Strong Nutrition in Bangkok
Jack Thomas talks to Dr Priya Khorana, a professor of nutrition, on how to maintain a strong and healthy diet in Bangkok.
Dr. Priya Khorana holds doctorate in nutrition education from Columbia University and owns a nutritional consulting business.
This episode will help you understand how to eat healthy and make smarter food choices in Bangkok.
Let’s start off with just eating in Bangkok. Is it difficult to eat healthy food in Bangkok?
I actually think it’s improved over the last several years. It’s not that difficult anymore to get healthier options. It is important for me to mention that even though Thai food seems to be considered as healthy on the outside, it is important to make sure that we look at the ingredients.
Most Thai food that you get takeaway or at restaurants is latent with MSG, coconut milk and sugar. But now they are offering alternatives to those options. The portion sizing in Bangkok is appropriate. I would say compared to the Western diet. There are a lot more options at the grocery store, takeaway and restaurant options with eating healthier.
I would say it’s not necessarily that difficult anymore is just being smart with what you do choose.
Would you say the Thai diet is inherently healthy or unhealthy?
It can be healthy. It’s again, the ingredients that are in the Thai cuisine. So it is about choosing healthier options. When I go out, usually I’ll have them make me a stir fry with several veggies. I always ask for less oil. Who knows if it’s actually done. But these are some tips that I do find myself being catered when I do go out.
I’ve lived over in the US for 14 years and I am Thai by birth. So I would still say Thai food is definitely healthier than eating in the West. But unfortunately, the trends are changing and we are eating much more like they do over in the West. So it’s difficult to answer that question. Thai food itself can be considered healthy. It’s just, again the ingredients that are in what you order and the considerations whether it’s healthy or not.
Let’s say just a typical Thai dish ‘Pad Kaprao Kai‘. What would we need to look out for to know whether that was going to be from a place that would make it healthy or not?
So the first thing that I would say is that MSG. I can guarantee you 98 percent of restaurants here add MSG for flavor enhancement. The studies are still inconclusive with if MSG are bad for you. But as a general rule of thumb, if you can’t pronounce the ingredient and you don’t really know what it is, how can it be good for you?
The other thing that I would look at is the sodium (salt) and sugar. There’s sugar in absolutely every Thai dish, which is what makes Thai food delectable. But again, it’s how much they put in it. Coconut milk is another one. ‘Pad Krapao Kai’ doesn’t really have coconut milk, but it’s filled with sugar, sodium and MSG. If you do get it from outside but if you choose to make it at home. The chicken itself can be improved upon.
I order all of my chicken breast from Paleo Robbie and I know that it’s the better the smart choice than getting the chicken at the grocery store. Another way to make ‘Pad Krapao Kai’ healthy is to add other veggies in with it. Then I serve it alongside a whole grains, it will be a riceberry or brown rice. So there are ways to go about making it even healthier.
What’s the difference between good quality and high quality and how does that impact the nutritional value of the meats?
I guess Paleo Robbie they order or get delivered cage free chicken, eggs and poultry. What that means is that they’re allowed to roam free and they’re given higher quality feed, which intern impacts their health and what we are eating. The science isn’t conclusive yet if that provides extra nutrients. But if you can afford and do have a little bit more knowledge on eating an animal that’s been shocked and then killed, releasing toxins into its meat and then consuming, it can’t be good for you.
The other thing you mentioned was oils. So, what’s a good oil? What would be the negative impacts and consequence of using your food cooks in some of these?
So bad oils are vegetable oils, palm oil, canola oil and sunflower oil. The good oils, I would suggest are the first one being ghee or clarified butter because it’s in its purest form. Avocado oil in moderation. So, again, all of that all of this is in moderation. So when I say good oil versus bad oil, that doesn’t mean you rate on your food with oils. It means moderation.
What’s the negative consequences of consuming too much of that?
