Julia Knight

Eating healthy in Thailand

Is it becoming more and more difficult?

I have a two and a half year old. Dinner times can sometimes be described as a cyclonic typhoon whirling through the living room and at others a celestial, angelic moment bestowed from heaven. Just depends whether or not there are vegetables on his plate.

The healthy eating agenda in the UK is strictly implemented in nursery provisions and I have witnessed first hand a child who at home, would rather stick a pea in his nose than eat it but at nursery demolish a plate full of veggies because his friends are eating them too. Every snack and meal is well balanced, with fruit and vegetable high on the agenda. Even the UK secondary school canteen which was once awash with yellowy-orange now has hues of green.

However, my child who actively asked for carrots and cabbage is now turning away from them and I can only sadly surmise that it is again it is because of peer pressure and the lack of vegetables in the food we/he eats.

And yes of course, I take full responsibility for his healthy eating but living in Thailand has left me with a conundrum that isn't easily solved.

One of the biggest surprises was the lack of kitchen facilities in the homes we have rented thus far, I have friends who have full kitchens but generally that is the exception, not the norm. So we tried to shop. Shop like we did at home but that isn't possible or practical. The supermarkets are expensive especially those who try to emulate its western counterparts and I am not au fait with Thai vegetables or the language to have a conversation about how to cook, peel, slice, dice, cube or cremate. My cooking skills which would have been awarded Satisfactory are now Inadequate.

My long held belief that Thai food was generally very healthy has diminished fast. The diet of rice is generally healthy- the accoutrements of creamy sauces and fried meats are not. Turning to the street stalls, the variety is there but every dish from pad to kao is covered in sugar and salt- a dietary nightmare for diabetics, heart and stroke patients. This is real ticking time-bomb for the future health of Thailand. But with street food so readily and cheaply available compared to the supermarkets, I wonder what alternatives there really are for people.

Our village swimming pool is next to our local Thai school and at lunchtime, the pupils convene in the cafe area of the pool where fried delights such as chicken and chips are served, they also pile in and out of 7/11 with microwaved burgers and fizzy drinks. The rise of the fast food outlet is relentless and all the while it is seen as status symbol and one associated with western ideals and wealth, Thailand's health will decrease.

On the way to the airport, I saw a billboard proudly displaying Thailand's food heritage and I couldn't help but wonder how long it would be before it is replaced with an advert for a well known burger chain.

About me


Fortunately I've never had a hankering for western food and I think after 3 years in Thailand I've forgotten what the inside of a supermarket looks like.
There is a wide selection of fruit and veg available from the plethora of local markets.
You're living in Thailand so learn to speak Thai. Even if it's just enough to do the shopping. If you were back in the Old Blight you'd be screaming about people who dare to come to England and don't speak the language. Same goes for you sweethearts. Show the same respect you'd expect and learn some basic communication.
Street stalls are great but you are correct about the sugar and salt. Much more difficult to fix when soups are involved. However, freshly cooked veg and rice meals are easily solved.

Mai sai pong chew rot - no MSG.

Mai sai nam dam - no sugar.

Mai sai khem - no salt.

Nam man nit noy - just a little oil.

Try some of these phrases when you are ordering and hopefully it will help you to eat healthier. Or at least avoid some of the bad sides of the Thai food. They do go OTT with the sugar, salt and msg so you have to cut that when ever you can.
Apart from that the wonderful variety of fruit and vegetables make for wonderful eating. There are a few good Thai cooking schools around that can help you learn about the different ingredients.
Please head to your local market and try the plentiful, cheap varieties even if you only slowly expose yourself to new things. There are plenty of cheap, familiar varieties to chose from. Above all else learn to eat Thai. Eating western is far too expensive in this country.

By Darron Charlesworth, Chiang Rai (11th August 2017)

Jonathan, thanks for your advice- the slow cooker is a definite investment this weekend.

De- very excited for the veggie fest, not sure my two year old wsll be quite so enthusiastic! ;)

Bradley- Education is a key player- but how you get for profit schools to embrace it or state schools to afford it is a dilemma for the MoE.

Thanks for your comments everyone, JK

By Julia, Thailand (9th October 2013)

I sympathize with anyone trying to eat western style here in Thailand. I for one have found eating Thai style very limited largely due to a stomach problem that rears it's ugly head within minutes of receiving any dose of spicy material. Not a great problem in the UK but here in Thailand where Thai cooking can blind you as you ride past the street stalls as hues of chili mist wafts across the road. I think the main issue is that having never been colonized there has been very little influence from outside the kingdom that has had any impact on the local cooking. I myself have managed to solve the cooking aspect after a fair amount of investigation and investing in various little appliances. I know have a slow cooker, a rice cooker, a little toaster oven, a kettle, and a microwave. Shopping I do at Big C, Villa Market ( usually for beef and condiment sauces ) and Tesco, though I have to say Tesco is rapidly going downhill in many areas but more due to the inability of it to maintain any kind of regular supply of anything. Add to this ASEAN just over 12 months away and the majority of Thai staff completely oblivious to the language that is shortly to become their official language it's not really a surprise. Anyway I digress slightly. Vegetables I do get from either Big C or Tesco. Villa Market just takes the mickey with their pricing of these and the quality is no different than that of the regular supermarkets. I now enjoy western cooking all the time including, Beef Stew, Chilli Con Carne ( not spiced off the face of the earth like Thai style would be ) good old spag bol, pork loin with peas carrots boiled potatoes and vegetable mint gravy. Pork belly slice, skinless chicken breast with peas and potatoes, tuna salad to name but a few. The budget for me to do this works out at less than 1000 baht a week. Eating a healthy meal is difficult but you have to do a little investigative work first. I usually have good old fashioned sandwiches at lunchtime, tuna and sweetcorn, cheese and tomato, salad with a low fat spread.
I have to agree that what I see on a daily basis is the continual feeding of absolute crap and sugar laden food to kids and that goes on morning noon and night. I have seen 11 year old children with teeth that are nearly transparent they are lacking in basic nutrition which unfortunately means that whilst I applaud the Thai government for getting school milk to all the kids, this alone isn't combating the general lack of nutrition.
Anyway that's my penny's worth. Shop around find what you want which you will find but it will mean you can't do a weekly shop in one place. But have heart and eat well.

By Jonathan, Thailand (6th October 2013)

Well, you're in luck! As from yesterday (04/10) many restaurants are offering completely vegetarian fair for 10 days! It's a Chinese thing, so just watch out for the red and yellow signs with Chinese characters.

By De;, Thailand (6th October 2013)

I walked into the student store at my school and there is not one healthy option in there. Not one. Sugar, sugar, sugar, and more sugar with occasional dab of salt.

7-Elevens make it very difficult. It takes a ton of will power, something students haven't necessarily developed for themselves yet, to be surrounded by candy and sugar and turn it down themselves.

Education may play a factor as well but I'm personally not sure as I do not know what schools do in terms of health education for students

By Bradley, Thailand (6th October 2013)

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