from the farm’; detoxification processes will be hampered – body fat will be stored. Ask your fancy hotel or beach club where their food comes from and 99% will likely be ‘Macro’. Find out who uses organic ingredients and eat there. Yes – this will have a direct impact on your energy, mineral content in your body and your fat line… oops, I meant waistline.”
Add to the high calorific content of all our favorite Thai foods is the relatively inexpensive and plentiful alcohol and street food stalls every 50 meters along any road and you’re heading for a fright when you step onto the scales. It’s also a lot easier to jump on the motorbike in Thailand to travel short distances we might have happily walked back to our home country.
So next time you see a friend heading into McDonald's for a Big Mac, rather than fat-shaming them, they might actually be trying to lose weight! (We certainly don’t recommend eating Big Macs or ‘fast food’ too often though)
Health aficionados and doctors would always recommend a balanced food intake with fresh food at the top of the list along with regular exercise, at any age.
Good advice! So it’s back to the swimming pool and gym, and choosing Tom Yum over Pad Thai.