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Which Japanese foods are (kind of) paleo: soy sauce, miso, tofu...

by (3509)
Updated about 17 hours ago
Created February 27, 2011 at 4:41 AM

Once in a while for work reasons I have to eat at a Japanese restaurants. This is a food that I have always loved, but my recent paleo-awareness has made me much more cautious with many of their dishes. In terms of the soy-based products I have figured out this rule: the fermented soy based foods are O.K. (although strictly non paleo) so that having miso, natto or soy sauce is fine, or actually accepted, because, although soy has some antinutrients, the fermentation process destroys most of those toxins. On the contrary, non fermented soy based foods such as tofu should be rejected. Do you agree with my rule of thumb, and if you disagree, why?

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11683 · December 06, 2011 at 8:59 PM

Dr K, what's your view on miso soup? It's been recommended to me because it's probiotic, and recent test results show I'm low in a couple of strains of good bacteria.

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1304 · February 28, 2011 at 12:12 AM

I recently noticed that some Tamari soy sauces are wheat free but contain barley. I solved the problem asking for some salt in a small dish. This way I don't need to bring my own sauce, and I don't need to worry about "hidden" sources of gluten. I second Gazelle that Japanese restaurants use way too much HFCS+MSG in rice, dressings, gravies, and probably also pickled ginger.

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500 · February 27, 2011 at 7:27 PM

Seaweed salad is almost never made on premises, which is why the taste is uniform no matter where you go. It's got loads of sugar, and there is dye in there as well. Considering how addictive the stuff is, I can't say I'm too surprised.

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3509 · February 27, 2011 at 4:33 PM

thanks Dr K I recently tasted natto and I liked it! I guess miso should be fine too, because it is also fermented.

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3509 · February 27, 2011 at 3:07 PM

in a couple of days I will mark this answer as accepted, unless something better shows up!

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1485 · February 27, 2011 at 2:13 PM

I bring my own Tamari soy sauce along with me to the sushi restaurant. Sashimi is ultimate-paleo.

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1348 · February 27, 2011 at 5:14 AM

I have similar query, an actual Asian grocery store just opened in my area and I have no clue what's good or not. So many noodles and things. Good question.

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190 · February 27, 2011 at 5:12 AM

I should mention, most soy products lists wheat as the first ingredient (so it'd a double doozey)

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10 Answers

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3184 · February 27, 2011 at 6:06 AM

Soy sauce, assuming it is actually fermented the traditional way, should actually be fine. The gluten and other nasty bits of the wheat are generally broken down in the fermentation. Of course, there is also the option of asking for a tamari soy sauce--which is just the fermented soy beans, not wheat and soy fermented. Then again, most places just use the crappy chemically made soy sauce. Then again, most Americans drown their fish in the soy sauce. Then again, most sushi places sell fish that probably needs to be dipped in soy sauce.

But seriously, Japanese food is pretty innocuous for the most part. I mean yeah, you could get tempura or katsu-don or something deep fried like that. But I'm not going to live my life in fear of eating an occasional bit of white rice with my fish and maybe a little dollop of soy sauce. And if I go out to a sushi place and I order the omakase and the chef puts something fried in front of me or something of unknown origin (which is often the case with a good sushi chef), I'm going to eat it and enjoy it. The world will not end because of one morsel, nor will my metabolism get totally out of whack. Which is all to say, if you have to eat at a Japanese restaurant, sashimi is great, sushi won't be the end of the world, and you might even be able to have some soba if you really want to freak all your paleo zealot friends out. Buckwheat is not, after all, a true cereal grain and isn't, as I understand, as nasty as wheat et al. Just avoid the fried stuff and maybe the spicy mayo based sauces and any wheat noodles and you're golden.

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3509 · February 27, 2011 at 3:07 PM

in a couple of days I will mark this answer as accepted, unless something better shows up!

