Kimchi: Is it paleo?

kimchi

I wish every day could be Kimchi Festival  …

Stinky fermented vegetables? Yum yum gimme some. Kimchi is a divisive food. Not only is it a cornerstone of Korean cuisine (and inescapable in Korean food), it’s dearly beloved by many — including me — who would have a tough time explaining what they find so appealing about pickled and fermented cabbage.

But it’s just so great.

However, before we eat it, let’s ask: Is kimchi paleo?

My concern isn’t about the nutritional profile of the finished product. I don’t obsess about gut flora or antinutrients or any of that stuff that so bothers a lot of paleo types. I just want to eat foods that we consumed before the invention of agriculture because I reckon it’s a good bet we’re well-adapted to them. When I decide whether I can eat something, what I want to know is whether it’s made from foods that are part of the pre-agricultural human diet.

On the con side of the argument, kimchi is typically made with vinegar and salt as ingredients, neither of which do I consider caveman cuisine.

However, most paleo peeps seem OK with kimchi. Primal guru Mark Sisson is clearly on Team Kimchi, offering this recipe, which includes a great deal of salt — and optional fermented shrimp (mmm?).

The fact that kimchi is fermented is a non issue, according to Jennifer Higgins of Paleo Food List. She argues (without sources, but sensibly) that:

Eating scavenged food including fallen fruits, nuts, and carcasses absolutely guarantees a steady supply of fermented foods covered in wild yeasts.”

Another way of looking at her reasoning is that a hunter-gatherer would have a tough time not eating fermented food. Good point.

Also counting in kimchi’s favour: We know for a fact that hunter-gatherers eat fermented meat and fish — the Inuit being particularly fond.

Meanwhile, Higgins gives us food for thought on the salt issue has as well. She points out that salt can be good, solid hunter-gatherer fare. To wit (and please forgive the long quote):

Other “Paleo experts” are certain that salt should be excluded on a Paleo diet.  However, they forget that if Paleo Person was near the sea they engaged in practises like cooking in sea water and eating sea weed, thus providing concentrated sources of salty minerals.  If Paleo Person was not a coastal dweller they most certainly drank the blood of the animals that they killed, another concentrated source of salty minerals.  Eating bones and sprinkling salt-rich clay minerals are other hunter-gatherer practises that address a physiologic need for salt.  Wild foraged greens are a vastly more concentrated sources of salty minerals than supermarket lettuce. 

And notwithstanding all that, I should note that many of the kimchi brands available to me in Toronto are actually quite reasonable vis à vis sodium content.

 In the end, my verdict is that kimchi is a suitable food for occasional paleo consumption. I don’t know that the added salt and the forward planning required represent true hunter-gatherer eating practices, but I also very much doubt that a little kimchi here or there will throw one off the paleo path.

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New cave mission: Dark after dusk

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I haven’t been as active on this blog lately, but rest assured I have been cavemanning. And I feel great for it.

Well, I haven’t felt equally great at all times. I had a spot of difficulty earlier when I was sick with something that seemed likely to be the nasty norovirus that has hit Canada and the U.K. this winter. You do not want me to describe it. How does a caveman cope with illness? With plenty of juice, plus plenty of the only soup I could find without weird ingredients and a ton of added salt. I forget the brand name but I’ll post it later. It was the tomato and leek.

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Oh, and lots of tea and television.

Which brings me to the reason for this post: To announce my mission for March. All this month, I’ll be dimming the artificial light as of dusk. Continue reading

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Every caveman must get stoned

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Just like the last time I gave up booze for the sake of the paleo diet, I’ve been finding it annoying to forsake the hooch. Merely denying oneself a pleasure for the sake of a grander plan can be a drag. Meanwhile, being around drunk people while you’re sober is universally understood to be aggravating, and that has happened a few times.

However, it’s not challenging from a willpower point of view. I hope my mom is reading: I’m not addicted or emotionally dependent on alcohol. It’s not as if I’m being tortured by visions of dancing whisky bottles or anything. The other thing making this easier is the fact that I allowed myself to have drinks when it was necessary for work, which has come up a handful of times. So I’ve not been completely dry.

Which is a good thing, because as a guy who writes about drinks for a living, temptation surrounds me. I have roughly 180 to 200 bottles of booze in my place at any given time, and I’m continually sent new ones to sample and review. Continue reading

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Cave condiments

Condiments

Paleo dieting can be dreary if you don’t take care to season your food with some extra flavour. Hunter-gatherers don’t, or so I gather, but they don’t grow up with Heinz the way we did.

So while I’m sticking pretty closely to the Stone Age in my eating habits this month, I couldn’t resist Kozlik’s horseradish for this bison steak and an eensy smear of Jamie Oliver’s Walnut and Red Pepper Pesto for my tuna and avocado salad. After all, I’m a big lover of toppings and sauces; someone once called my fridge “the condiment castle.” Old habits, et cetera.

The problem: Ordinary, store-bought condiments are typically laden with paleo no-nos: dairy, added sugar and salt, unpronounceable ingredients. I knew this when I gave myself permission to eat an occasional glob of condiments to make paleo food more interesting.

However, there are options and resources out there for paleo types who want even their fixings to fit the program.

