Is Thai Food Good for You?

The Health Benefits of Thai Cuisine

Cooking thai food
Kirk Mastin / Getty Images

Thai cuisine is one of the healthiest foods you can eat. In fact, several Thai dishes, such as Tom Yum Soup, are currently under scientific study for their incredible health benefits (see Thai Soup Under Study). Of course, it's already known that many of the fresh herbs and spices used in Thai cooking - such as turmeric, galangal, coriander, lemongrass, and fresh chillies - have immune-boosting and disease-fighting power.

Find out more about these and other ingredients that contribute to making Thai food one of the healthiest you can eat.

Each of the following Thai ingredients has numerous health benefits and immune-boosting power. To maximize these benefits, I recommend cooking your Thai food from scratch, which means you are using only the freshest ingredients. (To learn how to cook Thai food, see: Easy Thai Recipes, Step by Step (with pictures).

Turmeric

Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, is known as an anti-inflammatory agent, helping to relieve allergy symptoms as well as arthritis (or any condition caused by excess inflammation). It is also a powerful anti-oxidant, that can protect the body from damage by toxins and free radicals. Curcumin also protects platelets in the blood, improving circulation and protecting the heart.

As such, turmeric has been known to:

 

  • be a valuable digestive aid
  • helps those with arthritis
  • improve cardiovasular (heart) conditions
  • protect the body from bacterial infections (such as wounds)
  • fight skin and breast cancers in animal studies.

To add more turmeric to your diet, try to eat curry (the kind that includes turmeric, like yellow curries) at least once a week. Try, for example my Easy Thai Yellow Curry Chicken Recipe, which is easy to make and tastes delicious!

Or, if you are vegetarian, try my: Thai Yellow Vegetarian Curry Recipe.

Galangal

Though foreign to most of us in the West, this relative of ginger has many of the same health benefits, most notably its ability to aid with digestion.

Galangal is now grown in most Southeast-Asian countries, but was first harvested for use in cooking and medicine in China and Java. By the Middle Ages, galangal was already in common use throughout Europe. Referred to as “the spice of life” by St. Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179), galangal was, in fact, one of her favorite remedies. This famous herbalist used galangal to treat everything from deafness and heart disease to indigestion.

Today, galangal is used extensively in Traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, and is often thought to be even more beneficial than ginger in some ways.

Galangal has been found to:

  • alleviate abdominal discomfort and pain
  • assist in digestion
  • remedy vomiting, seasickness and motion sickness
  • improve blood circulation in hands and feet
  • treat diarrhea
  • fight inflammation, thereby treating arthritis
  • treat ulcers and inflammation of the stomach
  • even cure the hiccups!

To Purchase Galangal: You will need to go to an Asian/Chinese grocery store.

Although you may be able to find fresh galangal in the produce section, it is most often sold frozen, so look for it in the freezer section. Galangal is also sold in dried form as a powder, usually called Laos Powder. But note that, as with most herbs and spices, buying the dried form means you may not receive all of the health benefits of using fresh. Also, the taste is very different.

To get a visual picture of what fresh galangal looks like, see my: Galangal Definition & Picture.

Note: If you can't find fresh galangal, fresh ginger makes a good substitute, and also provides many of the same health benefits.

Lemongrass

This fragrant lemony herb is used extensively in Thai cooking. It has also been used since ancient times in Chinese medicine for the following conditions:

  • flus and colds, which may be why Tom Yum Soup is so good at relieving cold & flu symptoms
  • fevers
  • headaches
  • abdominal pain and other stomach conditions
  • arthritis
  • fungal conditions

Want to learn how to buy, prepare, and cook with Lemongrass? Check out my All About Lemongrass Guide.

Coriander

In Thai cooking, coriander is used in two ways: in its seed form, and as a fresh herb. In the West, coriander is also known as "cilantro" or "Chinese parsley". While fresh coriander has nutritional value, coriander seed has been used since ancient times by healers in Greece, Rome, the UK, China, and India for the following complaints:

  • gastrointestinal trouble (including gas and bloating)
  • digestive problems
  • bacterial and fungal infections
  • loss of appetite

Chilies 

Recent human studies show that eating chillies helps you sleep better, keeps your heart healthy, and help maintain consistent insulin and glucose levels. Of all the chilies studied thus far, it seems cayenne pepper is one of the most powerful in terms of health benefits. Also, it's one of the few chilies which we use here in North America (available in flakes or powder in most grocery stores). 

Coconut Milk

In recent years, coconut milk has somehow been given a bad reputation when, in fact, it is extremely healthy. Yes, coconut milk and oil contain fat - but this is good, not bad fat. Contrary to what you might believe, coconut milk:

  • lowers bad cholesterol (LDL), while promoting good cholesterol
  • boosts immunity
  • modulates metabolic functions
  • provides valuable fatty acids which most people in the West are lacking
  • fights aging

To read more on the health benefits of coconut oil, see: The Health Benefits of Coconuts and Coconut Oil.

To cook with the above ingredients, try my Top 10 Best Thai Curry Recipes. Or, if you are vegetarian, see my Vegetarian Thai Food Recipes.