Thursday, 12 September 2013

Musings: Does Starch Consumption and Amylase Activity Activate Stress Responses and Fat Accumulation?

In the footnotes of my previous post, I remarked that there appeared to be a correlation between starch consumption, salivary a-amylase activity, and stress responses in the human body. My thanks to Melchior, who passed on to me Pruimboom’s speculations regarding starch augmenting sympathetic nervous response.

Salivary a-amylase serves the purposes of predigesting starch in the human body, instigating its hydrolysis into more easily assimilated carbohydrate derivatives (the sugars maltose and glucose), where it is subsequently absorbed through the intestinal wall. As the caloric intake from starches increases, generally, so too does a-amylase activity.

Intriguingly, a number of studies in various disciplines have demonstrated a correlation between salivary a-amylase activity and stress, which by extension suggests that starch consumption augments sympathetic nervous response and engenders a state of fight-or-flight and hyperarousal. Nater et al. have documented increases in enzyme concentrations in participants who undergo physical and psychological stresses, such as being shown disturbing images of mutilation or accidents.[1] Similarly, Ljungberg et al. and Chatterton et al. have both recorded increases in SNS activity and a-amylase with physical exertion, along with engaging in dangerous or frightening activities (i.e.: skydiving).[2] These findings demonstrate a strong correlation between rises in norepinephrine and a-amylase activity in response to stress.[3] In addition, other studies have detailed elevations in both cortisol and a-amylase in reaction to stressful stimuli, finding a positive association between the two.[4] For an extensive review of the literature pertaining to salivary a-amylase as a biomarker for stress, please see Granger et al. 2007.[5] Ultimately, elevations in amylase appear to serve in the greater scheme of biological coping mechanisms to deal with states of acute stress.
In my previous post I discussed the significance of Perry et al.’s findings: that high-carbohydrate diets are strongly correlative with elevated salivary a-amylase expression, and that the human populations consuming them have more AMY1 copies than those consuming lower levels of starch.[6] It appears to be axiomatic that levels of a-amylase and expression are associated with the amount of starch in the diet. Extending this idea further, one could propose that lower a-amylase activity would temper the breakdown of starch into sugar, lessening the glycemic response and caloric availability.[7]

It appears likely that high-carbohydrate consumption engenders increases in SNS activation in the body, suppressing immunity, and augmenting the accumulation of fat. In fact, in 2007, Susman et al. found a positive association between elevated a-amylase activity and high BMI and in adolescents..[8] The evidence from evolutionary biology suggests that the adaptation and expression of the amylase gene in humans arose as a survival mechanism, resulting from the need to obtain energy from starches in famine situations. Since prehistory, the ingestion of starches has signalled an increase in salivary a-amylase activity, and a-amylase and cortisol have been shown to escalate during stress. Consequently, these findings support the hypothesis that the consumption of starches signal environmental food shortage and famine in the body, which commences energy conservation and fat accumulation accordingly.[9]

EDIT: Additional material regarding amylase: Kataoka and Dimagno (1999) have documented how alpha-amylase inhibitors - which block the action of amylase - slow the rate of digestion and gastric emptying.

In addition, smoking appears to be associated with lower salivary a-amylase activity - Kitavans, anyone? The "highly acidic aldehydes in tobacco smoke in-activate the a-amylase enzyme". See: 
Nagler, R., Lischnisky, S. and Diamond, E. 2000. "Effect of cigarette smoke on salivary proteins and enzyme activities." Archives of Biochemistry and Biophysics 379:229-36. See also: Granger et al. 2007.

I might also add that in speaking to my friend Woo on facebook the other night on this subject, she too had previously come to the conclusion that GI biota alter to favour fat storage in response to stress and nutrient depletion. I won’t say any more, but I look forward to future posts by Woo (over at regarding her greater insights on this matter.

[1] Nater et al. 2005; Nater et. al. 2006; Arhakis et al. 2013.
[2] Chatterton et al. 1997.
[3] Ljungberg et al. 1997; Chatterton et al. 1996.
[4] Granger et al. 2007; Granger et al. 2006.
[5] Granger et al. 2007.
[6] Perry et. al. 2007.
[7] Susman et al. 2007; Granger et al. 2007.
[8] Susman et al. 2007; Granger et al. 2007.
[9] See Spreadbury 2012; and Miki Ben-Dor over at the PaleoStyle blog.



