Tips to navigate the clean-eating minefield that is Bangkok.
Bangkok certainly doesn’t do us any favors when it comes to healthy eating. First of all, we’re subjected to tempting world-class cuisine on every corner—worse yet, we don’t even have the extortionate prices to deter us. Cue the violins. Despite our best attempts at resistance and healthy eating, our expanding waistlines show no signs of shrinking, so what gives? The truth is that food marketers are sinisterly adept at presenting calorie-dense meals as clean, guilt-free goodies, lulling us into a false sense of security. To help you navigate the clean-eating minefield that is our city, here are five everyday Thai foods that may appear healthy but are often packed full of sugar, oil and other ingredients that we should all probably be consuming less of.
What could be healthier than freshly squeezed oranges or pomegranate? Although it would be nice to believe that juice sold on the roadside comes purely from the fruits of the earth and the honest hands of those squeezing them, recent scandals and the lack of a regulatory body monitoring these products show that this often isn’t the case. If you want to ensure what you’re drinking isn’t dyed-orange sugar syrup, we’d recommend squeezing your own.
On the surface, this tasty Thai classic appears to tick all the healthy boxes: fresh fruit and veg, chilis, garlic—what could go wrong? Try about five tablespoons of sugar and MSG. If you ask politely, your local somtam seller can make a healthier version, but be sure to watch them like a hawk before they go into auto-pilot.
A favorite of low-carb dieters, grilled meat skewers can appear to be fairly healthy. However, the quality of the meat is often very poor, meaning it lacks the nutrition of, say, organic or pasture-raised meats. Thai meatballs use the term “meat” in the loosest sense of the word—they’re highly processed with many other ugly fillers and ingredients, so eat with caution.
Like many Thai dishes (think pad kaprao and pad pak ruam mit), morning glory has all the hallmarks of a nutritious, balanced dish. While we could all stand to eat more greens, when they are drenched in sugary sauce and cooked in cheap oil, unfortunately much of their nutritional benefit is lost. These dishes aren’t inherently unhealthy, meaning it is possible to cook them at home using more natural ingredients for a meal your doctor would be proud of.
Ever wondered why your fresh fruit smoothie tastes so good? It’s fairly common knowledge now that there’s probably more than just fruit in that shake. Just in case you missed the memo, if left to their own devices, your local smoothie provider will casually pour a generous serving of sweet, sugary syrup into your drink—perhaps with some condensed milk for good measure.
Healthy eating is all about balance, meaning no food is completely off limits when enjoyed in moderation. That said, deceptive foods that hide dark secrets can really disrupt your progress when it comes to keeping fit. Knowledge is power, so take the time to find out exactly what you’re putting in your body and you’re sure to reap the benefits.
*Jack Thomas is the founder and CEO of BASE, voted Asia’s Gym of the Year in the Fitness Best Awards 2018.