If you’re living in Samui, you have food options on every corner. Whether you’re a digital nomad, caring parent, working professional or health conscious person trying to live a well-balanced life, you’ll want to find tasty, healthy meals. You’d think that would be easy, right?
Well, it’s not. If you look at the food on your plate when you order at a local eatery, you’d be shocked. Recent studies show that while not a major problem at this time, obesity is becoming a growing issue in Thailand.
There are a number of reasons for the rise in obesity, however, the main culprit is diet. If you enjoy Thai food, there are 5 Thai foods that you might think are healthy, but they’re actually bad for your body.
1. Fruit Shakes
Most people consider fruit shakes a healthy drink, after all, it’s fruit.
Well, the fruit or vegetable in the shake is healthy. It’s everything else in the shake that is a problem.
Most vendors will add a ladle, or seven ladles, of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), to their fruit shake mix. HFCS is commonly found in carbonated sodas. It’s cheaper than sugar but unfortunately is bad for your health. If you ever feel fatigued or sleepy after drinking a fruit shake, that’s the effect HFCS has on your body.
Tip: Before you order a fruit shake, ask the vendor not to add sugar syrup or evaporated milk. Although these ingredients will make the shake taste sweeter, they are not good for your health. Fruit shakes already contain a substantial amount of natural sugars, from the fruit. While this natural sweetness is better for your health, it should still be consumed in moderation. So keep the number of fruit shakes you buy to a minimum.
2. Stir-fried Morning Glory
Don’t worry Morning glory is not bad for you. However, it can be when you fry it in re-used vegetable oil with excessive amounts or sodium and drench it in white sugar.
Morning glory is full of nutrients, like fibre. It’s a healthy choice for pregnant women because of the substantial amount of iron. However, any expat who’s lived in Thailand for even a short period of time knows, Thais love to put sugar in everything.
If the sugar weren’t bad enough, you also have to contend with the oil. Morning glory is typically friend in low-quality vegetable oil that is doused with iodine salt. The oil they use is extremely unhealthy and the nutrients in the vegetables are lost during the frying process.
Tip: Ask the vendor to use as little oil as possible the next time you order morning glory. Also, tell them to leave out the sugar. If you can handle it, eat them raw after making sure the vegetable is washed with clean water.
3. Most Curry Dishes That Contain MSG
Many people enjoy eating massaman and Penang curries.
Do your local Thai curries have a savory taste that you can’t quite recognize? It’s called umami, and it probably comes from Monosodium glutamate (MSG). MSG is an additive that is used in many dishes to add flavor. It is commonly used because it is cheaper than buying spices and herbs.
MSG does not have a negative effect on everyone. However some people experience the following side effects after ingesting food containing MSG:
- Upset stomach
- Feeling weak and drowsy
- Skin reactions, such as hives
Many expat bloggers complain about the MSG in Thai foods.
Tip: Ask the restaurant or vendor not to add MSG to your meal. Say “Mai sai poong choo rot” which means “don’t add any MSG”. But beware, just because you asked, and they nodded their head, does not mean that MSG won’t be added anyway.
4 Foods Cooked in Excessive Amounts of Oil
Typically when you cook food with oil, after you use the oil you throw it away. Not only does used oil pose a health risk, but it’s kind of gross. Most Thai vendors and restaurants cook in GMO soybean oil. It’s cheap. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the most harmful ingredients used in processed foods.
A vendor may reuse the oil several times before throwing it out. This reused oil can increase your chance of getting cancer, which is one of the leading causes of death in Thailand.
5. White Rice
White rice is available on every Thai restaurant’s menu. Often, it is the cheapest item on the menu and will take up at least half of your plate. In Asia, white rice has been linked to type 2 diabetes. It is considered a “filler food”.
A filler food is a low-cost food meant to fill you up. Common filler foods are rice and bread. Both have a low nutritional value. They get you full but does not give your body the vitamin and minerals it needs to stay healthy.
Tip: 1) Be conscious of the food that is put on your plate and how it benefits your body and your health. A bowl of noodles or rice may fill you, but it is not giving you the nutrients you need to perform at your best. 2) Ask waiter/waitress for Brown Rice instead.
So, you’re probably wondering if all Thai food is bad?
No!! Actually, most Thai food is healthy.
The main issue if the quality of the food and cooking procedures used in Thai/western restaurants and street vendor stalls. Low-quality food and harmful cooking practices, make the food unhealthy for you and will leave you feeling sluggish after you eat.
You cannot expect a restaurant’s high-quality ingredients and coconut oil for frying from a street vendor selling a plate stir fried rice and green curry for 40 baht. These vendors use 12 baht packets of MSG because they can’t afford to use organic herbs and spices.
Many restaurants cater to the middle-class Thais and expats. Most of these restaurants can afford to use higher quality produce, herbs and spices and better oils, but they won’t.
A restaurant can charge 4 to 6 times the cost of the ingredients. The profits they derive from the meals they sell mean they have no incentive to make healthier food. The cost of making your meals healthier would come from their profits. And some restaurant owners just don’t know any better.
If you’re in Samui, it may be harder than you think to find healthy, great-tasting food. When you eat, you need to pay close attention to the food you’re being served.
While you may be surrounded be restaurants, there are no official guidelines that a vendor must follow in order to start serving food. Often all a person needs is a month’s rent in advance, a trolley and a gas tank. Before you eat your next Thai meal, consider your health.