Ader, R., Cohen, N. and Felten, D. 1995. Psychoneuroimmunology. Academic Press. San Diego, CA.

Arhakis, A. Karagiannis, V., and Kalfas, S. 2013. “Salivary Alpha-Amylase Activity and Salivary Flow Rate in Young Adults,” The Open Dentistry Journal 7:7-15.

Chatterton, R. T., Vogelsong, K. M., Lu, Y. C, Ellma, A. B. and Hudgens, G. A. 1996. “Salivary Α-Amylase as a Measure of Endogenous Adrenergic Activity,” Clinical Physiology 16:433-448.

Chatterton, R.T.,  Vogelsong K. M., Lu, Y.C. and Hudgens, G. A. 1997. “Hormonal Responses to Psychological Stress in Men Preparing for Skydiving,” Journal of Clinical Endocrinology Metabolism 82:2503–2509.

Susman, E. J., Granger, D. A., Dockary, S., Baldes, K. T., Heaton, J., and Dorn, L. D. 2007. “A Longitudinal Perspective On Alpha-Amylase, Body Mass Index, And Timing Of Puberty: Interactive Processes In Adolescents,” The Biennial Meeting of the Society for Research on Child Development, Boston.

Granger D. A., Kivlighan, K.T., Blair, C., El-Sheikh, M., Mize, J., Lisonbee, J. A., 2006. Integrating the Measurement of Salivary A-Amylase into Studies of Child Health, Development, and Social Relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 23:267–90.

Granger, D.A., Kivlighan, K. T., El-Sheikh, M., Gordis, E.B. and Stroud, L.R., 2007. “Salivary Alpha-Amylase in Biobehavioral Research: Recent Developments and Applications,” Annals of New York Academy of Sciences 1098:288-311.

Ljungberg, G., Ericson, T., Ekblom, B, and Birkhed, D. 1997. Saliva and marathon running (Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports 7:214-219.

Nater, U. M., Rohleder, N., and Gaab, J. 2005. “Human Salivary Alpha-Amylase Reactivity in a Psychosocial Stress Paradigm,” International Journal of Psychophysiology 55:333-42.

Nater, U. M., LaMarca, R., Florin, L., Moses, A., Landhans, W. and Koller, M. M. “Stress-Induced Changes in Human Salivary Alpha-Amylase Activity—Associations with Adrenergic Activity,” Psychoneuroendocrinology 31:49–58.

Perry, G. H, Dominy, N. J, Claw, K. G, Lee, A. S. and Fiegler, H. 2007. “Diet and the Evolution of Human Amylase Gene Copy Number Variation,” Nature Genetics 39:1256–1260.

Spreadbury, I. 2012. “Comparison with Ancestral Diets Suggests Dense Acellular Carbohydrates Promote an Inflammatory Microbiota, and may be the Primary Dietary Cause of Leptin Resistance and Obesity,”Diabetes, Metabolic Syndrome and Obesity: Targets and Therapy 5:175–189.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Myths of Paleo, Part Three: The Amylase Gene

A popular and on-going point of contention in the Paleosphere is whether starch constitutes a safe and essential nutrient. One of the arguments for starch consumption is based on the assumption that breast milk – envisaged by some as the optimal human food – contains sugars. Upon birth, the human infant is endowed with enzymes that serve to digest and make use of the sugars, fats, and proteins contained in the mother’s breast milk. The human infant is not, however, even minimally equipped to digest dietary starches – such as mashed pumpkin or potato – which commonly comprise a child’s first solid food. In a paper published in 1984, Sevenhuysen, Holodinsky, and Dawes demonstrated that infants have negligible levels of salivary a-amylase.[1] Salivary amylase serves to predigest starches via chewing, instigating their hydrolisis into maltose and glucose. Examining the development of salivary amylase in infants from birth to five months old, the authors demonstrated that babies fail to produce adequate quantities of amylase to digest even minute amounts of starch. Consequently, the consumption of dietary carbohydrates by infants results in distressing GI issues such as severe diarrhoea, which profoundly impacts the child’s health and growth.

