By Stephanie S. Saunders

Thai cuisine dates back 4,000 years, when the region that is now Thailand was part of the major North/South trade route. As a result, this vegetarian-friendly fare has been influenced by China, India, and the Middle East. The United States saw its first immigrants from Thailand in the 1800s, but our true introduction to the cuisine came after the Vietnam War, thanks to soldiers stationed there during the conflict. With its unique tastes and vegetable combinations, a good Thai meal strives to balance five flavors: salty, sweet, spicy, bitter, and sour.

How can one go wrong when ordering from a Thai restaurant? Well, there are several ways. Although not meat-heavy, it can be "fry-heavy," as Thai chefs prefer things "crispy." They're also fond of coconut milk in their curries, and sugary peanut sauce, which is hardly fat free. And the average noodle dish can pack a 600-calorie punch, which is quite a bit if you're having multiple dishes. So, in this installment of Beachbody Restaurant Rescue, let's pay a visit to the land of Siam.


As is often the case, the real danger on a Thai menu lurks in the appetizer section. If you avoid all things fried, you might enjoy one of the following appetizers without doing too much damage to your thighs. And if you must fry it up a little, stay away from the Mee krob, which is a fried caloric nightmare. And be sure to remember that all dipping sauces have sugar in them, and will add 50 to 100 calories to that starter.

For those of us who do not enjoy Thai food regularly, here is an explanation of the appetizers:

Summer rolls are baked tofu, carrots, cucumbers, and red leaf and Thai basil wrapped with rice paper. Curry dumplings are dumplings with shrimp and scallops, served in a light green curry sauce. Satay is bamboo-skewered meat marinated in coconut milk and spices, served with peanut dipping sauce. Egg rolls are fried rice paper stuffed with cabbage, carrots, mushrooms, and vermicelli. Mee krob is crispy rice noodles with shrimp.

Calories Fat Carbs Sodium Protein
Summer rolls, 1 roll 47 1.5 g 12 g 279 mg 2 g
Curry dumplings, 1 dumpling 110 5 g 51 g 324 mg 10 g
Satay chicken, 1 skewer 135 4 g 3 g 320 mg 20 g
Egg rolls, 1 roll 240 8 g 40 g 330 mg 4 g
Mee krob, 4 oz. 443 42 g 14 g 312.5 mg 2 g


Like all Asian cultures, Thailand has a variety of soups, most of which are fantastic ways to begin a meal. Thanks to Buddhist influence, most Thai soups are vegetarian and fairly good for you, except when based in coconut milk. Like many soups, Thai soups pack a sodium punch, so if you are watching your sodium, try not to overindulge.

Lemongrass soup is a sour soup with oyster mushrooms, traditionally seasoned with lemongrass, lime leaves, bird's eye chili, and lime juice. Tom kha is a coconut soup with oyster mushrooms seasoned with galanga, lime leaves, lemongrass, bird's eye chili, and lime juice. Tofu vegetable soup consists of soybeans, baby bok choy, snow peas, cabbage, carrots, and green onions. Wonton soup is a wonton stuffed with chicken, and shrimp with Asian greens in a hearty chicken broth.

Calories Fat Carbs Sodium Protein
Lemongrass soup, 4 oz. 123 4 g 6 g 982 mg 16 g
Tom kha, 4 oz. 207 12 g 11 g 1,232 mg 31 g
Tofu vegetable soup, 4 oz. 253 9 g 29 g 2,134 mg 15 g
Wonton soup, 4 oz. 110 3 g 8 g 410 mg 10 g


Thai salads aren't exactly iceberg, croutons, and ranch dressing. Usually on the spicy side, they tend to include fascinating food combinations. A papaya salad is flavorful, different, and full of some healthy goodness. A Yum tai combines three different kinds of protein and has a lot of kick. Just be sure to avoid the Thai chicken salad, as it is just as bad for you as its Chinese counterpart.

A papaya salad is green papaya with lime juice, fish sauce, chili, bay shrimp, green beans, and a touch of garlic sauce. Pla-goong is grilled shrimp with lemongrass, lime juice, chili, and mint. Yam tai is a green salad with shrimp, chicken, hard-boiled egg, and crushed peanuts with sweet and sour dressing. Yum nua includes slices of herb-barbecued sirloin tossed in lime juice, tomatoes, Japanese cucumber, shallots, scallions, and bird's eye chili.

