From how its cooked, the healthy street food options available and what to look out for.
I have written in a number of articles in recent months about how street food has seen tremendous growth over the last 10 years or so. And as it becomes more mainstream people are asking a range of questions about its impact.
One important question, in particular, is, how healthy is street food? Well in short street food is a pretty healthy option, as there are such a wide range of street foods available, there is now something for everyone.
However, there are a few nuances and things you need to look out for which I will try and address in this article.
- Can street food be healthy?
- Why is street food healthy?
- Things to watch out for
- 13 healthy street food options
- Questions to ask your street food vendor
- Food labelling & nutritional information
Is street food healthy?
This is an important question as street food becomes mainstream and we as a society move towards being much more health conscious.
Just like the food industry in general, such as supermarkets and restaurants, it is a mixed picture in regards to healthy and unhealthy products. In some aisles, for example, you have fruit and veg, in other ice cream and cakes.
The same applies to the street food scene. Some food trucks and street food stalls sell ice cream and burgers and others sell juices, smoothies and plant-based alternatives (vegan food).
But in general, I would argue street food is a healthy offering. And in a lot of cases more so than products sold in the supermarket or some restaurants. And here’s why….
Why is street food healthy?
Gone are the days of greasy burger truck at the side of a highway. The street food industry is now much more diverse and sophisticated.
Sure there’s still the unhealthy options, but here are a number of reasons why street food can be good for you:
1. It’s cooked in front of you
There is no hiding how your food is prepared and cooked when it comes to street food. It is whipped up fresh right in front of you with fresh ingredients. It’s not prepackaged and sat on a shelf for days or loaded with additives or preservatives.
2. Better quality control
Most food trucks are small businesses and operate on a smaller scale. This often means quality control is easier to manage in regards to sourcing, preparing and cooking. And all of the traders I know take great pride in what they sell.
3. The vegan revolution
Vegan food has seen a massive increase in popularity over recent years as people look to reduce their meat consumption and for ethical reasons.
UK’s vegan meat alternative market is set to grow 25% in the next four years and in the US there has been an increase of 600% of people identifying themselves as vegan over the last 4 years.
A plant-based diet is often associated with being healthy. And Just like the food scene in general, there has been a big increase in vegan food traders in recent years.
4. Locally sourced
This might not be a health benefit as such, but it is definitely healthy for the environment. Most mobile food traders get their produce from other small local producer and sellers. This helps to reduce the carbon footprint by minimising air and road miles.
5. Compostable/biodegradable packaging
Most event and festival organisers now require all packaging to be biodegradable in order for food vendors to see their products. Again not an individual health benefit, but good for the planet.
Things to watch out for
You can turn a completely healthy ingredient into something quite unhealthy by the way it’s cooked and what else has been added to it. Some things to consider are:
- The type of oil used – Healthy oils, high in monounsaturated fats to look out for include, Light olive oil, rapeseed oil and sunflower oil.
- The amount of salt & sugar – The daily recommended allowance (RDA) for adults is 6g of salt (sodium), and 30g for sugar.
- Wash facilities – A food stall needs a separate basin for hand washing and the cleaning of utensils. So lookout for this.
So which street food is healthy?
Pretty much any type of food you can get in general from the supermarket, cafe or bars you can get at a food stall. The food truck and street food industry have also seen a big trend in vegan pop-ups in recent years. This means a lot of healthy options
Healthy street food options:
- Juice and smoothies
- Chickpea and vegetable curries
- Whole wheat bun, vegan hot dogs and burgers
- Ethiopian cuisine (the country has a tradition of vegetable foods)
- Falafel wraps and salad boxes
- Vietnamese Pho (spicy broth noodles with veg)
- Lean chicken breast wraps (these guys make it with fresh wraps)
- Whole wheat vegan pizza
- Fresh Sushi
- Corn on the cob
- Grilled fish
- Fresh fruit
- Smoothie bowls
Questions to ask your street food vendor
It’s important to know what we are putting in our bodies, so for extra peace of mind here is a few questions you can ask the street food vendor serving your food:
- What type of oil do you use? (if applicable)
- How fresh are the ingredients in today’s food?
- How much salt do you use?
- Are the ingredients locally sourced?
- Is your packaging biodegradable or compostable?
Street Food labelling and nutritional information
I understand a lot of people may find it hard to ask questions such as how fresh are the ingredients in your product. Or even for food vendor to know themselves how much salt or sugar is in their products.
It may be time, therefore, for some type of labelling of what is exactly in our food. Food traders, in the UK, have to by law, display food intolerance information.
No one likes more paperwork, but the next step and a solution to knowing how healthy your street really is, is to introduce nutritional information. Just like you see in products on the supermarket shelves with the amounts of sugar, fats, and salts.
In general street food is no more healthy or unhealthy than the food you get in supermarkets and restaurants. You have food that is bad for you (or bad in excess) and foods that are good for you. It also comes down to how the food is cooked (the oil, levels of salt &sugar etc.)
As street food becomes more sophisticated and diverse, so does the offering. This means there is now a lot of healthy options,due in part because of the vegan food trend; the fact that it is cooked in front of you; and better quality control.
Street food is here to stay, but as it changes the way we eat and becomes more a part of our lives it may be time to up the game and introduce some sort of nutritional information. This would give people more peace of mind of what they are eating and I think in the long run would probably be a positive for the street food industry.