Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
22 Apr

Handy Primal Sandwich Alternatives (Or, Sub Subs)

Last week, I got this email from a reader:

I work 12 hour ER shifts.  Our cafeteria is too expensive and the food is horrendous anyway (where do you think hospital food gets that reputation?)  My staple has been making half sandwiches by just folding a single piece of bread around some meat, cheese or tuna.  But of course Grok didn’t make bread.  The convenience of being able to eat these little sandwiches while standing at the nurses’ station (we often get very limited or no breaks on busy days) is indispensable to me.  Eating things that require utensils and cleanup is not feasible.  Are there more primal, non-carb substitutes that could actually serve as dinner in such an environment as well as my improvised panini?  I’m drawing a blank here.  Any help you could provide would be greatly appreciated.


Ah yes, the sandwich. After rice, mashed potatoes, and pancakes, it is perhaps the most pined-for pre-Primal food around. The convenience factor is tough to beat, and that Subway guy who supposedly lost tons of weight eating nothing but sandwiches certainly makes it look appealing. We can almost imagine Grok picnicking with a crusty baguette and gooey brie, pack of Gitanes tucked into his loincloth.

But really, those little sandwiches may be convenient, but that bread is bad news. Though it may be just a single piece, it’s still a single piece of anti-nutrient insulin-spiking starch that serves little purpose other than keeping your hand from getting meaty. If it’s convenience and clean hands you’re after, how about wrapping that meat and cheese in cabbage or lettuce? Same convenience level. I mean, you’re already assembling sandwiches on the fly; lose the bread and opt for a lower-carb wrap. Assuming you bring tupperwear containing the sandwich makings, it won’t take you any more time to swap out the bread for lettuce or cabbage. No clean up or utensils required. You eat the evidence.

Or how about something that doesn’t try to emulate a sandwich? Every week, make a big batch of trail mix. Throw together some almonds, macadamia nuts, pecans, walnuts, dark chocolate chunks, and a bit of dried fruit in a big bag and dole yourself out some before every shift: high fat, high protein, and moderate carbs. Don’t make it your daily meal, but as a snack it’s perfect (hey, a half sandwich isn’t much of a meal, either). You could also turn that trail mix into a homemade protein bar. Make a big batch every week and take one to work. Very filling. Other options include jerky or even a Responsibly Slim shake (maybe augmented with some nuts and fruit and carried sealed in a bottle).

But you’re interested in an actual meal. Twelve hours can be a long time (and it’s probably not feasible to make it a 12-hour fast every single day, although you might want to experiment with Intermittent Fasting), and you want something that’s filling and doesn’t require utensils or cleanup. The lettuce/cabbage wraps would work as a meal. Try cooking and slicing steak, chicken, or lamb the night before and bringing it to work, along with a few sliced veggies (carrots, cucumbers, bell peppers), some homemade dressing or mayo, maybe a few slices of goat cheese or aged gouda (since you can obviously tolerate cheese), and the lettuce/cabbage wrap of your choice. Bring a separate container with some berries for dessert and you’re set.

Or how about a frittata, which is essentially a crustless quiche? Sautee some veggies and meat in butter in an oven-safe pan (spinach and chicken; bacon and mushrooms; steak and peppers), whisk together six eggs, add a bit more butter to the pan and pour the eggs over the meat and veggies. Add some salt and pepper and maybe a light sprinkling of aged parmesan. Stir everything together and let it cook for about four minutes until it begins to set. At this point, pop it in the oven under the broil setting for four minutes, or until it begins to brown. When it’s lightly brown and fluffy, remove it from the oven. Cut it into slices and you have a healthy, Primal hand-held meal that fits in a plastic bag and tastes great at room temperature.

If you absolutely insist on a bread-like item, I have something that may interest you. I call it spinach bread, and it actually works pretty well as a bread substitute. You can certainly slice it and pile meat and cheese and condiments atop it like bread, but it’s ultra-low carb and high in good fat, along with some decent protein.

