The Health Benefits of More Thai Vegetables
by Brian S.
In a 2012 survey, Thai cuisine was voted the world’s second best food right behind that of Italy and just ahead of Indian. In 2013, a Facebook poll of the top 10 foods of the world trumpeted that Thai food placed eighth, right in front of that of Mexico and directly behind Greek. The reason for this is the combination of unfamiliar herbs, spices and vegetables that are needed to create Thai cuisines complex flavours. What most eaters of Thai victuals don’t know is that Thai food also routinely turns up on most, if not all of the top 10 lists that are devoted to the healthiest global cuisines. The reason for this is also because of the many unknown Thai ingredients…especially the vegetables. If you flip through any Thai cookbook, you’ll encounter a number of unusual Asian and Thai veggies that add an incredible amount of flavour to your favourite Thai dish. These veggies also provide a remarkable number of nutrients that benefit your entire body. Some of the most common Thai vegetables and the nutrients they provide are as follows:
Baby Corn or Khao Pod: Baby corn is not the product of a dwarf corn stalk. It is, in fact, just a wee ear of corn that’s been harvested when the ear was just nine to 10 centimetres long. Sometimes referred to as “candle corn” in Thailand, baby corn is typically found mixed with other vegetables in a host of Thai stir-fries. At just 25 calories per half-cup, baby corn carries significantly fewer calories compared to the 80 calories found in a half-cup serving of regular corn kernels. It’s also low in carbohydrates and high in fiber. It contains plenty of protein and no fat. It also provides a significant amount of vitamin A, B6, and C, as well as iron, folate, calcium and potassium.
Cucumber or Dtaeng Gwaa: Besides being the quintessential garnish that accompanies nearly every Thai dish, cucumbers—whether the conventionally-sized phak tam leung or of the miniature variety known as the “pickle” or dtaeng gwaah—are one of the best foods for your body’s overall health. The world’s fourth most-cultivated vegetable is loaded with B complex vitamins and is therefore an excellent alternative to caffeine-laced coffee, sodas and energy drinks when you need a quick pick-me-up. Because a cucumber is 95 per cent water and loaded with dietary fiber, it helps to keep your body hydrated, eliminates harmful toxins, aids digestion and makes it ideal to consume if you wish to lose weight.
Cucumbers contain most of the vitamins and minerals that the body needs in a single day, including: A, B1, B6, C and D, folate, calcium, magnesium and potassium. It’s best if you leave the skin on as that’s where majority of the vitamin C resides. Cucumbers also contain a number of natural chemicals that are known to reduce the risk of several cancer types, cure diabetes by raising pancreatic insulin levels, reduce high cholesterol, promote healthy joints, relieve gout and arthritis pain by lowering uric acid levels and regulate both low and high blood pressure. If that’s not enough, the skin from a cucumber can be used to treat minor skin irritations such as sunburns and rashes. A slice of cucumber pressed onto the roof of your mouth for thirty seconds is said to kill the bacteria that causes bad breath. Finally, eating a few cucumber slices before retiring after an evening of binge drinking will help replenish the sugars, electrolytes and B vitamins destroyed by the alcohol, thus reducing the intensity of a potential hangover.
Onion or Hŏm Yài: Native to Asia, onions are one of Thai cuisines most common ingredients. Despite the fact that an onion may bring a tear to your eye, slicing one is well worth the discomfort because it contains no cholesterol or fat, very little sugar, and is low in calories and high in nutrients like vitamins B6 and C, as well as minerals such as manganese, calcium, iron, folate, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and sulfur. A brief look at the health-promoting effects of this sulfur compound-rich vegetable reads like some kind of miracle cure. A steady diet of onions, especially in their raw form, encourages the production of good cholesterol and reduces the risk of a heart attack. Onions are known to increase one’s bone density and are especially beneficial to women of menopausal age who are most prone to the loss of bone density. Due to a certain compound present in the onion, consuming them two or more times per week has proven to significantly lower the risk of a variety of cancers. The sulfur compounds inside an onion, in addition to being the source of this root vegetables pungent aroma, is the reason why the onion is effective at relieving joint pain, reducing inflammation and preventing bacterial infections. If you get stung by a honeybee, an application of onion juice will provide immediate relief from both the pain and the burning sensation!
Tomato or Má-kĕua Tâyt: Although the tomato is not generally regarded as a Thai vegetable, it shows up in enough Thai stir-fries and salads that it qualifies as a de-facto Thai veggie. Strictly speaking, the tomato is a fruit according to the Oxford English Dictionary because it contains seeds. In culinary terms, however, it’s commonly referred to as a vegetable. Be that as it may, some 200 years ago the tomato was considered to be poisonous, and therefore inedible! Today, the tomato is thought of as a “functional food”, or a food that goes above and beyond basic nutrition as the tomato delivers numerous other health benefits.
According to the people who know about these things, one medium tomato holds 22 calories, zero grams of fat, one gram of protein and five grams of carbohydrates, which includes one gram of fiber and three grams of sugar. The same tomato is also a rich source for vitamins A and C, as well as folic acid. The functional food part comes in the form of various compounds that are collectively known as “phytochemicals”. These phytochemicals help your body convert glucose into energy, improve: your sleep, muscle movement, learning ability and memory, as well as preserve your brain and nerve tissue. In addition, tomatoes protect against cancer, promote heart health, prevent constipation and fight depression by preventing harmful compounds from forming, which would otherwise restrict the flow of nutrients and blood to the brain.
Thai Eggplant or Má-kĕua: Thai eggplants come in several varieties: round and slightly larger than a ping-pong ball, with lavender and green stripes; long, thin and green; long, thin and purple; round or bulbous and purple; and orange, red, purple or green in colour, and about the size of a small grape. Regardless of their physical attributes, eggplant is often present in Thai salads, soups, curries and stews. Unable to boast about its puny content of vitamin A and C, the eggplant’s substantial mineral content of calcium, magnesium, potassium, and phosphorus are worth mentioning. Other nutritional merits of the eggplant are its high fiber content, extremely low calorie count and its practically non-existent fat and sodium levels. Eggplant contains a phytochemical which prohibits the growth of cancer cells. It’s high in amino acids, which have the ability to reduce anxiety and improve sleep. The antioxidants found in the eggplant’s skin will protect against the premature aging of the skin, cardiovascular disease, and lowers the physical effects of emotional stress. It has also been shown that the large amount of potassium present helps prevent gum disease and maintain a healthy blood pressure.
Yard-Long Bean or Tùa Fàk Yaao: The yard-long bean, which is sometimes known as the Chinese snake bean, is a close relative of the black-eyed pea. The yard-long pods are, in actuality, legumes and are presumed to have originated in the Chinese province of Yunnan. Chewy, flavourful and crunchier than what passes for a normal bean, tùa fàk yaao is a common ingredient in Thai curries, stir-fries, and Som Tam salad—the signature salad of Siam. Yard-long beans are also very low in calories, rich in vitamin C and an excellent source of vitamin A, which is needed to maintain mucus membrane integrity, enhance skin complexion and improve night vision. In addition, long beans are considered to be one of the best sources of folates and they provide average amounts of iron, copper, manganese, calcium and magnesium. Because the entire pod is consumed, this particular legume is an excellent source of dietary fiber.