• Nell “Paleoista” Stephenson offers some simple, commonsense workarounds to jazz up one’s meals without breaking the law of the cave-land (some I’ve also done, like substituting citrus juice for vinegar)

• Paleo Diet Lifestyle has links to several recipes, including paleo versions of ketchup, relish and horseradish

• And for inspiration, check out this Pinterest board festooned with fixings of the primal persuasion. It all looks pretty tasty.

That settles it. I’m going to make some paleo condiments for myself. Stone Age sriracha, here I come.

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When can a caveman have a drink?

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At the beginning of January, my marginally successful first month of primal living, I weighed 190 lbs. on the gym scale. By the end it showed 187. I was not pleased with the results.

Last time I did the paleo thing for a month, I dropped 11 pounds. So what gives? The difference this time was that I allowed myself to drink booze on many occasions this time around. As a guy who writes about drinks for a living, the biggest challenge of the first month of cavemanning was trying not to drink. And failing, several times.

There were other slip-ups, to be certain: I went to an all-inclusive resort in Mexico for a week — which should be a post unto itself — and fell off the wagon and ate a couple of hamburgers. I munched on things that included processed ingredients. I didn’t exercise as much as I should have.

In the end, however, I’m convinced my first month of paleo living was a disappointment primarily because alcohol is so woven into my professional and social life, and it trails all its many calories behind it. I go to tastings of new products, hang out in bars, visit people’s houses; there’s always booze. In my own house, there are hundreds of bottles — my roommate gleefully bounced around the place taking photos of the glorious hoard to post on Facebook when we moved in last fall. When people come over, it seems stingy not to dip into the stash. I even have free booze couriered to me at least once a week, thanks to my job.

I don’t have a drinking problem in terms of addiction, but I typically drink more than is healthy due to all of the above — perhaps 15-20 drinks a week? — and it has left me with a beer belly. Call me vain, but sunbathing in Mexico made me yearn to look better in a bathing suit.

So for the month of February, I’ve stepped up the caveman challenge, by harshening the rules thusly:

No booze, unless absolutely necessary in order to do my job

• Strict adherence to my own caveman rules with no exceptions. (Well, OK, I will have an occasional dollop of a condiment to make it all more palatable; you can’t deny a guy his horseradish)

• Physical activity at least once every other day

Will I start drinking again in March? Probably, but I’ll have to concoct some sort of permanent rule to keep the volume down. In the meantime, I’m actually looking forward to experiencing only my second (virtually) alcohol-free month since around the age of 16.

On the fitness side, my plan for this month was to enrol in a CrossFit intro program but I’ve totally bailed due to cost. (Next month, I guess? Why are CrossFit gyms so expensive?) Meanwhile I signed up at a local, ordinary gym and have been going rock climbing with friends and I suppose I ought to start running, since I stupidly agreed to do an 8K run in April.

I’ll let you know how it all goes.

Guh. And my cave-challenges will only get harder from here.

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Friends: Helpful for that extra push off the cliff

Cliffdive

During this first month of cavemanning, I imagined myself dividing much of my spare time between the regular gym and the CrossFit gym, hardening my slovenly jelly-flesh into something more respectably hunter-gatherer-like.

For various reasons, this hasn’t happened. Most importantly, I jammed my right big toe in a random stair-climbing pratfall, which gave me, as always, an excuse to avoid my least-favourite place: the stupid gym. Continue reading

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The 10 Paleo foods I rely on most

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Korean pork belly and roasted pike, kimchi, and a daikon, carrot and cilantro salad with dressing of coconut oil, lime juice and honey

When I first tried the paleo diet for a month in 2010, I soon found that I became dependent on certain go-to foods — things I would eat over and over again, for the most part because they were foods that conformed to the diet, were tasty enough to feel like a treat, and (perhaps most important for a busy caveman) were simple to prepare.

A week after resolving to eat paleo this time around, I’m back to gorging on the old favourites. I’m curious what other paleo and primal folks would put in the same category.

Here are my Top 10 go-to paleo foods, in no particular order:

Salmon

Smoked, baked or barbecued. Wild Pacific salmon, ideally from Alaska, for sustainability reasons Continue reading

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Typical meal

729714_10152398997460156_552401113_oTwo days into paleo eating according to my own rules, it’s a case of so far, so good. I’m not frustrated or tempted so far, despite not really having had a chance to stock up on lots of caveman treats (oysters, for example) that would make the experience more pleasurable.

This meal above is typical: Frozen baby shrimp (from Ikea!) with avocado and a makeshift dressing of lime juice, buckwheat honey and coconut oil, plus a tiny touch of Thai curry paste (a small cheat). Salad is carrot, daikon, cilantro/coriander and roasted unsalted sunflower seeds. Dessert, not shown, was blueberries.

I show you my dinner to dispel possible myths: People imagine a so-called caveman diet as little more than slabs of meat, but in reality it’s a colourful and diverse way to eat. The only problem is that you really have to plan ahead; a 21st-century city offers little food on the go for a cave person.

Fat caveman

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Thinking back on my year, I painted this on the inside of my cave.

At the conclusion of 2012, I found myself somewhere we’ve all been at one time or another: one of life’s dead ends, where the only chance of safe escape is to turn around and head in the opposite direction.

To shorten a long story, the year had been one of transition after a separation and career shift in 2011; my reaction to unsettling upheaval was to cocoon, slowly fattening myself in a one-bedroom uptown apartment on a diet of booze, man-sized sandwiches and premium cable TV. There was also some smoking and beef jerky. Continue reading