Pesto Spinach Bread

Five large eggs
16 oz frozen spinach, thawed, cut, and drained
Butter (I used raw pastured-raised)
1/2 cup pine nuts
3 cloves crushed garlic
Small bunch of basil (about 15 leaves)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Grease your glass baking dish with butter. I used a circular pan about 8 inches in diameter.

Toast your pine nuts in a sautee pan with about a tablespoon of butter. Be very careful! Pine nuts burn easily. Watch them like a hawk and stir constantly. When they start to turn golden brown, they’re done and on the verge of burning.

Chop the nuts up in a food processor (or crush them to a similarly fine texture if you don’t have a processor) and mince your basil.

Mix your eggs, garlic, basil, nuts, and spinach together in a mixing bowl. Add some salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

Once it’s all mixed together, pour it evenly into your greased pan.

Pop it in the oven for about 15 minutes, or until it has set.

Slice and enjoy as if it were bread, or all by itself!

Nutrition Analysis:
Calories: 1080
Fat: 91 grams (72% calories from fat)
Carbs: 27.6 grams (10% calories from carbs, 12.7 grams from fiber)
Protein: 54 grams (18% calories from protein)

Share your thoughts on low-carb, grain-free bread substitutes in the comment board and check back this weekend for a Primal sandwich recipe featuring the spinach bread. Thanks, everyone!

Further Reading:

It’s Time to “Get Real”

Primal Pie Recipes

The Dope on Energy Drinks

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. I’m in outside sales, so I work out of my truck. So you can imagine the temptation to do the drive through etc. The best peice of health advice ever was Marks daily big ass salad. every night I make a monster salad with all sorts of veggies, a home made oil and vinegar dressing, and then top it with whatever left over protein from dinner. So I have a differant salad every day steak, chicken tuna you name it. It goes in my big cooler bag with my other daily supplies and its grab and go in the morning. (keep the dressing separate until eating time.) I’ve been doing this for 7months without fail and still love it. About 5 months ago my asked me to start making her one every day as well cause they look so good. Oh yeah, and was fit and not overweight when I started (visable six pack, but not ripped.) and I’ve lost 15lb’s while still acheiving strength gains and increased arm and chest measurments!! So as Mark says real men eat salad.

    P.S be creative with your veggies and you’ll never get bored.

    Brad wrote on April 22nd, 2009
  2. I’m completely with Brad on the salads (i happily eat one every single day for lunch at work), but they do require utensils. I’ll vouch for the lettuce/cabbage wraps for sandwich-type meals. I actually often have these for dinner and they are very satisfying – try BLTs (iceberg or romaine lettuce with bacon and tomato), chinese chicken (cabbage, grilled chicken, shredded carrots, basil, raspberry vinaigrette (theres a recipe on the site somewhere)), club (sliced turkey, bacon, tomato).. you get the idea. Add a handful of nuts or an apple and you’re good to go.

    Holly wrote on April 22nd, 2009
  3. Since cutting out wheat (hence bread), I’ve been trying to come up with a substitute. While not completely primal being one of those long distance athletes, here are some snacks that I’ve been eating, and they are quite good and easily packable in rubbermaid containers…

    – Unsweetened applesauce mixed with lots of almond butter and scoop of whey protein powder.
    – 1-2 chopped apples with a can of tuna and most of an avocado and maybe some lime juice.
    – haven’t made these yet, but how about seaweed rolls with turkey, etc. and sliced veggies or lettuce. That way they are portable.
    – And then as suggested there is always a salad.

    Since I train AM/PM and work 9-5, it’s an exercise in planning. So, I usually make as much as I can the night before since I’m gone from the house for as long as 12+ hours at a time as well.

