staying paleo in Japan

How does one remain paleo while traveling, particularly in Japan, where soy is such a huge part of the diet? From different types of tofu, soy sauce, etc. to soy beans in everything from green tea treats to donuts and bread, visitors are deluged with different ways to consume soy. Not a good idea for someone who espouses paleo and the belief that legumes are not a good thing to be eating—particularly if you are autoimmune like I am and are concerned about other possible GI problems with soy.

I bring a piece of paper written in Japanese and English which reads:

  • Due to medical reasons I have a very restricted diet. I can only eat vegetables, fruit and meat or chicken, which needs to be plain (without sauce, dressing, soy sauce etc). However, salt is fine. Thank you very much for helping.

Because we have traveled to Japan so frequently, we are pretty good at knowing what I can purchase and consume and what I can’t. If in doubt, however, the little cheat sheet comes out for the proprietor to read and render a decision.

If we’re eating out, we typically have a friend with us who speaks Japanese who may assist.

White rice is never a problem. No, I’m not supposed to eat much of it; no, it’s not paleo. It’s nutrient-poor and high glycemic index. In order to survive, however, I do consume it. It is guaranteed to be unadulterated in Japan. They take great pride in their wonderful, pristine, white rice.

Anything that has a sauce I avoid knowing it will contain soy sauce. I eat tons of salad, bacon, ham, sausage, and broiled chicken. I’ve been known to blanch vegetables in the hot-water kettle in our hotel room and wash lettuce in the bathroom. We shop daily for food items which is not a problem given that the basement level of all large shopping establishments, of which there are MANY, is devoted to prepared food and groceries. Purchasing broiled half-chickens with only salt is easy; plain teriyaki chicken skewers is easier and less messy. Even 7-11s carry pre-packaged cooked white rice in the prepared food section of the cooler; some even have a rice cooker on the back counter.

We always carry food with us. Because we take day trips and like to be spontaneous, we never know where we’ll end up or what will be available. As my father who is career military says, proper previous planning prevents piss poor performance. There have been occasions where we messed up. I didn’t put out the food items to be packed before the day’s journey in one case resulting in the consumption of some dried fruit. Another time we forgot to bring items because we had to catch an early shinkansen. Unfortunately the shinkansen had a delay in service while we were in it because of some unforeseen problem in the network’s operation. I can’t even begin to explain how rare it is to encounter train delays. We’ve been riding Japanese Railways since 2007. The first time we saw the boards at a station read, TRAIN DELAYED, was in Okayama. We were literally shocked. We’d never seen this or experienced it. The second and only other time, we, of course, were ON the shinkansen from Tokyo to Kyoto (roughly 2.5 hours) with no food for me. Whoops. When we arrived in Kyoto, we went to the first convenience store we knew of and purchased meat and lettuce.

extra credit:
10 Reasons to Avoid Eating Legumes

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