We found that eating keto (low carb) in Thailand is easy. And after six weeks we left Thailand lighter than we arrived as a result.
Background on Our Eating Keto
To achieve this, we eventually adopted the ketogenic – or keto – way of eating.
We eliminated sugar from our diet and tried to keep our consumption of net carbs under 20 grams per day (we came to refer to this as our ‘wine allotment’). Made sure we got plenty of good fats at every meal: MCT or coconut oil in our morning tea (bulletproof tea!), avocado and/or olive oil at lunch and dinner.
We are NOT strict keto people – we don’t pee on ketostix to see if we are in ketosis, we don’t obsess about 20 gross carbs vs. 20 net carbs per day (this amounts to: we eat vegetables…a LOT)…in fact Lisa often says we are closer to South Beach than keto.
But I like saying we eat keto because I think South Beach is a stupid name for a way of eating. And saying ‘Low Carb and Sugar, High Good Fat and vegetables,’ while most accurate, is too much of a mouthful.
Anyway, whatever you want to call it, it worked! We each lost about 25 pounds before we launched as digital nomads and felt healthier than ever.
The 25 pound question was: could we keep this way of eating up as digital nomads?
Eating Keto in Thailand
When people think of Thai food generally the first things that come to mind are noodle and rice-based dishes like pad thai and Thai fried rice. Neither of us had eaten noodles or rice for 8 months before we arrived in Thailand.
By the time we left for Vietnam 6 weeks later we still hadn’t!
We learned that there is SO MUCH MORE to Thai food than noodles and rice. Especially northern Thai food!
First of all, chicken wings. Chicken wings are probably my favorite food in the world.
In my opinion, it should be illegal to put breading or batter on chicken wings. It turns them from a keto superfood into a gooey mess.
And the chicken wings in Thailand are TO DIE FOR! They are small and crispy but meaty. Fried in oil with no breading and sauce on the side.
Eating keto in Thailand is easy when the wings are this good.
We ate a LOT of these little suckers.
Green Curry…And Red!
In the US when you order a curry you can be pretty certain that the sauce includes a large helping of sugar.
In keto parlance it’s called secret or hidden sugar: sugar that you didn’t know you were eating but that makes you fat anyway.
But some reading and research gave us a level of confidence that Thais don’t generally dump sugar into their curry recipes the way American and even Europeans do.
The proof was in the curry. We tried a few and they don’t have the treacle sweetness that you get in curries in the west – they seem to mostly let the coconut do the sweetening.
And in any case, if there was a little sugar, well, we’re not strict keto anyway!
But remember: NO RICE! And sometimes you have to insist on no rice…but in a very nice way! Just eat it like soup! It’s better that way anyway.
Stir fry was also an easy keto go-to for eating keto in Thailand. It’s on just about every menu including many street food vendors. Typically done up in oyster sauce (more secret sugar!) but often just dry or in a soy-based sauce.
Typically Thai stir fry is mostly a plate of vegetables with just a small helping of protein.
We got a lot of sideways looks when we said we didn’t want rice with our stir fry dishes but we stuck to our guns!
Because we didn’t eat the rice we’d often order 3 of these to share between the two of us which worked out nicely and typically made for a $6US or so lunch.
Just like anywhere in the world, eating keto in Thailand involves lots of grilled meat. We found a variety of grilled meats on offer in Thailand.
The most common was meat (chicken, beef, pork) simply grilled on a bar-b-que. This was done both as street food and also in restaurants. On a stick, on a plate or in a plastic bag, it was all keto-rific pure protein and good fats.
A close second was Korean BBQ. Korean BBQ is ubiquitous all over Southeast Asia and it’s always a great way to eat keto. Korean BBQ pork belly done up crispy is our favorite.
We also had steaks a couple of times in Thailand. The quality was just so-so but sometimes you just want a steak and a glass of red wine, am I right!?
Our Favorites: Northern Thai Sausage (Sai Ua) and Northern Thai Tomato and Meat Dip (Nam Prik Ong)
Other than chicken wings, for me, there is nothing better than northern Thai sausage. It was my favorite thing to eat in Thailand.
As with most sausages you don’t want to think TOO much about what goes into Sai Ua – although our friends at Authentic Food Quest did more than think about it: they learned how to make it themselves!
But sugar is so low on the list of ingredients of Sai Ua sausage as to be de minimis.
Oh, but the taste! Spicy and tart with a perfect consistency. I ate so much Sai Ua in Thailand. So, so much!
Lisa’s favorite by far is northern Thai Tomato and meat dip.
If Nam Prik Ong contains sugar it likely comes from the tomato sauce.
Again, in Thailand they simply don’t dump sugar into recipes as is done in the Americas and Europe.
And in any case the dip is served with an array of fresh vegetables that usually includes cabbage which is Lisa’s absolute favorite.
We had quite a few nam prik ongs as a side-dish at meals.
Keto Snacks in Thailand
One of the wonderful things about eating keto is that the desire for snacking all but disappears. Since our bodies are burning fat rather than sugar and carbs we aren’t constantly craving more sugar and more empty carbs to burn.
So we typically don’t even think about snacking.
But sometimes we do find we’d like something to nosh on in the evening or with a glass of wine at night.
Luckily in Thailand pork rinds are a go-to snack, and pork rinds are pretty much an awesome keto food: crunchy, low in calories and no sugar or carbs at all.
We tried some street food pork rinds, but the core of them were a bit chewy which we didn’t like. So we mostly stuck with the packaged variety which were available at Tesco Lotus and 7-11.
In addition to the pork rinds, pistachios were readily available as were almonds and other nuts.
We even found dill pickles – another keto superfood – at a couple of larger supermarkets catering to tourists and expats.
Finding keto snacks in Thailand was easy.
The Key to Eating Keto in Thailand
Eating keto in Thailand requires a few simple things:
- Try not to sweat the secret/hidden sugar: when you are not cooking for yourself you are going to end up getting some hidden sugar. Just accept that and be comforted that it’s a LOT less hidden sugar than you would be getting in the US or Europe.
- Keep it simple: grilled meats or stir fry without sauces are always a great keto option no matter where you are in the world.
- Chicken wings! My personal keto go-to and they do them really, really well in Thailand.
The Scale Doesn’t Lie
The serviced apartment where we lived in Chiang Mai had a gym with a scale, so let’s put some metrics to eating keto in Thailand!
When we launched as digital nomads in January I weighed 81.74 kilos (180.2 lbs).
After a month in Thailand I weighed 81.6 kilos (179.8 lbs).
When we left Thailand in March I weighed 80.8 kilos (178 lbs).
Not only did we successfully maintain our weight eating keto in Thailand, we actually LOST weight!
Lisa actually lost a little more than I did! I am not allowed to share her numbers here, but I AM allowed to tell you that she’s wearing a bikini again for the first time in a long time!
In keto parlance that’s called an NSV: non-scale victory!