First of all, I think we can all agree that Primal food is a solid foundation of taste, nutrition, satiety, density, and volume. When you put a piece of well-cooked grass-fed steak, free of sugary salty soybean oil-infused sauces and unnecessary breading in your mouth, you appreciate that this is how meat was meant to be. When you use fresh vegetables, kale that bites back and asparagus that snaps in your mouth and cooked carrots that manage to be both tender and crispy at once, you know the goodness of produce. And these fill you up, they nourish, they enrich your life. Still, though, we humans possess the ability to perceive and appreciate a nearly infinite range of flavors and textures. Hundreds (if not thousands) of cuisines and flavors beckon, and we should probably entertain their advances. If we don’t, if we eat the same things all the time, we may run into food fatigue.
I’m probably a bad example of this, because I’m the type of guy who’d be pretty happy with just ten or so foods for the rest of my life. Still, even I like to change things up now and again. And it seems I’m not alone. This edition of Dear Mark is geared directly to you. Let’s go:
I’ve been eating eggs for breakfast everyday for years now. Now don’t get me wrong, I still love eggs, but sometimes I either don’t have time to cook eggs before leaving for work or eggs just don’t sound good. A little breakfast variety would be nice. Eggs seem like the perfect morning food (protein, fat, nutrients) but there’s only so many fried eggs I can eat. Any ideas?
Eggs truly are the perfect breakfast item. They feature high quality protein, animal fat, and, particularly if you have access to real pastured eggs, a micronutrient profile that puts nearly every other food to shame. Plus, eggs also provide a nice dose of cholesterol and choline, two brain-boosting nutrients that you’ll likely put to good use. Oh, sure, you could make the argument for liver or oysters as being more “nutrient-dense,” but who wants to cook up a batch of beef liver every morning? Eggs are simple and easy.
But they’re also boring, or so some people believe. Eggs are just eggs. You can scramble them, boil them, make omelets, or fry them, and not much else.
Yeah, eggs have become the quintessential breakfast food, which wouldn’t be a problem if we hadn’t backed ourselves into a corner with our preconceived notions of what constitutes breakfast. We need to expand our breakfast horizons. Breakfast needn’t be dominated by over-easy or scrambled eggs seasoned solely with salt and pepper and cooked in butter. I love eggs like that – don’t get me wrong – but some people need variety.
I would be loathe to suggest shifting your focus away from eggs for the aforementioned reasons. Instead, come up with some new variations of old favorites:
Hard-boiled eggs are handy and hardy, but the yolks can get a little chalky if you let them cook for even a half minute too long. If you’re rushing about trying to get ready for the day, you’re bound to make a mistake and overcook the eggs. The solution here, of course, is not to take up bagel eating or force IF into your life. It’s to try a soft-boiled egg. With a soft-boiled egg, the yolk stays creamy, velvety, runny and the white gets custardy. I cover cold eggs with an inch of water in a pot then bring to a rolling boil over high heat. Upon boiling, shut off the heat and cover the pot. After four minutes (three minutes if you’re starting with room temperature eggs), dump the water. I prefer peeling the eggs under cool running water while they’re still warm, but others say to plunge them in an ice bath. If you’re strapped for time, the cool water is good enough. Lately, I’ve been dusting the eggs with black pepper (lots), sea salt, and turmeric. Far superior to dry hard-boiled eggs (with less oxidation of the cholesterol to boot) and hard to mess up since, if you mess up and go over the time, you end up with pretty good hard-boiled eggs.
- Scrambled eggs with salt, pepper, butter, and maybe even a bit of bacon is a true classic, yes. I’ll never turn down a plate. That said, you can easily transform a humdrum plate of scrambled eggs with the addition of a couple generous tablespoons of tomato paste about midway through the scrambling process.
- Turn a plate of sunny side up pastured eggs into a sweet and savory treat with a dusting of cinnamon and some coconut oil.
- Or how about frittatas? Have your ingredients prepped the night before, then, when you wake up, scramble the eggs, mix it all together, and dump them in the oven before you start getting ready. By the time you’re dressed/caffeinated/presentable/etc., your egg-based breakfast will be ready.
- One of my favorites on a cold (for Malibu) winter morning is a couple cups of bone broth with two or three raw eggs dropped in and allowed to cook. The white will cook fast, since it disperses through the liquid, while the yolk will remain gooey unless pricked and allowed to run. Include a handful of bitter greens and you’ve got a quick, easy breakfast on your hands.
These variations are small and often require no additional prep time, but they really and truly pay off. The resulting dishes taste better, taste different, and are arguably more nutritious than their predecessors. You maintain the ease and nutrition of an egg breakfast without succumbing to monotony. Win win.
