Pad Thai is synonymous with Thai cuisine – it's a popular Thai dish that's found at almost every Thai restaurant and loved globally. With its deliciously chewy stir-fried rice noodles with a tangy, umami sauce and creamy egg that is often mixed in, it's no wonder that Pad Thai is so popular. While pad thai is delicious, is pad thai healthy?
Pad Thai is a very unhealthy dish that is not ideal for getting fit given that it predominantly consists of carbs from the noodles and fats from the peanuts which drive up its calorie content. An average serving of Pad Thai can be up to 838 calories with 45 grams of fat, 46 grams of carbs, and 64 grams of protein.
However, you can still enjoy this dish with lower calories by portioning high-calorie ingredients mindfully and making some thoughtful ingredient choices that will make this conducive to a healthy diet.
💡 What’s In Pad Thai?
To understand the calorie and nutrition content of pad thai, it’s useful to look at the core ingredients that make up the dish. Pad Thai is made of five main components: protein, vegetables, stir fry sauce, noodles, and garnishes.
- Protein: Pad thai is often served with chicken, beef, pork, shrimp, and other seafood. It is often also topped with an egg, complementing the umami flavor of the stir-fry sauce. If your goal is to keep the calorie count low, using a lean protein such as the boneless skinless chicken thigh or chicken breast is ideal.
- Stir Fry Sauce: The sauce consists of a mixture of fish sauce, tamarind, sugar, oyster sauce, and soy sauce.
- Vegetables: Pad thai often has a medley of vegetables mixed in including but not limited to onions, garlic, or mushrooms. None will add a significant amount of calories to the dish.
- Noodles: The rice noodles are a vital part of this dish and carbs are a necessary part of a well-rounded diet. However, it's important to be mindful of portion size as carbs can easily add up calorie-wise.
- Garnishes: Pad thai is often topped with crushed peanuts, lime wedges, chili powder, and bean sprouts. Peanuts can easily add up in calories from fats – 1 ounce of peanuts has up to 161 calories! If your goal is to limit calorie intake, it's best to limit or omit this ingredient.
Looking at each component, it’s easy to see that Pad Thai can easily be made to be a high-calorie and high-fat dish if the protein and noodles are not chosen or portioned correctly, making it less than ideal for dieting purposes.
The good news is that it’s not hard to make a version of the dish that is low-calorie and macro-conscious — this recipe will show you some tweaks that will make a pad thai that will aid in your weight loss.
If you liked this recipe, check out the following:
- Healthy Thai Food – For some of my favorite recipes of healthy choices for traditional Thai food
- Healthy Pad Kee Mao – If you like spicy Thai noodles
- Thai Basil Chicken – A great Thai chicken and rice recipe
- Healthy Pad See Ew – For another Thai street food favorite
🍎 Calories and Nutrition – How To Make It Healthy
In this recipe, I use a heavier ratio of protein to make this a more healthy pad thai that is macro-friendly and calorie-conscious dish. Here are some key tweaks I made:
- Used 1 serving of rice noodles (about 50 grams) at 180 calories
- Portioned 4oz boneless, skinless chicken thigh for a lean protein source
- Added an egg for additional protein and deliciousness
- Added extra veggies for a more filling dish
- Carefully portioned the Pad Thai sauce ingredients using the measurements below
- Omitted tofu – tofu is undoubtedly a very healthy ingredient packed with protein – but to keep the recipe simple and low calorie, I opted to stick with just boneless skinless chicken thigh
- Kept the peanuts out – while they are undoubtedly a great addition to the dish, to keep calories low, I opted to leave them out.
For a detailed breakdown of each ingredient, their portioning, and how they make up the nutrition profile of this low-calorie pad thai recipe, you may refer to the table below:
|Healthy Chicken Pad Thai||Ingredient||Quantity||Calories||Protein (g)||Fat (g)||Carbs (g)|
|Chicken Thigh||4 oz||130||22||10||0|
|Rice Stick Noodle||50 g||182||3||0||42|
|Tamarind Paste||0.5 tbsp||20||0||0||5|
|Brown Sugar||1 tsp||17||0||0||4.5|
|Fish Sauce||0.5 tbsp||7.5||2||0||0|
|Oyster Sauce||0.5 tbsp||10||0||0||2.5|
📋 Ingredient Notes
Pad Thai Sauce Ingredients
- Tamarind Puree – Essential for the tangy flavor of an authentic pad thai
- Fish sauce – A keystone part of the pad thai sauce and Thai cooking in general. You can find this at your local grocery store or order online. My favorite is the Three Crabs brand
- Oyster Sauce – Another important ingredient for this dish. You can find it at most major grocery stores. You can also substitute it for soy sauce in a pinch
- Brown Sugar – I added only 1 teaspoon at only 15 calories, which helps balance out the sweetness. You can omit it if you’d prefer but it may be a bit overly salty
Note: If you don’t have Tamarind sauce, refer to the pad thai without tamarind sauce instructions below.
Noodles and Stir Fry
- Rice Noodles – The key base of the dish. This can be found in most grocery stores.
