Cleaneating in Thailand
Your biggest nemesis in Thailand will be the sugar, Thai food is full of it. I had been prepared to say no to added sugar in fruit drinks and coffees when ordered however after doing a Thai cooking class on Koh Lanta it came glaringly obvious just how much sugar go into most traditional thai meals.
We prepared three meals at our cooking class, deep fried spring rolls, a stir fry and a curry. When the vegetarian contents of the spring rolls was prepared one tablespoon of white sugar went into the making of three large rolls, we were then taught how to make the sweet chilli sauce which had one cup sugar to one cup vinegar along with the rest of the ingredients. We then prepared a stir-fried chicken which had one tablespoon of sugar to one smallish serve and then a massmum curry which we made from pre-made paste so who knows what was in that.
Lunch and Dinner:
Whilst traveling in Thailand I have allowed myself to eat what I want for lunch and dinners granted it is the local cuisine and not opting for western food, drawing the line at white rice and opting to eat curries almost as a soup – a sacrifice I am willing to make. Although Thai food is evidently loaded with sugar and perhaps doesn’t include the leanest cuts of meat the ingredients they use are in fact that, ingredients. Thai food is not highly processed meaning your body is not going to struggle to break it down and process it, you won’t be left feeling sluggish with your body trying to work out what on earth you just put into it, instead it will use your stored energy to appropriately burn it off.
As mentioned previously, in an ideal world opting for a western salad with tuna (not to say the tuna isn’t packed with added salt and preservatives) would be the way to go, at least one meal of the day. However this simply is not an option in some parts of Thailand and when western salads can be double the price of a Thai dish, or perhaps a dodgy option knowing that the vegetables will be served raw therefore any bacteria will not be killed off in the cooking process, a Thai dish is the way to go.
What I ate:
- Spicy Thai Green Mango Salad
- Chicken Thai Green/Red curry (hold the rice)
- Pad Thai chicken
- Fresh vegetable/shrimp springrolls (try stay away from the thick, gluggy sweet chilli that is sometimes served and opt for a peanut type dipping sauce or the thin, watery style chili sauce if available)
- Stir-fried chicken cashew nut (hold the rice / I ended up stopping ordering this as I found it often came with minimal vegetables to bulk the meal out)
- As much dried chili as I could handle added to my meals, not only do I love spicy food, the heat generated when you ingest chilli oxidizes layers of fat as well as increases the metabolism, so you are basically working out while you eat
Rob and I prepared our own breakfast 75% of our time in Thailand. I managed to find a really simple muesli in Bangkok which listed only wheat flakes and rolled oats, along with about 8 different dried fruits in it’s ingredient list. No mention of how the dried fruit was prepared, and how much additional sugar etc. went in to the drying process but alas you cant win them all. We purchased yoghurts every evening to pop in the mini-bar fridge that even the most budget accommodation seem to still have, and ate muesli, yoghurt, cinnamon and goji berries (both of which I was super excited to find among the fake Chanel and Ray bans at various markets) for breakfast most mornings. We also stocked up on fruit, mango, pineapple and bananas to eat along with breakfast, all out of new blue traveling bowls – since stealing 7/11 drinking cups to eat out of every evening was a little bit detrimental to the environment and for 7/11′s cup stock.
It we were staying long enough I purchased a wee soy milk and popped this in my brekfast too – unfortunately I couldn’t find an unsweetened version, but I used a product called Lactosoy in a blue pack.
The few times we were staying in accommodation with breakfast included, I only ever ordered boiled eggs and usually only ate the yolk of one, I would just use the milk on offer for coffee – there was occasions I had some Lactosoy on hand and took this along to breakfast, alongside my liquid stevia to sweeten things up. You can expect fruit to be on offer in most Thai accommodation so this is a good option however I never saw a cereal I wanted to try so I would cart my own along to have with the yoghurt they sometimes had on offer or once again used my Lactosoy, or their milk. Basically I found something to eat most mornings and I really tried my utmost to keep breakfast as clean as possible, not touching the pancakes, white toast, jam, pizza bread (??!), fried rice, green curry that can be on offer.
We found this kept us more adventurous the rest of the day with lunch and dinner as sometimes by dinner time you can end up opting for spag bol or a burger as your tummy just can’t do anymore oriental food.
Nuts are a plentiful in Thailand – in some instances shops have entire aisles dedicated to nuts, dried fruit and vegetables yet it took two weeks to eventually find an option that had an ingredient list of one – nuts! I eventually found a variety of baked almonds on Phi Phi island and only saw them one other time, at the airport in Bangkok. I had these with me whenever I knew I might need to snack, I did see a cashew variety too.
One time we purchased a bag of really plain looking almonds from a market but once we opened the bag they were in fact smoked in something, but we still ate them as they were delicious and didn’t taste too salty. Basically no matter how simple something looks from the most rural of markets you can’t really trust what went into the preparation of it.
Fruit of course is all over the show and as long as you have some sort of sharp knife on hand your options are endless. Mango, watermelon , pineapple , mangosteen, banana, rambutan are all good options, and dirt cheap compared to what we would pay back in Australia – so lap it up while you can. Fruit shakes and smoothies are also a great option, without the added sugar, but choose wisely as I had some shockers and then some beautiful ones. I tended to survey my options for a while, see how much fruit to ice ratio was going in to other peoples orders before ordering my own.
My #1 Smoothie came from Tips in Chiang Mai, which is tucked away in the Somphet market in the Old Town. The first occasion I had a mango, banana, coconut and spirulina smoothie, the 2nd time we visited I ordered the same but without the spirulina and watched as the water of a whole coconut went into the making of it along with a whole mango and the rest, the smoothie ended up so huge it made two large cupful’s, one of which we were given free or charge. Amazing, all for $2