Calories Fat Carbs Sodium Protein
Papaya salad, 6 oz. 158 6 g 22 g 829 mg 4 g
Pla-goong, 6 oz. 220 2 g 1 g 123 mg 12 g
Yam tai, 6 oz. 290 7 g 54 g 720 mg 22 g
Yum nua, 6 oz. 324 10 g 33 g 874 mg 25 g


The entrée is where Thai cuisine shows its culturally infused history with an intricate combination of noodles, curries, stir-fries, meat, and seafood. In Thailand, rice is eaten at every meal, and it is always served here in Thai restaurants. Ordering brown rice, if available, will lower the glycemic index of your food, and make you feel satiated much sooner. Again, limiting the amount of coconut milk and fried dishes you order will go a long way toward saving you some calories. Also, remember that Thai food is usually served in large quantities, to be shared with an entire table, so watch your portion sizes.

Pad Thai is sautéed Thai rice noodles with baked tofu, egg, bean sprouts, scallions, and crushed peanuts. Pad see ew features Sen yai noodles sautéed in sweet soy sauce with Asian broccoli and egg. Thai fried rice is jasmine rice sautéed with onions, tomatoes, scallions, and egg. Gra pow is sautéed meat in fresh garlic and chili with red bell peppers, yellow jalapeño, and spicy holy basil. Penang is vegetables and Thai herbs and spices blended in mild chili paste with lime leaves, simmered in coconut milk. Kang dang is meat and Thai spices blended in hot chili paste with apple eggplant, bamboo shoots, Thai basil, and red jalapeño, simmered in coconut milk. Talay Thai is a seafood medley with Thai seasonings of garlic, lemongrass, basil, galanga, lime leaves, and chili peppers. Kang ped is roasted duck in a spicy red curry with pineapple, tomatoes, and Thai basil.

Calories Fat Carbs Sodium Protein
Pad Thai, 6 oz. 766 34 g 75 g 1,752 mg 34 g
Pad see ew, 8 oz. 535 6 g 103 g 1,342 mg 21 g
Thai fried rice, 8 oz. 580 17 g 93 g 702 mg 12 g
Gra pow, 6 oz. 152 4.6 g 9 g 1,056 mg 20 g
Penang, 4 oz. 472 40 g 15 g 786 mg 30 g
Kang dang, 4 oz. 385 26 g 8 g 653 mg 22 g
Talay Thai, 6 oz. 394 6 g 33 g 2,654 mg 42 g
Kang ped, 10 oz. 535 52 g 19 g 328 mg 7 g


There are a million real Thai dessert recipes out there, but most restaurants don't seem to serve them. Perhaps they would prefer to remain focused on the main courses, and let you fend for yourself after the meal. There's usually green tea ice cream, but that's more of a Japanese dessert. You'll usually find lychee fruit, typically covered in sugar. And a Thai iced tea has enough sugar and fat, thanks to the condensed milk, to satisfy your sweet tooth for a while. Again, if you can do without, avoid the extra calories.

Calories Fat Carbs Sodium Protein
Green tea ice cream, 4 oz. 140 8 g 15 g 40 mg 3 g
Lychee fruits, 4 oz. 113 1 g 23 g 2 mg < 1 g
Thai iced tea, 10 oz. 187 5 g 35 g 20 mg 2 g

Despite its healthy cuisine, Thailand is also being affected by an obesity epidemic that is astounding. One in five school-age Thai children is overweight, which the government attributes to sedentary lifestyles and an increase in refined sugar. Just like in the United States, children in Thailand are more interested in playing computer games than playing outside.

Unlike U.S. residents, the average Thai person eats out 13 times a week, as it is more economical and convenient than preparing food at home. And although one might think this adds to the obesity problem, eating out in Thailand is a very different experience than the typical American one. Here, we order an appetizer, a few dishes, a sugary drink, and sometimes dessert. In Thailand, eating out means a small bowl of food from a stall in a marketplace, which is eaten while in transit to work or home.

So should you have a craving for some Thai food, perhaps take a cue from the Thai people, and choose a small portion. Sometimes, savoring one dish can be as enjoyable as consuming several. And think of all the hours you will save not burning off coconut milk and peanut sauce. That alone can make any meal more appetizing.