Food (by which I mean ‘whole food’ or ‘real food’, as in the phrase ‘just eat real food’ or ‘jerf’ — things you should be eating) in a supermarket is mostly located around the outside; the stuff in the middle, the stuff that doesn’t go bad, should be almost entirely ignored. I recommend not even walking down those isles, if you can help it: Brain-study in humans tells us that WE WILL LOSE when we try to fight off temptation every day. You will go back and eat those cookies if you have to tell yourself ‘no’ every-fucking-day or every-fucking-week. Avoid the confrontations that you are doomed to eventually lose. Some things cannot be helped: olive oil is probably located in an isle across from a bunch of delicious looking dressings and sauces. Be focused on what you’re there for and you can skip the process of figuring out which dressings/ sauces are ‘less bad’ and having to turn over each and every bottle of goma-dare to read the ingredients.
Meat: In Japan, shopping paleo on a budget is all about finding meat that is cheap per 100 grams. If you’re interested in thrift, stick to cuts of meat that are cheap (chicken from Brazil, beef from Australia, pork from Japan and minced meat have been staples for me, but a lot of that depends on the supermarket itself, you’ll have to look at each and take advantage when you find good prices). If you have the resources, look for well-marbled (lots of white veins in the meat, as in the ones pictured above) beef and pork especially, that isn’t vac-packed (this is a flavor thing, your meals will taste much better if the meat you’re eating has been handled correctly). Avoiding chicken where you can (because of the poor omega-3 to omega-6 ratios in the fat of grain-fed chicken) can be helpful if you have the budget for it. I do not.
Fish: I find fish to be an expensive-per-calorie meal, that is, they tend to cost a lot for the amount you actually eat. That said, they’re great for you, especially salmon and tuna. Making them a weekly (or more) habit will improve your overall health, if you have the resources. Even if it isn’t one of those two, fish are full of vitamins and minerals and well-balanced fats that make for well-running humans in general. One warning: be careful of canned tuna, which is often packaged in soy oil, or as I like to refer to it, “the devil’s shit”. Devil’s Shit is on your list of “Don’ts” from my Intro (where it says don’t eat any oil that doesn’t come from avocado, coconut, meat or olive).
Veggies: umm… Yes? is the best advice I can come up with. Getting as much as you can get in terms of variety of colors, shapes and tastes will make your meals more fun and more appetizing for those with the money, and honestly, veggies, almost no matter what you buy, are not going to be the most expensive part of your shopping trip. If you’re severely limited by money, focus on onions and dark leafy greens (spinach is often the cheapest and most available). Carrots can be helpful filling-in stir-fries and curries.
GET EGGS. Get good eggs if at all possible. Even if you’re getting the best-quality eggs, the “mori no tamago” (森の卵), there is no place else in the world you’re going to get two meals or more of protein for 300 yen. For people on a budget you can get by on just eggs, depending on your ability to make do with the same meal over and over (I’ll get to this more later, but for the most part the ‘budget’ excuse for not eating Paleo doesn’t fly with me. Most people can eat healthy food every meal for under a thousand yen a day. It just requires being an adult about your food, and planning ahead)
Get spices. Find the spice rack in your supermarket and buy one of everything. Try each, with salt, on your meat or in your eggs. Find things you like. Experiment. Find combinations that you enjoy eating, because your days of eating _whatever_ doused in “make-anything-taste- good-sauce” are over. Here are a few of mine to get you started: Basil and garlic, with whatever it is cooked in olive oil; red pepper, habanero (go easy at first, it kicks!), paprika (not to be confused with colored peppers, which are not spices — I picked up on that myself!), oregano, garlic, coriander and black pepper for a Mexican-flavor that works well with ground beef and tomatoes; cinnamon on sweet potatoes and ground beef; curry POWDER (i.e. not premade, which includes blocks for boiling/ making Japanese curry), which you can also make on your own with cumin, coriander, cardamom, turmeric and cinnamon in whatever amounts please you. Also, and this offends some paleo folks, but I put salt on almost everything I cook. I perhaps wouldn’t recommend that to someone who’s having a ‘lowest blood pressure’ race, but my bp is 105/50. You may find that to get a bp less than that you need to cut out the salt. If you do, I feel for you.
