What makes Thai food so healthy?
When freshly prepared, Thai cuisine is one of the healthiest foods you can eat. The nutritional benefits are due to the medicinal value of many ubiquitous ingredients, as well as the great variety of dishes to choose from that can contribute to a well-balanced diet. Here are some of those remarkable ingredients:
Galangal is a variant of ginger and, as such, shares many of its properties. Galangal is particularly well known for its effectiveness in relieving digestive problems and gastric disorders. It is also reputed to lessen pain and stiffness caused by arthritis. Frequently prescribed today by homeopaths, health care professionals and natural healers, it has been found effective as a remedy for the following ailments and conditions: indigestion, nausea (including motion sickness), ulcers and inflammation of the stomach, rheumatism, colds, flu and fevers, bad breath, diarrhea, poor blood circulation (especially in hands and feet) and tumors (anti-tumor effect has been observed in mice).
Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, is 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 antioxidant 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, alleviate arthritis, improve heart conditions, protect the body from bacterial infections (such as wounds and internally) and fight skin and breast cancers (as seen in animal studies).
Coconut milk and coconut oil is believed to assist in the lowering of LDL, a form of cholesterol which is harmful at high levels. It also helps to raise levels of more desirable fatty acids that the body needs in order to function optimally. Like coriander, coconut milk has immunity boosting properties and its components have shown the ability to inhibit some effects of aging.
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 the good kind, a type the body needs. Virgin coconut oil has antiviral, antibacterial, antimicrobial, and antiprotozoal properties and, like all whole foods, contains nutrients for a healthy body.
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.
To read more on coconut oil see:
A New Look at Coconut Oil by Mary G. Enig, Ph.D.
Research on the health benefits of coconuts and coconut oil
More research and references
Coriander is pervasive throughout Asia and is one of the most vital ingredients among most cuisines from that region. Like many of the other herbs used in Thai cooking, it is known to aid good digestion, and is reputed to encourage a strong immune system, thus helping to defend against common minor illnesses: gastrointestinal trouble (including gas and bloating), digestive problems, bacterial and fungal infections and loss of appetite.
Lemongrass is a fragrant, lemony herb that is used extensively in Thai cooking. It helps maintain good digestion and is used in traditional Chinese medicine as a treatment for colds and flu-like bugs. It has also been used since ancient times 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 and fungal conditions.
Recent human studies show that eating chilies helps you sleep better, keeps your heart healthy, and help maintain consistent insulin and glucose levels. Some researchers have also found positive impact on certain skin conditions, and on digestion.
Kaffir Lime Leaves
Kaffir lime leaves also have antioxidant properties. Kaffir is said to purify the blood and assist digestion, while promoting dental and oral health. Kaffir lime is one of the main flavors used in Thai cuisine.