A trip to the local market never fails to impress me with the rows and rows of colourful and exotic produce, and abundance of vibrant herbs and handmade curry pastes.
Thai food is fresh and herbs used in dishes also boast medicinal qualities.
But is Thai food healthy? It can be but there are many other factors to take into consideration.
Sauces have become industrialised and easily bought in a bottle or pack. Surely the original ingredients of sweet and sour sauce did not contain corn syrup as is the case now.
Soy sauce, fish sauce and oyster sauces all have high amounts of sodium, additives, preservatives including MSG and other artificial flavourings. If you ever feel very thirsty after eating Thai food that is mostly likely from the MSG.
Also, powdered chicken stock’s main ingredients are sugar, MSG and salt, and is often used for flavouring in sauces and curries.
Consider that the cheaper the Thai food is, the cheaper the oil is likely to be, with palm oil being at the top of that list. Palm oil is high in saturated fat and processed at very high temperates. Ricebran oil would be a better alternative.
Refined sugar is also added to a lot of Thai dishes. Thailand has a large and growing number of diabetics. It is difficult to find sugar-free products in the market as most attempts to make something healthier end up being low-sugar.
When ordering Thai food it is easy enough to request no MSG (pong chu rote) and no sugar (namtaan).
As the Phuket Vegetarian Festival is quickly approaching it must be mentioned, too, that the faux meat in the dishes is anything but healthy. TVP – textured vegetable protein – is the main ingredient in many of the dishes.
To create TVP soy beans are defatted and heated to very high temperatures killing most of their nutrients in the process. Artificial flavours, emulsifiers and thickening agents are also added.
As a general rule of thumb food that looks nothing like its original state should be consumed with caution.
There are healthy choices for Thai food and it is much easier to make those choices once you know what to avoid.
Sylvie Yaffe is the founder of Good Karma Online Health Food Store and consults about vegan raw cuisine and health food, as well as writing a regular column for The Phuket News. For more information, visit healthfoodthailand.com