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1304 · February 28, 2011 at 12:12 AM

I recently noticed that some Tamari soy sauces are wheat free but contain barley. I solved the problem asking for some salt in a small dish. This way I don't need to bring my own sauce, and I don't need to worry about "hidden" sources of gluten. I second Gazelle that Japanese restaurants use way too much HFCS+MSG in rice, dressings, gravies, and probably also pickled ginger.

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1485 · February 27, 2011 at 2:13 PM

I bring my own Tamari soy sauce along with me to the sushi restaurant. Sashimi is ultimate-paleo.

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2369 · February 27, 2011 at 2:58 PM

You might want to avoid the rice.

I've recently discovered that sushi rice is made with pretty sugary vinegar (That's why it tastes so good! Am I the last one to know this?), and it looks like much of the commercial sushi vinegar from Japan has both HFCS and MSG as ingredients. That rice may not be as innocuous as we'd like to believe :(

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1299 · February 27, 2011 at 7:48 AM

For those who really want to avoid soy, there's always Coconut Aminos as a soy sauce/tamari analog. I'm allergic to soy, so this is a pretty great thing for me.

I don't worry about the rice, it's pretty innocuous and I need some glycogen anyways :D

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25467 · February 27, 2011 at 2:56 PM

actually this is a great question because most paleo hacks say avoid all soy and i totally disagree. There is one soy product that I actually am OK with as a physician for a paleo dieter who is trying to lose weight. Sadly few can handle the taste or smell. That is natto. It is fermented soy beans that have unreal amounts of vitamin K2. There is very few sources that are better. I use it in patients who have serious metabolic bone disease or in those with very high calcium index scores with high cardiac (highly sensitive) CRP levels.

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3509 · February 27, 2011 at 4:33 PM

thanks Dr K I recently tasted natto and I liked it! I guess miso should be fine too, because it is also fermented.

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11683 · December 06, 2011 at 8:59 PM

Dr K, what's your view on miso soup? It's been recommended to me because it's probiotic, and recent test results show I'm low in a couple of strains of good bacteria.

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1579 · February 27, 2011 at 5:41 AM

I agree, stay away from soy. No noodles either. Fish, chicken, veggies.

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190 · February 27, 2011 at 5:11 AM

Sashimi and seaweed salad Avoid soy, at all costs.

A39d8f5dfc5ac23a9ba3d3ccf85c0632
190 · February 27, 2011 at 5:12 AM

I should mention, most soy products lists wheat as the first ingredient (so it'd a double doozey)

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500 · February 27, 2011 at 7:27 PM

Seaweed salad is almost never made on premises, which is why the taste is uniform no matter where you go. It's got loads of sugar, and there is dye in there as well. Considering how addictive the stuff is, I can't say I'm too surprised.

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0 · January 08, 2014 at 10:10 PM

I've started eating sushi and sashimi with mct oil mixed with some pink Himalayan salt instead of soy sauce ...quite delicious! Mix some and bring it with you.

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0 · January 08, 2014 at 4:41 PM

I completely disagree with the person who said that the wheat in soy sauce is broken down in the fermentation process. I have celiac disease and we love sushi. After my diagnosis, we used to eat it occasionally & I always used a little soy sauce. Just that small amount of wheat (my diet was, otherwise, 100% gf) brought back my dermatitis herpetiformis, a rash I used to get in my knee that looked like psoriasis. Tamari works, though the soy issue remains a question. I DO love the coconut aminos for dipping. Perfect substitute.

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78422 · February 27, 2011 at 10:54 AM

Eat all the sashimi, ginger, n wasabi you want but STAY AWAY FROM ALL SOY. Its ALL GMOs.

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39841 · February 27, 2011 at 5:54 AM

I get sushi once a week and always order a lot of aji (or saba), sake, and hokkigai (all wild). I'm not afraid of glucose, so I get them all nigiri. I also order natto just to gross out my GF and the people around me, but I eat that at home as well.

Edit: Yeah, I avoid the sauces and just put lots of wasabi on everything.

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