- Chicken Thigh – I prefer to use skinless boneless chicken thigh since it’s much juicier and still a great source of lean protein. You can also use chicken breast.
- Vegetables – I used garlic, onion, and mushrooms. You can also add spinach, carrots, or corn for a pleasing crunch.
- Egg – Gives this dish a great texture and additional protein
- Garnishes – Cilantro, lime/ lime juice, and chili powder are great to garnish the dish with and adjust the flavor. You can also use green onions if you'd prefer.
🥣 Pad Thai Without Tamarind
Tamarind can be a relatively hard-to-find ingredient with a higher price point. If you don’t have any lying around, you can substitute it with ketchup using the following sauce mixture.
- 1 teaspoon Ketchup
- 1 teaspoon Brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon Fish sauce
- ½ teaspoon Oyster Sauce
- ½ teaspoon Soy sauce
- ¼ teaspoon Soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon Rice vinegar
This variation is from Recipe Tin Eat's Pad Thai recipe, modified in portion size to be lower in calories.
📖 Substitutions and Variations
Shrimp pad thai – Use shrimp instead of chicken for another delicious lean protein source
Tofu pad thai – Use tofu for a vegetarian friendly option
Swap out Tamarind for ketchup – Substitute the ketchup-base sauce if you don't have tamarind
🔪 Step by Step Instructions
Begin by cooking the rice noodles according to the instructions on the package and set aside.
Gather all the ingredients for the pad thai sauce and stir together in a small bowl.
Prepare the vegetables by mincing the garlic and onion and slicing the mushrooms. Slice the scallions and set them aside for the end to garnish.
Cut the chicken thigh into small, bite-sized pieces, removing any excess fat in the process. Weigh it to ensure you have 4 ounces (or your preferred amount) of chicken after removing the excess fat. Season with salt and pepper.
Spray a skillet with cooking spray and sauté the vegetables. Begin to add in the chicken pieces in a single layer. Cook for about 3-4 minutes on each side while stirring the vegetables around constantly to avoid overcooking and burning anything.
Once the chicken looks about done and the vegetables have softened, add in the cooked rice noodles and the pad thai stir fry sauce. Mix everything together thoroughly.
Move the mixture to one side and crack in an egg on the other side. Wait for the egg to begin to solidify, then break the egg and mix it in with the noodles thoroughly.
Remove from pan, top with scallions, chili powder, and lime, and enjoy your delicious healthy chicken pad thai
💭 Frequently Asked Questions
Ketchup has a similarly tangy and sweet flavor compared to tamarind paste and is much easier to find at the average grocery store. A lot of restaurants use the same substitute as well. I know it sounds weird but just try it out – I promise it won't disappoint! I was skeptical about it my first time too until I tried it out.
The difference mainly lies in the stir fry sauce and the spices. Pad kee mao's sauce is heavier on the soy sauce. It also is cooked with Thai chilis and basil which gives it a unique and spicy kick to it. From a macros and calories point of view, Pad Kee Mao and Pad Thai are pretty similar, so it's a matter of your personal preference of whether you prefer something sweeter and mild (Pad Thai) vs. something with a kick (Pad Kee Mao)
Rice noodles are not unhealthy - 1 serving of them runs at about 180 calories so as long as they are portioned right, they can be a great carbohydrate to incorporate into your diet. You can buy rice noodles at your local Asian grocery store, although I've even begun to see them at most major grocery chains.
Pad thai can last in an airtight container in the fridge for 3-4 days. To reheat, microwave for about 1 minute or reheat on the stove.
Healthy Chicken Pad Thai
Pad Thai Sauce Ingredients
- 1 teaspoon Brown sugar
- 2 teaspoon Fish sauce
- 2 teaspoon Tamarind paste
- 1 teaspoon Oyster sauce
Pad Thai Noodles and Stir Fry
- 1 serving Rice noodles (50 grams)
- 4 oz Chicken thigh (Boneless, skinless)
- 1 clove Garlic
- ¼ Onion
- 1-2 Mushrooms (Sliced)
- 1 Egg
- Cilantro, lime, and chili flakes
- Begin by cooking the rice noodles according to the instructions on the package and set aside.
- Gather all the ingredients for the pad thai sauce and stir together in a small bowl.
- Prepare the vegetables by mincing the garlic and onion and slicing the mushrooms. Slice the scallions and set them aside for the end to garnish.
- Cut the chicken thigh into small, bite-sized pieces, removing any excess fat in the process. Weigh it to ensure you have 4 ounces (or your preferred amount) of chicken after removing the excess fat. Season with salt and pepper.
- Spray a skillet with cooking spray and sauté the vegetables. Begin to add in the chicken pieces in a single layer. Cook for about 3-4 minutes on each side while stirring the vegetables around consistently to avoid overcooking and burning anything.
- Once the chicken looks about done and the vegetables have softened, add in the cooked rice noodles and the pad thai stir fry sauce. Mix everything together thoroughly.
- Move the mixture to one side of the side and crack in an egg on the other side. Wait for the egg to begin to solidify, then break the egg and mix it in with the noodles thoroughly.
- Remove from pan, top with cilantro, chili powder, and lime, and enjoy your delicious healthy chicken pad thai!