They’re all high in saturated fat, which is bad fat. Whereas the good oils are high in unsaturated fat, which you’re actually showing to improve cholesterol levels.
Where can we get good quality food in Bangkok?
Here is the list of restaurant and bakery that I have recently been loving:
- Vistro BKK – https://www.instagram.com/vistrobkk/
- Fitmeal Food – https://www.instagram.com/fitmealfoods/
- Brunch Bowl – https://www.instagram.com/brunchbowl/
- Vegan Crush – https://www.instagram.com/vegancrushnutrition/
- TipTop Clean Food – https://www.instagram.com/tiptopcleanfood/
- Sentimental Baking Club – https://www.instagram.com/sentimentalbakingclub/
- Cacao & Love – https://www.instagram.com/cacaoandlovebkk/
- Bake the sprout – https://www.instagram.com/bakethesprout/
If we shop out soon and all the regular supermarkets is it easy to find nutritious and healthy food?
It’s absolutely easy. They do offer organic ranges. Again, unfortunately, with the science, organic does not mean better. I usually choose to order local and sustainable, which in itself helps small farmers and small businesses here in Thailand. But absolutely, all the grocery stores here offer healthier alternatives. There’s a wide variety of fruit and vegetable produced that you can get for affordable. So go for it.
Paleo is a little bit more expensive for what they offer. But again, these are import goods that are from sustainable and healthier options. So, if you can afford to, then Paleo Robbie is my go to for my family.
Is there any misconception about things that are healthy that might not be?
I was going to touch upon the drinks. You walk around, you’ll see 90 percent of the population outside is carrying a drink in hand. That drink is usually an ice tea, ice coffee and ice chocolate. Portion size might be appropriate, but it’s exactly what you just said. So, one ice tea has about 10-12 spoons of condensed milk or sugar in it, which is delicious. Your delicious, refreshing and half your day’s worth of calories. So the one thing that I do find when we could order these dessert drink is that you can actually ask for less sugar. So I would definitely suggest, if you don’t want to miss out on your monthly ice bubble tea, go for it, but have 50 percent less sugar in it. They taste as good. Again, shifting mindset to allowing yourself that treat, but having it be a little more appropriate.
Any other tips for healthy Bangkok eating that we’ve missed?
With ordering healthier options, especially with desserts. That doesn’t mean that you go crazy and you have the entire box of healthy brownies. I would always suggest portion control. Again, calories are calories and it’s all about what you take in versus what you take out. So even though you are getting smarter, healthier options, again, portion control. In my opinion, enjoy what you want to enjoy, but everything in moderation.
Finally, Priya, what’s your favorite Bangkok cheat meal?
I love Gigi Bangkok. I love homemade fresh pasta. I have recently been obsessed with Aesop, which is a Greek restaurant. So even though it appears as a treat meal, I select wisely. My family is ordering hummus, Greek Salad and the meat. So it appears as a treat meal. Absolutely, latent with flavor and fat. But again, it’s once in 10 days. Why not? So Gigi and Aesop are my two favorite at the moment.
Priya Khorana holds a Doctorate in Nutrition Education & Exercise Physiology from Columbia University and am the Founder and CEO of Lifestyle Nutrition Consulting Co., Ltd. She serves as an expert in nutrition education, exercise prescription, chronic disease prevention, policy & sustainability and school wellness.
Priya also consults for hotels, schools, corporations, fitness centers and food brands. Some of her clients & partnerships include the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Bangkok, GetFresh, BASE Bangkok, AriFit, Dressed Thailand and NIST International School.
She’s also on the panel of advisory for the Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior, American Society for Nutrition, American College of Sports Medicine, the British Food Journal and others.
Lastly, Priya does nutrition spokesperson work that ranges from media appearances & speaking engagements through webinars & podcasts on social media. She acts as a contributing writer for health magazines (such as SHAPE, Women’s Fitness, Men’s Health, The Huffington Post, The Bangkok Post and more!) and is currently publishing her first recipe book.