Philip J. Goscienski, M.D.
John Montagu, the Fourth Earl of Sandwich would be surprised to know that his invention — if the legend is correct — has invaded nearly every menu in the Western world. The 18th century First Lord of the Admiralty, after whom the Sandwich (Hawaiian) Islands are named, reportedly asked for a helping of meat between two slices of bread to keep him going during marathon gambling sessions. Some historians are less generous to the Earl and claim that the sandwich goes all the way back to the 1st century B.C.
Without the distractions of modern life, like poker or pinochle, our Stone Age ancestors had no need of a food as convenient as a sandwich. But then, they didn't have bread either. Maybe those of us who are interested in losing a pound or a few should think out of the (lunch) box and take a tip from prehistory.
Two slices of bread contribute about 140 to 200 calories to our daily meal plan. A tablespoon-sized glob of mayo or butter adds a hundred more. A naked sandwich — no bread, butter or dressing — thus trims 300 calories off your lunch. If you can resist the temptation to make up the difference with a sweet snack or dessert you could lose a pound about every two or three weeks.
How do you hold the stuff together? A large leaf of lettuce. If you Google lettuce wrap you'll find enough information to overload your recipe box, especially the BetterBytes site. Most varieties of lettuce don't provide much nutrition except for small amounts of folate, vitamins A and C and potassium but a good sized leaf has almost no calories either. Lettuce provides what nutritionists call mouth feel to offset the relative dryness of bread.
It's alright to add another slice of turkey or other lean meat to your naked sandwich. Those 50 or 60 calories will give you a boost of protein that will quell your appetite a lot longer than the bread you left behind.
If you're making your own lunch, get creative with condiments. Sweet relish, chutney, cranberry sauce and mustard add plenty of flavor and not many calories. Try a little vinaigrette, soy sauce, salsa, chili sauce or a spoonful of capers to wake up your taste buds.
Need a bridge to the lettuce-wrap lunchstyle? You might find a soft tortilla easier to handle and it adds only about 60 calories more than lettuce. Pita bread makes for a nice variation but it has about as many calories as a couple of slices of white bread.
There's more to this than cutting back on calories. Almost all sandwich breads are made from refined grains that are digested quickly and that boost our blood sugar. Several servings a day of quickly absorbed carbohydrates contribute to the current epidemics of obesity and type 2 diabetes. Whole grain breads are not much better but they do bump up our fiber intake.
Tens of thousands of years ago humans had no grain-based products at all and our bodies haven't yet become completely adapted to them. If we're going to eventually get back to the kind of diet that nature intended for us the naked sandwich is a sensible place to start
Philip J. Goscienski, M.D. is the author of Health Secrets of the Stone Age, Better Life Publishers 2005. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.