Is Thai food healthier than Chinese food? (9+ benefits of Asian cuisine)

In this article, we answer the following question: Is Thai food healthier than Chinese food? We also describe the Asian cuisine and its nutritional value.

Is Thai food healthier than Chinese food?

Thai food is not necessarily healthier than Chinese food, but it doesn’t mean that the latter is better in terms of nutrition. In both kitchens, you can eat dishes that are as healthy as they are recommended and surprise your palate!

Rice is a typical food item in all Asian cuisine. Eleven countries of Asia contribute about 87% to the total global rice production. The export of eight of these countries constitutes about 35% of the global rice export (1).

Chinese cuisine contributed to the use of chopsticks and soy sauce. As a curiosity, due to the Buddhist religion, it was always vegetarian until, in the 19th century, it began to incorporate ingredients such as meat or fish. There are 4 major regional cuisines in China: Sichuan Cuisine, Shandong cuisine, Cantonese cuisine and Jiangsu cuisine. It was demonstrated that there are significant differences in the frequency, amount of food intake, and dietary patterns among the 4 cuisines. Due to the different original food ingredients, cooking methods, flavoring additives, and nutritional characteristics, health effects of regional cuisines may be different (3).

There is a variety of dishes in Sichuan cuisine with abundant nutritional values, For example, spicy diced chicken with peanuts, mapo tofu (stir-fried tofu in hot sauce), and fish filets in hot chili oil are rich in protein and fat; Sichuan Dandan noodles with peppery sauce are very rich in carbohydrates; some Sichuan cuisine are rich in vitamins, minerals, water, and dietary fiber. Nutrition in Sichuan cuisine is helpful to maintain the survival, growth of body, and normal physical activity. In addition, there are many fungus food containing phytochemicals, such as fungi polysaccharides, which are beneficial for health. 

Aquatic products, soy products, bamboo shoots, fungi, and fresh vegetables are commonly consumed in Jiangsu and Zhejiang cuisine. Aquatic products are major source of polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA), vitamins (vitamin A and D), and minerals (zinc, selenium, iron, and iodine). Studies demonstrated that adequate fish intake may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke and reduce the risk of dementia and cognitive dysfunction and age-related macular degeneration. Soy products are good source of high-quality protein, essential fatty acid, vitamin E, and phytochemicals (isoflavones, phytosterols, and saponins). It has been suggested that sufficient legume and legume product consumption may reduce the risk of breast cancer, osteoporosis, lung cancer, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, obesity, prostate cancer, colon cancer, and gastric cancer. 

Shandong cuisine is well known for its variety of seafood, including scallop, prawn/shrimp, clam, sea cucumber, and algal food. Seafood is rich in high-quality protein, unsaturated fatty acids (its impacts on health have been mentioned), and minerals, such as iodine and sodium (its impacts on health have been mentioned). Adequate consumption with shellfish was probably associated with lower incidence of cardiovascular events, type 2 diabetes mellitus, thyroid carcinoma, and prostatic carcinoma, but a higher incidence of hyperuricemia. Algae consumption reduces the risk of diabetes and thyroid carcinoma and is beneficial for maintaining normal blood pressure. 

Soups are given much emphasis in Cantonese cuisine and cooked using chicken, duck, pork, and other raw ingredients with/without Chinese herbs according to the different seasons. Unlike other Chinese cuisines, soup was usually served before a meal. Soup may also contribute to total fluid intake for maintaining adequate hydration. In addition, the soup added with Chinese herbal medicines also has some health benefits according to the specific components. People in Guangzhou also like to eat fish, which contains beneficial unsaturated fatty acids (its impacts on health have been mentioned). Drinking tea and eating dim sums have been a tradition among Cantonese people. Adequate drinking of tea reduces the risk of diabetes, cerebral apoplexy, cardiovascular diseases, ovarian cancer, and gastric cancer (3).

Meanwhile, Thai food is influenced by the balance between flavors. In general, each dish has to have a spicy touch, a sweet one, a bitter one, and a salty one. It is not true that all Thai food is too spicy. However, it must be recognized that thanks to this characteristic, it is much healthier due to the beneficial effects of these ingredients on the digestive and respiratory system.

Thailand is a Southeast Asian Country. Perhaps the most distinguishing characteristics of Southeast Asian diet are the abundance of seafood and fruits and vegetables, and the liberal use of herbs and spices. Fish is considered the healthiest source of protein, made even more nutritious when it contains ω–3 and ω–6 fatty acids. Fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber, and the nutritionally extremely important phytochemicals. Spices enhance the flavor and taste of the food, but also add nutritional and medicinal value to the dishes because of their biologically active phytochemicals. Generally, food of Southeast Asia is considered healthy as evidenced largely by the much lower incidence of acute obesity and cardiovascular disease as compared with the West. Thai cuisine is, however, strongly influenced by Chinese cuisine (2).

Another difference between Chinese and Thai food is the total absence in the first of nuts, except for peanuts in the Sichuan and Shandong cuisines (4). In the second, it is common to use coconutgrated cashews or peanuts to give a different and very personal touch to each dish. Therefore, it can be deduced that from the trunk of Chinese gastronomy comes the branch of Thai.

The use of different ingredients and the commitment to exploring the different taste nuances allow us to enjoy each bite in a big way, achieving an unforgettable taste experience.

The nutritional benefits of Asian food

1. A staple food with multiple benefits

The staple food for about half of the world’s population, rice has been cultivated for millennia in Asia. It appears that 23% of all calories consumed in the world come from this cereal (6).

According to several epidemiological studies, the consumption of whole grains such as rice may reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and certain cancers. It is the fibers, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals in rice that would provide these benefits (4).