    -Brandon wrote on April 22nd, 2009
  4. Woah! This is a very nice article. Couldn’t you have posted it just a few days earlier. I’m going on a class trip tomorrow and the spinach bread would have been a nice meal to take with me, in case they serve some very unprimal food at the youth hostel I will be staying.

    Still great. Also, i just found this yesterday, may work well too.

    madMUHHH wrote on April 22nd, 2009
  5. Another great bread-sub is using portabella mushroom caps. Great for burgers/lunchmeat fillings.

    Sarah wrote on April 22nd, 2009
  6. this works pretty good as a substitute, but you have to play around with the measurements to get the right firmness

    I used it for a sloppy joe and i worked pretty well

    mike wrote on April 22nd, 2009
  7. I have made something similar to the spinach bread minus the nuts & basil. I actually poured mine into a jelly roll (cookie sheet) pan and was able to cut it into 6 large squares-similar in size to bread. Easier to make a sandwich that way.

    Krista wrote on April 22nd, 2009
  8. you all gotta try the flax bread recipe!

    This is so delicious, and so versatile!

    darcey blue wrote on April 22nd, 2009
  9. I used lettuce leaves to wrap my hamburgers tonight. Worked out pretty well, but, still a little messier than buns. Perhaps if I used heartier lettuce…

    I’m anxious for someone to review the Pesto Spinach Bread. Additionally, what are the thoughts on Nikki’s Focaccia? Also, the “bread” in the link posted by Mike has gotten great reviews, but, it’s not paleo. It uses some cream cheese.

    Keep up the great posts. I’ve really enjoyed some of the recent ones.

    Matt wrote on April 22nd, 2009
  10. Also check out Flaxseed Bread:

    Replace the artificial sweetener with some honey and you got yourself some awesome sandwich bread. (I prefer to use 4 eggs. It makes it a bit less “egg-y” if you catch my drift.)

    Nate wrote on April 22nd, 2009
  11. I love this article! I love your website period. So in your opinion, would you say that IF + low carb (no carb?) is the best way to lose weight?

    Tracy wrote on April 22nd, 2009
  12. Tracy – As the PB dictates – meat, nuts/seeds, healthy fats, vegetables and fruit coupled with moving frequently at a slow pace, sprinting every once in a while, lifting heavy things, managing stress levels, getting quality sleep and other lifestyle behaviors make for the best way to lead a healthy life. Yes, this means low carb, real food and moving like we were designed to. And IF is a nice tool to use from time to time as well. Try it. Give it some time and be patient. For some the fat melts away immediately, but this isn’t a crash course diet. It is a long-term lifestyle. You will eventually reach homeostasis – a place where your energy levels will stabilize you will reach your ideal weight and you will generally feel better. Let us know how it goes for you!

    Here’s some reading to get you started on weight loss:

    Mark Sisson wrote on April 22nd, 2009
  13. We make good use of the Mission brand low carb tortillas in place of bread. They have 21 grams of fiber and a boatload of protein. Trust me when I say they will keep you feeling full.

    Greg at Live Fit wrote on April 22nd, 2009
    • Yeah, but they’re filled with unhealthy soy protein.

      Bella wrote on February 20th, 2010
      • … and probably cooked in some naaaaaasty oil…

        ravi wrote on November 11th, 2011
  14. here’s what I bring instead of cookie or bread~ and it takes no time to make!


    beat an egg in a bow,
    3-4 tbsp of coconut flour,
    2-3 tbsp of toasted flax seed.(sesame and poppy seed would also be yummy)
    mix well, u can add more coconut flour/flax seed as u want, as long as the mixture is still sticky, it’s fine.

    in a pan, melt ur (coconut) butter, take a scoop of ur mixture and spread it to a thin cookie shape (if u want bread texture just make it thicker), and just fry both side up!
    if u like em crispy, make em thin and press em harder/ fry em at a higher degree
    if u like em soft, make em thicker and just fry them like little burgers

    u can add some salt of course, I just like them plain. yum~


    and natually u can also make mini sandwitches with these little crackers~

    riceball wrote on April 22nd, 2009
  15. I adore this blog, and there is a recipe for sandwich “bread” made with almond flour!