Get olive oil. Also, if you’re feeling like it, some coconut milk is always fun and makes a very tasty curry base. Coconut flakes (unsweetened of course) are a fun thing to add to stuff, but they’re generally only sold in specialty shops and are pretty expensive.
Drinks: as I said in the Intro to Paleo, nothing with calories, which leaves you with coffee, tea and water, which are all great. The big mistake I made, however, was buying mugi (麦) cha to make my water-drinking experience more fun. Mugi=barley=grain. I felt like such a moron when I realized. Don’t be me. On the same level, many of the mixed Japanese teas have mugi in them: Jurokucha, Sobacha and Sokenbicha are good examples. Check before you buy. If you’re looking for a non-caffeinated drink that has no sugar, Oolong is the only thing I’ve been able to rely upon consistently, and it’s a staple whenever I’m out.
Addendum: I was recently informed that Oolong has caffeine in it, somewhat more than green tea, in fact. For those (like me) effected strongly by caffeine, it looks like we’re officially down to water.
Things to look for as ‘off-limits’ on warning labels (in descending order of evil):
- 麦 – wheat (common examples: 大麦、小麦粉)
- 大豆 – soy (How this came to be thought of as protein beats the fuck out of me)
- 乳 – dairy (this is, at times, ok, but for the most part it just means that something was made from some over-processed dairy and we don’t want it)
- カタカナ - (really any katakana word on a food-label means ‘something that was invented in the past 20 years that we’re pretty sure causes cancer’. Besides which it’s usually just sugar by a different name)
- 糖 – sugar (as in 砂糖、果糖 etc. There are many kinds, none of which works for us, strictly speaking. Honey (蜂蜜・はちみつ), 水あめ (mizu-ame, corn syrup), maple syrup, Agave etc fall into this category, and when we’re opening up our diets and ‘having a little fun’, is the first one to go)
Things that can cause allergic reactions in some people are listed at the bottom of all ingredients (材料）lists. 大豆 (soy) and 小麦 (wheat) will be listed there if they are in what you’re looking at, along with a bunch of other stuff you may or may not care about.
Here’s some things that you don’t have to check, ’cause I already did it for you:
Stuff with hidden wheat (小麦):
- Soy Sauce (which can sometimes be found without wheat, with “小麦を使わない” or “小麦不使用” written on the front of the package. This can be good for kicking up your heels and having some sushi or making your own sukiyaki)
- Ponzu (made with Soy Sauce)
- ‘Sauce’ (what this is in English?) like you find on yakitori etc. Most will just say ‘たれ’ or ‘sauce’.
- Salt-Sauce (塩たれ) on Yakitori. Buying yakitori must be done from stands or restaurants for the most part, ordered with salt.
- Pre-made foods (with very few exceptions)
- Goma Dressing/Goma Dare
- Wafu (Japanese-style) Dressing
- Italian Dressing
- Okonomiyaki Sauce
- Pre-made curry/ curry blocks
- Pre-made stew/ stew blocks
- Pre-made nabe soups (nearly all)
- Beef Jerky (not always, but many times)
Stuff with hidden Soy (大豆):
- Mayo (but you can make your own at home with olive oil! … though I’ve never been successful)
- Canned Tuna (WHY GOD WHY?)
- Beef Jerky (not always, but sometimes)
- Miso (I guess this should be obvious, but sometimes it isn’t. If you are going to indulge in soy, I understand miso to be the healthiest choice: fermented, which promotes good bacteria growth in your intestines (which is good) and helps kill the lectins in the soy (which is also good). I don’t recommend eating a bunch of miso, but it’s the best of a bad, bad world of soy)
Stuff with hidden Sugar (糖):
- Ketchup (can I really call this hidden? You people do have taste-buds, right?)
- Some mayo (especially ‘light’ mayo. FUCK YOU LIGHT MAYO. NOBODY LIKES YOU)
- Nearly every salad dressing or sauce
- Pre-made nabe mixtures, regardless of flavor
- Kimchi/ other pickles
- Dried fruit (not always, but often)
- Beef Jerky
A final warning about the Supermarket:
The things you want are the things that don’t have a list of ingredients on the back. You ought to be able to tell if something is paleo before you pick it up for the most part: it’s a piece of meat or it’s an onion or it’s a bunch of spinach or it’s a bottle of olive oil. If you’re not sure until you read the back of the package, I’d be willing to bet you’re going to be disappointed.