Also, don’t limit yourself to the things I suggested. Look around for more suggestions from similar eaters. The point is that eggs are culinary blank slates that happen to be delicious on their own. Feel free to toss in some berries, bacon, sausage, sweet potato, grilled onions, or whatever else strikes your fancy, because everything goes with eggs. I’m serious – name something and I bet it goes with eggs.
The strangest thing has happened to me recently. I am a huge proponent for the Primal lifestyle and eating strategy, but I’ve recently lost my craving for meat. I’m not completely disgusted by it, but I’ve lost my drive to eat it. What should I do? Listen to my body and not eat it, or try something else?
First of all, I don’t think you should give up “meat.” It’s an essential part of the human diet, it’s full of highly bioavailable micronutrients, and, well, it’s just really, really good for you. However, I do think we tend to run the risk of forgetting that an animal is so much more than “meat.” A pig is not just belly and loin. A cow is not just ribeye and burger. A chicken is not just breast and wing. There are so many incredibly diverse, delicious, and nutritious parts to an animal that we do ourselves a disservice by sticking to just “meat” – and we can easily find ourselves stuck in a food rut as a result.
So, you’re going to want to diversify. Learn about all the odd cuts. Start saving and buying bones and making stock. Learn to love liver. Consider the gristly bits, the parts that need a little more time in the crockpot or braising pan to get tender: the tails, the shanks, the knuckles. These “alternative” cuts will force your hand. You’ll have to start cooking in different ways because you can’t treat a lamb shank like a sirloin steak. It just won’t work. You may also be eating too much meat, as in “lean meat.” I prefer the fattier cuts over all else. I like ribeyes rather than filets, for example. I can eat an 80/20 or 85/15 ground beef burger with a bit of salt and pepper quite happily, whereas I’ll need to dress up a 95/5 to make it palatable. There are certainly ways to dress up plain old lean meat (which usually involve adding some sort of fat or sauce), but you may just need to eat fattier cuts.
My husband and I realized the other day that we’ve been eating nearly the exact same rotation of meals for over a year now. We rarely eat out and we take turns cooking our meals. Over time we’ve hit upon things that are easy to make and that we like so we just keep going back to them over and over and over again. Do you think there’s anything wrong with this? Should we add some variety. To be honest, it is getting a little boring. Any ideas on how to get out of our food rut are very much appreciated. Grok on!
There are theoretical benefits to a varied diet, which I’ve outlined before:
- Access to a wider variety of micronutrients and phytochemicals. Think of all the various antioxidants associated with the greens, reds, yellows, purples, and oranges in fruits and vegetables. Think of how vitamin and mineral content differs between foods.
- Dilution of food toxins. Food toxins usually operate in a dose-dependent manner, so keeping a variety would help keep the doses low and hormetic.
- Food enjoyment. Eating the same three things is a sure path to food boredom. Eating should come with a serving of sensory enjoyment.
Those are all valid reasons to eat a varied diet, and the last one – food enjoyment – seems to be affecting you. However, a “varied diet” doesn’t necessarily mean eating South Indian one night, some obscure dish from the Thai highlands the next night, and haggis after that. It doesn’t mean working crickets into your regular diet, or camel milk, or never repeating the same meal in a month. It can mean all those things, but it doesn’t have to. Grok (and every other preindustrial culture) never had access to the amount of variety we currently enjoy, and he did okay for himself. As I mentioned earlier, I eat a pretty steady diet without constant wild excursions into other culinary realms, and I also do okay for myself on the micronutrient/phytochemical and toxin dilution front. Wild, adventurous, global variety a la Andrew Zimmern isn’t required or even necessarily optimal, so don’t get yourself down over that.
I don’t want to sound self-serving with this next part, but emails like yours are the precise reason why I decided to co-write Primal Blueprint Healthy Sauces, Dressings & Toppings. Because sometimes (most times), all you need to drastically change the character of a dish is a well-placed and poignantly-applied sauce. Sometimes the salt, pepper, olive oil, and vinegar routine gets boring to the point of making you dread and avoid your greens, while a new dressing will upregulate your intake of healthful veggies. So, Talia, I’d say that you shouldn’t stress out about food variety for variety’s sake, but you should seek to enjoy your food. You shouldn’t be miserable. You shouldn’t feel bad. And if you’re not keen on putting together an entirely new arsenal of dishes, learning a few dozen solid sauces, dressings, and toppings can keep your usual dishes feeling fresh without forcing you too far out of your comfort zone.
That’s it for today, folks. I hope I helped some people out. If you’ve got anything to add about food variety and keeping meals interesting, be sure to leave your comments below!