However, most of the grains consumed in Asia are refined grains, which may associated to higher risks of diabetes and other metabolic abnormalities (5).

2. The curative and preventive properties of spices

Curry, turmeric, ginger, and other spices found in Asian cuisine help enhance dishes and flavor.

Taste, smell, and even sight are involved, to the delight of our taste buds. Our senses are thus developed, and our body benefits from the many curative virtues of Asian spices that facilitate digestion, reduce inflammation, etc (10).

3. Healthy cooking

Among the different cookings of Asian cuisine, we find that in the wok. This is particularly suitable for vegetables since it preserves their crunchiness and flavor and their vitamins.

Cooked in very little fat and short time, the foods thus retain all their nutritional benefits over high heat. A study showed that from the perspective of nutrition and health, stir-frying is the best cooking method to use when cooking bamboo shoot (7).

4. Interesting proteins

The combination of grains with legumes found in Asian food provides an impressive protein intake.

It reduces the amount of protein of animal origin and offers a real source of energy. Besides, legumes not only contain essential minerals (zinc, selenium, iron, and iodine) but also do not contain saturated fatty acids.

5. The kitchen of the centenarians

Japanese cuisine is renowned for being incredibly balanced and healthy. Don’t we say Okinawa Island is the “Island of Centenarians”?

With its famous sushi, the Japanese diet gives pride of place to seafood (seaweed, fish). They are an essential source of omega 3, essential fatty acids in the proper functioning of cardiovascular and brain systems (8).

6. An antioxidant drink

Tea is the quintessential Asian drink. It indeed has both taste and thirst-quenching properties. Dried and then infused in boiling water, tea leaves have digestive and antioxidant properties.

There are different kinds of tea (green, black, white, Oolong, Rooibos …), but it is to green tea that we grant the most significant antioxidant power., which can be up to four times greater than that of vitamin C. Studies show that one or two cups of tea would provide a similar amount of antioxidant capacity as five portions of fruits and vegetables or 400 mg vitamin C equivalents. This would be comparable to two capsules (200 mg) of vitamin C (9).

7. Complete and balanced dishes

Ramen, Bo Bun, Pad Thai, and other Asian dishes have the advantage of offering taste properties and nutritional value. They are complete dishes that combine various nutrients (proteins, fats, and carbohydrates) while remaining healthy with moderate calorie intake.

8. Use of vegetable oil

One of the other cooking methods in Asian cuisine is deep frying. Foods like shrimp cakes or spring rolls are tossed in boiling vegetable oil.

Although it is not recommended to consume fried food daily, cooking in vegetable oil is still beneficial for your health. It is indeed rich in fatty acids essential for our nutritional balance. Also, the oil has the advantage of not being a cholesterol source, unlike fats of animal origin.

9. A diet rich in fiber

Fruits and vegetables are present in Asian food. It offers a diet rich in raw vegetables. These fibers help promote intestinal transit. They also have the particularity of reducing the speed of digestion and thus improve the feeling of satiety.

10. Gluten-free cuisine!

More and more people are gluten intolerant and need to switch to a diet with low amounts of free of wheat, barley, and rye.

Asian cuisine’s value is evident since its staple food is rice, a cereal that does not contain gluten. Without being allergic to it, avoiding consuming gluten can be recommended for people with fragile intestines.

Other FAQs about Thai Food which you may be interested in.

Why does Thai food smell bad?

The bottom line

In this article, we answered the following question: Is Thai food healthier than Chinese food? We also described the Asian cuisine and its nutritional value.

The bottom line is that many consider Thai cuisine healthier than Chinese food, due to the beneficial effects of these ingredients on the digestive and respiratory system. However, in both Thai and Chinese cuisine, you can eat healthy meals or less healthy meals. The choice is yours!

If you have any questions or comments on the content, please let us know.

References

  1. Bandumula, Nirmala. Rice production in Asia: Key to global food security. Proceed Nat Acad Sci Indian B Biol Sci, 2018, 88, 1323-1328.
  2. Ooraikul, Buncha, Anchalee Sirichote, and Sunisa Siripongvutikorn. Southeast Asian diets and health promotion. Wild-type food in health promotion and disease prevention. Humana Press, 2008. 515-533.
  3. Zhang, Na, and Guansheng Ma. Nutritional characteristics and health effects of regional cuisines in China. J Ethnic Foods, 2020, 7, 1-10.  
  4. Aune D, Keum N, Giovannucci E, et al. Whole grain consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and all cause and cause specific mortality: systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies. BMJ, 2016, 353, i2716.
  5. Dixit AA, Azar KM, Gardner CD, Palaniappan LP. Incorporation of whole, ancient grains into a modern Asian Indian diet to reduce the burden of chronic disease. Nutr Rev. 2011, 69, 479-488.
  6. Khush, Gurdv. Productivity improvements in rice. Nutr rev, 2003,1, S114-S116.
  7. Zhang, Jin-jie, et al. Effect of three cooking methods on nutrient components and antioxidant capacities of bamboo shoot (Phyllostachys praecox CD Chu et CS Chao). J Zhejiang Univ Sci, 2011, 12, 752-759.
  8. Deckelbaum, Richard J., and Claudia Torrejon. The omega-3 fatty acid nutritional landscape: health benefits and sources. J nutr, 2012, 142, 587S-591S.
  9. du Toit, René, Yolanda Volsteedt, and Zeno Apostolides. Comparison of the antioxidant content of fruits, vegetables and teas measured as vitamin C equivalents. Toxicol, 2001, 166,  63-69.
  10. Sachan, A. K., et al. Medicinal uses of spices used in our traditional culture: Worldwide. J Med Plants Stud, 2018, 6, 116-122.