So I was asked by a friend recently what to do when you get hungry on the go in Japan and don’t have enough time for a sit down meal. With a little preparation, the sky’s the limit, but otherwise it tends to be slim pickin’s here in the land of rice and noodles. Go to any convenience store and you’ll see what I mean. Food mainly consisting of bread, rice and/or sugar are the majority of what’s on hand. There ARE options, though. Remember what we’re shooting for here when we say primal snacking: low-sugar, relatively low-carb, low in omega 6 fatty acids (mostly from vegetable oils), low in anti-nutrients, highly nutritious and satiating (protein and/or fiber helps here). Some items sold at most convenience stores actually fit the bill pretty well.
1) Hard-boiled eggs: Often found in the steaming square pots of simmering oden and sometimes sold in the refrigerated section, these babies taste great, are rich in protein, healthy fat, choline and other goodies. What else can I say about eggs besides they rock!
2) Canned fish: I’ve been addicted to these guys recently, eating at least a tin a night. Mackerel (“Saba” or “Sanma”) and sardines (“Iwashi”) are especially good, with a respectable amount of omega 3′s, calcium (from the bones), protein and so on. I like mackerel the best, although sardines contain tryptophan (a neurotransmitter) which might help you sleep at night if eaten before bed. If you’re worried about the BPA lining in the can, maybe you shouldn’t be, as the jury is still out on that one.
3) Nuts: It’s easy to go overboard with the nuts, but try to keep it to a snack and not a full on meal. Nuts do have some vitamins and minerals, but they tend to be unabsorbable due to the various anti-nutrients that protect the nut from snackers like us. In addition, they tend to be high in PUFA with a wide disparity between their omega 6 and 3 content, when we’re all trying to keep our omega 6 intake down. They do have a good amount of protein and healthy fat, though, and can be consumed safely in small quantities. Most convenience stores carry a few varieties, such as almonds, cashews, peanuts, pistachios and mixed varieties. I personally think almonds are the winner out of this selection and avoid peanuts due to possible aflatoxin contamination.
4) Dried squid: The shredded stuff they sell at the convenience stores often have a serious list of additives on the back, but for the occasional snack, it’s not bad at all. It’s very high in protein, tasty and convenient to eat, although it may make you want a beer or glass of shochu, as dried squid is a popular bar snack in Japan.
5) Salad bowls or vegetables: Most salad bowls are okay, although very low calorie and not very satiating. Watch out for beans if they bother your gut. The salad dressing will likely be vegetable oil-based and high in omega 6′s. However, I would just bite the bullet and eat the salad with the salad dressing. Not only will it be more satiating and tastier, but it will help make the fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) more bio-available to your body. I sometimes grab a half head of cabbage if nothing else is around and chomp on that (in private), as it’s crispy, slightly sweet and packs a good dose of vitamin C. It isn’t so easy to eat if you don’t have knife or a huge mouth, though.
6) Dark chocolate: Once in a while I see “real dark chocolate” being sold at the convenience store. Most people, including me, will give chocolate the stamp of approval as a dark chocolate if it’s over 70% in cocoa content. If it isn’t listed on the packaging, a good rule of thumb to check whether it is passes this threshold is to look on the ingredient list and see if sugar in first position or not. If it’s dark chocolate, the good stuff, it shouldn’t be. While relatively low in sugar, dark chocolate is a mood enhancer, has a nice amount of healthy fat and fiber and looks like it may have some other awesome health benefits when eaten in moderation.
So there you have it. You CAN easily find healthy snacks if you’re not carrying any food on you and can’t wait till the next meal or until you get home. Now go get your snack on!