10 things you should never order from a Thai restaurant

Chinese takeout food is often thought of as greasy, heavy, and unhealthy, while Thai seems like a lighter Asian alternative. In many cases, this vague notion is probably accurate. Sure, the peanut sauce served at Thai eateries is a more natural and flavorful choice than chemically loaded duck sauces. Yes, aromatic tom yum soup probably does contain less sodium than salty egg drop or wonton soups. Brighter and fresher seasonings like lemongrass and cilantro may seem slightly better for you, too — certainly so compared to MSG.

We love Thai food as much as the next spice-seeking ethnic food fiends, but we should also warn you about the not-so-good-for-you menu options. Unless you've eaten copious amounts of Thai dishes over your lifetime, you may find yourself falling victim to the oily, artery-clogging choices available. Spoiler alert: "Pla" in the name of a dish indicates that some element of it has been luxuriously fried in oil. For starters, steer clear of the deep-fry trap.

Fried Thai rolls

High in fat and needless calories, fried Thai rolls are no friend of healthy diets. Like the spring rolls you would find on Chinese and Vietnamese menus, this oily deep-fried appetizer gets your meal started on the wrong foot. Deep frying foods in saturated and sometimes trans fats greatly increases your risk for high cholesterol and heart disease.

If you're looking for a healthier alternative to Thai rolls, try ordering a plate of fresh summer rolls, which consist of veggies or seafood enclosed in soft, delicate rice paper. No frying means you can enjoy the fresh flavors of authentic Thai food minus the guilt and potential heart attack.

Dishes with coconut milk

Many Thai dishes you're likely to encounter on a typical Thai eatery menu are made using coconut milk, especially the curry selection. Since coconut milk is high in saturated fatty acids that can lead to high cholesterol, it should be consumed in moderation. As many Thai main dishes and curries are made rich and creamy by mostly coconut milk, they may not be the best options when you're dining out. They're heavy stomach-sinkers for sure.

Instead of fatty, coconut milk-based dishes, try ordering boldly flavored stir-fry specialties. They're a perfect way to enjoy all the vibrancy of Thai cooking through tasting fresh ingredients and balanced spices instead of weighing down your experience with milky curries. A universal favorite and street food classic? Irresistible Thai basil pork stir-fry (ga prao moo gai daao) is made with a special purplish variety of basil that boasts spicy, clove-like flavor.

Tom kha gai

Like the curries, this traditional Thai soup is made using coconut milk. While it's a deliciously creamy soup with bright flavor, its high saturated fat content from coconut milk rules it out as a healthy option. If you must have it, we suggest sharing the order with a friend. This way you cut down on the fat intake while also leaving room for more food to come.

For a lighter option, try going with tom yam goong, which is a broth-based soup. Hot, sour, and absolutely invigorating, this soup will awaken your taste buds and whet your appetite for what's to come without filling you up too much. The sharp, vibrant flavors are traditional Thai ones that make going out to eat a treat.

Thai green curry chicken

This traditional green curry (gaeng keow wan gai) is cooked with mostly coconut milk, making it another poor choice if you're looking to enjoy lighter fare. Moreover, the addition of fried chicken pieces loads this dish with even more fat and calories. You're probably not looking to wipe out your entire day's recommended calorie intake in one sitting.

Instead, check out nuea pad prik, a delightfully spicy dish of stir-fried beef tenderloin. I love the balance of meat to fresh chilis and bell peppers. It's a study in why Thai food is so comforting to eat. You'll be able to happily smell the dish coming your way as your waiter heads toward the table.

Gaeng ped gai

This red curry is another heavy coconut-based dish — laden with pieces of fried chicken this time. While there is momentary satisfaction to be had in ordering this, it never lasts long. Soon afterward, you're left wondering why you hunkered down and devoured 4 cups of coconut milk and poultry bathed in oil.

Skip the curries altogether and go for the tried-and-true Thai restaurant favorite: pad Thai. This beloved dish of stir-fried flat noodles is a fan favorite and the one you should consider ordering for the table to share. Tender rice noodles are harmoniously tossed with egg, peanuts, garlic, spices, and bean sprouts. You can add your desired protein, whether it be shrimp, veggies, beef, or chicken. The result is a dish of complex layers of flavor that never disappoint.

Fried rice

This may be one you reach for, just because of the familiarity of its name, but Thai fried rice is just as bad for you as the Chinese version. High in fat content and calories, it is a dish defined by its greasy nature. With all the other delectable dishes at the table, you definitely don't want to get too full on oily rice. Not worth it.

If you absolutely require some rice to go with your meat and vegetable dishes, order a side of steamed rice instead. Its soft, tender grains complement the other flavors without competing with them, appropriately making it an accompaniment and not the main attraction.

Gluay kaeg

Gluay kaeg is a dessert dish of fried bananas that's commonly sold as a street food in Thailand. While it sounds like something enticing and maybe even healthy (hey, it's fruit!), you should avoid ordering this since it's loaded with sugar and is impossibly oily. Many actually find it too cloyingly sweet to enjoy more than one or two bites of.

If dessert is nonnegotiable for you, we feel you big time. Try ordering khao neow kaew instead. This sweet sticky rice hits the spot without clobbering you over the head with its sweetness. Its unique texture and subtle flavor will get you every time.

Pla lard prik

This traditional dish consists of fried whole fish served with sweet and sour tamarind sauce. While it makes an impressive arrival at the table, this specialty isn't the best choice if you're looking for lighter fare. The oily fish combined with sugar-laden sauce negates any benefits of eating fish to begin with.

For similarly bold and pungent flavors minus the oiliness, you should try ordering any one of the Thai satays available on the menu. These skewers of marinated beef, chicken, shrimp, or pork are grilled for unbeatable smoky flavor. Tender and moist, they are usually served with tasty dipping sauces to boot.

Thai iced tea

Sure, drinking tea has its natural health benefits, but those are pretty much negated when you order a Thai iced tea. Made with an unseemly amount of sweetened condensed milk and granulated sugar, this classic restaurant beverage is loaded with sugar. Drink this at your own risk, as this thirst-quenching option will certainly cause your blood sugar levels to rise.

When you eat out at Thai (or Chinese) restaurants, it's usually a good idea to stick with water since there's a good chance you'll be consuming way more than enough calories with the food alone. Besides, a cold glass of water is as refreshing as it gets, in our humble opinion.

Coconut ice cream

Ice cream is a favorite food for may, but there's a good chance you won't enough space for a full serving of it after enjoying an entire meal at a Thai restaurant. Creamy and decadent, it's perfect as a standalone treat but can be kind of heavy, sugary, and fatty after a night of dining out. And as with other coconut dishes at Thai places, this one is no healthier.

Instead of ice cream, try ordering a fruit sorbet. Most Thai establishments include an assortment of fruit-flavored options that taste like a cross between ice cream and icy granita. This is a great compromise because it's close enough to ice cream to fool you, along with the benefit of being joyfully refreshing.

Follow these tips, and there is no doubt you'll be able to seamlessly navigate any Thai menu that lands in front of you, successfully avoiding all of the unhealthy landmines. That said, I'm also a believer in indulging a little. If there's anything deep-fried, sugary, or loaded with coconut milk that you do want to try, go for it! Maybe you can share it with the table.