    curious as to your thoughts on this sort of thing Mark

    Marissa wrote on April 22nd, 2009
  16. I also have been experimenting with some cracker recipes. Good with a nut butter or guac & smoked salmon. One my fav on-the-go foods is ants-on-a- log! Your favourite nut butter on celery topped with your favourite dried fruitlet on top (mine is almond butter & dried cherries). Also, I use this guacamole as a spread or a salad dressing (plop a glob on your salad & stir around):
    3 ripe avocados
    1/4 (more or less) red onion, cut into chunks
    3 T lime juice (guessing) or juice of a lime or 2
    3-5 cloves garlic

    Add your favourite hot sauce (I like sambal olek)run all through food processor or blender.

    This is how it’s made in the restaurant I work in (except he adds sea salt). Find your own balance of ingredients. Mine is always the “garlic lovers” version :-)

    Peggy wrote on April 22nd, 2009
  17. Any opinions on Trader Joe’s flourless sprouted wheatberry bread?

    SB wrote on April 22nd, 2009
    • I don’t know how healthy/primal this bread is (after all, it is bread) but I bought a loaf over the weekend and like it a lot.

      Mike wrote on May 12th, 2010
      • Try Ezekiel Tortillas:
        150 cal
        3.5g total fat
        0 trans fat
        0 cholesterol
        140mg sodium
        150mg potassium
        24 g total carbs
        5g dietary fiber
        0 sugar
        6 g protein
        Ingredients – organic sprouted wheat, filtered water, organic sesame seeds, organic sprouted soybeans, organic sprouted barley, organic sprouted millet, organic sprouted lentils, organic sprouted spelt and sea salt.

        Compare to Manna Bread:
        130 calories
        0 g total fat
        0 cholesterol
        10 mg sodium
        26 total carbs
        4 g dietary fiber
        6 g sugar
        6 g protein

        The kind I tried had Sprouted Organic Whole Wheat Kernels, Filtered Water, Organic Brown Rice, Organic Barley, Organic Millet, Organic Flax Seed, Organic Rye Kernels, Organic Soya Beans, Organic Rolled Oats, Organic Oat Bran, and Organic Cornmeal.

        TJs carries the Ezekiel tortillas. They do not carry the Manna Bread.

        Lina wrote on November 4th, 2010
        • This is a Paleo website. People who follow a paleo diet don’t eat any form of grain, legumes, and most of the time, dairy.

          Tianna wrote on January 12th, 2012
  18. I’ll have to give the spinach bread a try.

    IMO the almond flour breads are pretty good, but tend to be very caloric. I like them for long climbing days when I need as many calories as possible, but I’d be leery of overeating on them the rest of the time.

    Chris - wrote on April 22nd, 2009
  19. Great post Mark! Matt, Nikki’s Focacia is basically same as the flaxseed bread Nate is talking about. I have made the the flaxseed bread Nate mentions and yes it is awesome, works really well as a bread alternative. I might also try darcey blue’s reccomendation of Golden Flax Bread it too looks pretty good.

    Michelle wrote on April 22nd, 2009
  20. Great letter Joe as the ‘sandwich’ seems to be one of the hardest things to change when following the PB way if that is what you’ve been use to eating for lunch.

    Some great ideas there Mark and it was great to come across using the lettuce and cabbage leaves as a substitute for bread. I should show this to the kids so they don’t think I have gone completely mad! When I make the family tacos with the usual shells and wraps etc I also have a big bowl of Cos lettuce leaves in the middle of the table and I use these as my taco shell. I just fill the whole cos lettuce leaf up with the meat mixture (only made with fresh and dried herbs not the packet)then add all the salad and it ends up looking like a lettuce boat – and sooo good too. The kids have been trying them out so it would be great one day when they just prefer the taco cos boats instead.

