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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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April 22, 2009

Handy Primal Sandwich Alternatives (Or, Sub Subs)

By Mark Sisson
91 Comments

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.

Joe

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

Ingredients:
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)

Method:
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

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72 Comments on "Handy Primal Sandwich Alternatives (Or, Sub Subs)"

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Brad
Brad
7 years 7 months ago
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.… Read more »
Holly
Holly
7 years 7 months ago

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.

-Brandon
7 years 7 months ago
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… Read more »
madMUHHH
7 years 7 months ago

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.
http://nikkisblogspot.files.wordpress.com/2008/03/paleo_focaccia_sandwiches_and_cakes.pdf

Sarah
7 years 7 months ago

Another great bread-sub is using portabella mushroom caps. Great for burgers/lunchmeat fillings.

mike
mike
7 years 7 months ago

this works pretty good as a substitute, but you have to play around with the measurements to get the right firmness

http://www.examiner.com/x-355-Low-Carb-Examiner~y2008m5d20-Want-Supple-GlutenFree-Buns

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

Krista
Krista
7 years 7 months ago

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.

darcey blue
7 years 7 months ago

you all gotta try the flax bread recipe!
http://desertmedicinewoman.blogspot.com/2008/06/best-gluten-free-bread-ever.html

This is so delicious, and so versatile!

Matt
Matt
7 years 7 months ago

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.

Nate
Nate
7 years 7 months ago

Also check out Flaxseed Bread:

http://lowcarbdiets.about.com/od/breads/r/flaxbasicfoc.htm

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.)

Tracy
Tracy
7 years 7 months ago

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?

Greg at Live Fit
7 years 7 months ago

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.

Bella
Bella
6 years 9 months ago

Yeah, but they’re filled with unhealthy soy protein.

ravi
5 years 26 days ago

… and probably cooked in some naaaaaasty oil…

riceball
riceball
7 years 7 months ago
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… Read more »
Marissa
Marissa
7 years 7 months ago

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

http://www.elanaspantry.com/gluten-free-bread-20/

Peggy
Peggy
7 years 7 months ago
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 cilantro Add your favourite… Read more »
SB
SB
7 years 7 months ago

Any opinions on Trader Joe’s flourless sprouted wheatberry bread?
Thanks.

Mike
Mike
6 years 6 months ago

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.

Lina
Lina
6 years 1 month ago
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,… Read more »
Tianna
Tianna
4 years 10 months ago

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.

Chris - fitnessfail.com
7 years 7 months ago

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.

Michelle
7 years 7 months ago

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.

Sonya
Sonya
7 years 7 months ago
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… Read more »
Danielle T
Danielle T
7 years 7 months ago
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… Read more »
Matt
Matt
7 years 7 months ago

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.

Fitness Fabulous
7 years 7 months ago

That’s making me very hungry, Mark!

Ravi
7 years 7 months ago

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?

Matt
Matt
7 years 7 months ago

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.

Tracy
Tracy
7 years 7 months ago

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?

shelley
shelley
7 years 7 months ago

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!

Brad
Brad
7 years 7 months ago

Swiss chard leaves make a great wrap they are fairly large, and don’t tear or break as easy as cabbage and lettuce.

Melanie
Melanie
7 years 7 months ago
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,… Read more »
nonegiven
nonegiven
7 years 7 months ago

Doesn’t cooking make the PUFAs in the flax go rancid?

Peggy
Peggy
7 years 7 months ago

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…

Danielle T
Danielle T
7 years 7 months ago

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!

Trinkwasser
Trinkwasser
7 years 7 months ago

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.

gfe-gluten free easily
7 years 7 months ago

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.

Shirley

Chunster495
Chunster495
7 years 5 months ago

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.

Logitech
Logitech
7 years 5 months ago

“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.