    When I first started with the PB I did find it very difficult to not have my daily wholegrain (yep thought I was doing the right thing) healthy salad sandwich. But I decided to put everything out on a plate or container and using twice as much filling ingredients and without the bread I soon got use to it and enjoyed it even more. These days I don’t seem to need to eat lunch as such as I always have a good handful of mixed unsalted nuts which pretty much fills me up for hours.

    Sonya wrote on April 22nd, 2009
  21. I can’t eat bread (or many carbs at all) due to food intolerences. I’m a teacher and like medical personnel, we are on our feet a lot with minimal breaks. I’ve just come to accept bringing a fork and plastic containers to work and I eat on the go this way. (Sometimes the containers do get left at the copy machine, as does my coffee mug!) I also eat with a fork while rock climbing–containers full of scrambled eggs with salsa and vegies; leftovers like broiled salmon with spinach, bacon and bell peppers; cubed melon; or seeds, nuts and berries get tossed in the pack along with my gear and clothing. Perishables are eaten within the first few hours, of course. Jerky, fruit and trail mix is saved for later in the day while climbing. At work, I eat out of my cooler, which doubles as a stool during playground duty. At outdoor stores you can buy plastic containers with heavy duty latches and lids that won’t leak in your pack or cooler even if they get flipped upside down. People do look at me funny when I pull this kind of stuff out of the climbing pack but friends know this is just how I eat. Maybe it’s easier for me because if people comment, my friends will just say, she has to stay on a strict diet. I’ve been wondering lately if that makes eating primal easier for me. Since it’s not a choice, people tend not to get defensive and judgmental about my diet. The other thing about not having a choice about this diet is that when it’s necessity, you make it work. Due to how great I feel on this diet and the improvements in my physique, blood markers and athletic performance, I’ve come to embrace primal. The extra work and lack of convenience is worth it and I wouldn’t go back even if I could. (Except I would eat a rice krispie cookie or grilled cheese once in a while!)

    Danielle T wrote on April 22nd, 2009
  22. I use outer seaweed wrap for sushi called Nori. It comes in 10″ squares.

    Seaweed may protect us against radioactivity, because it contains iodine-127. This beneficial isotope of iodine floods the thyroid gland, where iodine accumulates. This prevents the body from absorbing radioactive iodine-131.

    You can get it in any large supermarket in the asian food isle or in asian grocery stores. I found it at Ralphs, Vons, Trader Joe’s, etc.

    Matt wrote on April 22nd, 2009
  23. That’s making me very hungry, Mark!

    Fitness Fabulous wrote on April 22nd, 2009
  24. Great post I have made the the flaxseed bread Nate mentions and yes it is awesome, works really well as a bread alternative. I might also try darcey blue’s reccomendation of Golden Flax Bread it too looks pretty good.

    I love this article! I love your website period. So in your opinion, would you say that IF + low carb (no carb?) is the best way to lose weight?

    Ravi wrote on April 23rd, 2009
  25. I think those Nori Seaweed sheets are another great idea, as long as they are primal. It’s just seaweed, right?
    It looks like a great way to make a wrap. They look very sturdy.

    Matt wrote on April 23rd, 2009
  26. I ate half a bagel with butter today and I feel really bad about that! I don’t ever eat bread at all but I had to have it today for some reason. How should I fight these once in a while urges for bread?

    Tracy wrote on April 23rd, 2009
  27. I never go to take out or fast food places as a matter of habit even before the paleo/primal changes to my diet. But on the weekend, the only place to eat at lunch that was close by was a Jimmy Johns. I thought there wouldnt be anything on the menu I could eat, but they have a lettuce wrap! I had meat and cheese and veggies and it was great!

    shelley wrote on April 23rd, 2009
  28. Swiss chard leaves make a great wrap they are fairly large, and don’t tear or break as easy as cabbage and lettuce.