James
James
5 years 2 months ago

This comment seems mighty relevant two years later, no? Glad seaweed is a Japanese staple.

gwen
gwen
7 years 4 months ago

I found this recipe for cauliflower pizza crust which is fantastic as pizza crust, but would probably make a great sandwich bread substitute as well: http://www.examiner.com/x-355-Low-Carb-Examiner~y2008m6d4-Cauliflower-Pizza-Crust-Worth-its-Wow-in-Gold

Today I was rushed so I made 4 little ones, and microwaved them, covered,for 3 minutes, they came out great – not as good as in the oven, but hey hold together fine

Matt
7 years 4 months ago

I used cabbage the other day for burger buns. I pulled off the leaves gently so that they remained intact and then put the burger on there with other veggies. It was delicious.

alex
alex
7 years 3 months ago

I just made the flax bread recipe that darcy mentioned (http://desertmedicinewoman.blogspot.com/2008/06/best-gluten-free-bread-ever.html) … brilliant!

Easy to make and genuinly tasty, i cant beleive I’ve found a viable nutritous bread!

ps. the first batch I made was inedible as I used 1.5tsp of salt for some reason! This batch i sprinkled in about 1/4 tsp and it is lovely!

Alina
Alina
5 years 11 months ago

This blog does not exist any more. How do I get the recipe!

Stacey
Stacey
7 years 1 day ago

A raw collard leaf makes a great wrap! Just be sure to roll from the uppermost edge of the leaf first ending with the thicker/tougher inner leaf last – which can, of course, be trimmed off to begin with. Nevertheless, collards, though bitter by themselves when raw, make a tasty and sturdy wrap when filled with whatever your primal heart desires!

Christine
Christine
6 years 10 months ago

Very tasty recipe, but not at all bread-like imho. More akin to a crustless quiche. But it made for a good light lunch!

Gabrielle
Gabrielle
6 years 10 months ago

I’m gonna have to try this as soon I get more eggs in my house. D;

Gabrielle
Gabrielle
6 years 9 months ago

I just made something like this, only I substituted the pine nuts for a mixture of coconut flour and almond flour…

it turned out pretty good, im really happy i tried it!

but should I throw this in the refridgerator or is it okay to let sit in the pan under tinfoil? or should i wrap slices in plastic wrap?

Mac Scott
Mac Scott
6 years 6 months ago

I cut a large bell pepper in half and fill it with tuna or chicken salad.

Bill Pairaktaridis
6 years 4 months ago

What can I substitute the pine nuts for? I don’t have them readily…

Julie
6 years 4 months ago

Try walnuts, Bill. I used them instead of pine nuts and the recipe is delish. The other small change I made was to whir the spinach and basil in the food processor along with the nuts, adding in the whisked eggs in afterward. It’s less fritatta-ish that way.

Julie
6 years 4 months ago

I should say, stirring the whisked eggs in afterward, not actually processing them in the food processor. I would think the eggs would get a bit TOO frothy if you put them into the FP.

Carrol
6 years 4 months ago

I have a adapted a coconut flour bread recipe and am pretty happy with the results. If you try it, please let me know. Thanks.

http://whaticrave.wordpress.com/2010/08/02/coconut-flax-bread/

Brandon
6 years 4 months ago

This bread looks incredibly awesome. That’s my word for it. I shall try it in a couple of days. I wonder if I could pour this batter in an actual loaf pan so it could turn out as a real bread loaf? Experimentation is on the way…

tuula
tuula
6 years 3 months ago

another good recipe, although it is calorie rich, it’s very filling so all you need is one slice and takes less than 5 minutes to make:

150 grams ground almonds
1 tsp baking powder
2 eggs
2 tbsp olive oil
pinch of salt and pepper to taste, or any other herbs and spices you want to add, you can get creative

Mix well, chuck into a microwaveable dish and ‘bake’ for 2-3 minutes.

e.
e.
6 years 2 months ago

I don’t mean to sound like a doubting thomas… but isn’t this “bread” basically an omelette? It sounds tasty, and don’t get me wrong, I’m gonna try it and smear some pate on that bad boy… but it doesn’t sound very bread-y.

Blanche
6 years 2 months ago

I am reading this when I was going for a day with less food. This is a wonderful post like usual. I am now thinking about all the ways that I can use the great recipes.

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