    Brad wrote on April 23rd, 2009
  29. This is a great article and I agree that the bread should be cut out!

    What I don’t understand is why would you suggest a “Responsibly Slim Shake” with the ingredients listed below as a substitute?

    Responsibly Slim Shake Ingredients:

    Whey Protein Concentrate, Soy Protein Isolate, Cocoa (processed with alkali) (or natural Vanilla flavors), Maltodextrin Fiber, Fructose, Vitamin and Mineral Blend (Di- Calcium Phosphate, Magnesium Oxide, Ascorbic Acid, Vitamin E Acetate, Niacinamide, Electrolytic Iron, Zinc Oxide, D-Calcium Pantothenate, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Copper Gluconate, Riboflavin, Vitamin A Acetate, Thiamin Mononitrate, Folic Acid, Potassium Iodide, Cyanocobalamin), Natural & Artificial Flavor, Sunflower Oil Creamer, Cellulose Gum, Sodium Chloride, Sucralose.

    Melanie wrote on April 23rd, 2009
  30. Doesn’t cooking make the PUFAs in the flax go rancid?

    nonegiven wrote on April 23rd, 2009
  31. note on the flaxmeal foccacias above: I made variations on the 2. No artificial sweetners! (yuck) I basically split that recipe in half & a batch will fit in a round layer cake pan perfect. I made it with olive oil, cilantro & dill. Then I made another half batch using sprouted flax meal that was mixed with blueberries (also ground). Coconut oil, almond meal, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon & a touch of honey. I made a sandwich out of the 1st with the foccacia on the bottom, smoked salmon, and a dry spinach omlette on top. heavenly…

    Peggy wrote on April 25th, 2009
  32. I tried the Nori seaweed wrap and it was good–messy and falls apart when damp, so maybe not a one-hand, no-plate meal. (maybe if I’d stuffed less liquidy stuff in there…) But I’m glad to have added another healthy green to my diet, and it can be a stored at room temp, a big plus for outdoor trips. I’m going to try that spinach bread! After losing the ability to digest so many foods, it’s great to add foods in to my diet! Thanks for the tips fellow bloggers!

    Danielle T wrote on April 25th, 2009
  33. I wonder if you could make the spinach bread with nettles? I’m looking for ways to get my own back after they stung me severely while I was pulling them out from under the hedge. If you pick the tops they make a fine spinach substitute.

    I’m non-primal enough to eat oatcakes, but there are a wealth of good alternatives to trial here.

    Trinkwasser wrote on April 26th, 2009
  34. That recipe looks great. I think I’ll make it for our next support group meeting. Being gluten free, I’ve given up bread and don’t even really want alternative gluten-free breads. In general, life without bread is fine for me. I do use untensils for most meals, but I’ve learned to use my fingers more, too. You adapt.


    gfe-gluten free easily wrote on May 3rd, 2009
  35. I tried this spinach bread recipe… and while it was pretty good… it did not seem at all like bread… more like an omelette or fritatta.

    Chunster495 wrote on June 22nd, 2009
  36. “seaweed may protect us against radioactivity, because it contains iodine-127. This beneficial isotope of iodine floods the thyroid gland, where iodine accumulates. This prevents the body from absorbing radioactive iodine-131.”

    Are you serious? I can’t tell if this is tongue-in-cheek or not. Unless you live next to a reactor that is about to have a complete core meltdown and release, I don’t think you have to worry about absorbing I-131 in your daily routine.

    Logitech wrote on June 28th, 2009
    • This comment seems mighty relevant two years later, no? Glad seaweed is a Japanese staple.

      James wrote on September 14th, 2011

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to add an avatar to all of your comments click here!

© 2016 Mark's Daily Apple

Subscribe to the Newsletter and Get a Free Copy
of Mark Sisson's Fitness eBook and more!