Regarding human adults, the influence of dietary carbohydrates on the amylase content of saliva remains somewhat uncertain, however, some studies have demonstrated evidence that subsisting on a high carbohydrate diet is associated with increased amylolytic activity.[2] In 2007, Perry et al. published an exceptional paper examining the increase in copies of the salivary amylase gene in humans throughout evolutionary history.[3] The researchers found that mutations to have multiple copies of the gene (and consequently initial adaptations to starch consumption) did not occur until, at most, 120,000 years before present. Perry et al.’s paper confirms the minimal role played by dietary starches throughout almost all of our evolutionary history. Moreover, in a paper published in 2010, Hancock et al. reported that the strongest signals of recent genetic adaptations in the human genome are to the numerous attributes specific to tubers, such as starches, sugars, low folic acid, and the detoxification of plant glycosides.[4] The need for so many adaptations simply reinforces that we were previously – and likely still remain – not equipped to consume even minimal quantities of dense starches.

Chimpanzees produce salivary amylase to digest fruit; similarly, carnivores also possess amylase in order to process the glycogen residing in muscle meat. Moreover, animals fed alternatives to their natural diet will produce amylase in amounts corresponding to the quantity of carbohydrates consumed. Humans too have their own primordial amylase gene copy; we have possessed it ever since we were primates. The second copy mutation occurred somewhere between 100 - 200,000 years ago, however this may have resulted even more recently, as single nucleotide polymorphisms and copy number mutations can result in just thousands of years.[5] The additional – and currently incomplete – copies occurred at the very most, around 25,000 years ago, but most plausibly they came about around 10,000 years ago, concurrent with the onset of agriculture, and confirming that high starch consumption was a historically late phenomenon. Many present day human populations from low-starch consuming ancestries still only have two copies, indicating that adaptation to high-starch consumption was not globally widespread.

Ultimately, however, being able to digest the carbohydrates in starches does not render them harmless (we are still not adapted to many complex plant proteins, such as gluten, for example) nor does it alleviate the inevitable spike in glucose and insulin levels. Furthermore, the evidence appears to demonstrate that the evolution of the amylase gene in humans arose as a survival mechanism, resulting from the need to obtain energy from starches in famine situations.

In fact, a few months back when I posted my initial piece refuting the ‘safety’ of agricultural starches, a commenter, Juan, made an interesting observation on this exact topic:

“I wonder if it is safe (pun intended) to consider the possibility that this high repetition of the amylase gene is actually a defensive or protective response in our genome triggered by the increase in starch consumption that occurred after the emergence of agriculture, or maybe even as far back as from the control of fire? This is a possibility I have not come across in the many discussions I have yawned my way through, yet I find it plausible. i.e., that we convert the starch to glucose as soon as possible so that it can be assimilated quickly, or else it will increase fermentative reactions in the lower small bowel…”

In a similar vein, Ph.D. candidate and researcher, Miki Ben-Dor of Tel Aviv University, author of the PaleoStyle blog (partly in Hebrew), has proposed that the consumption of starches was and still is biologically abnormal. Their ingestion signals to the human body that a period of famine or shortage is imminent. Following Spreadbury’s argument, Ben-Dor proposes that the human body – the gut microbiota, specifically, which acts in this regard as a sensory organ – uses cues from its environment to gauge the probability of whether periods of famine or abundance lie ahead, and whether to shed or accumulate body fat accordingly.[6] As meat is the preferred and natural source of caloric energy and nutrition for humans, the consumption of sufficient quantities of meat signals to the body a period of abundance and plenty. Consequently, body fat accumulation is reduced to an optimal level in order to allow for peak fitness advantage for mobility, chase and flight from predators.  On the other hand, the ingestion of abnormal quantities of non-meat foods elicits changes in the gut microbiota, signalling environmental food shortage and to commence accumulation of fat as an energetic buffer, accordingly. Ben-Dor follows Spreadbury here, who hypothesises that gastrointestinal microbiota constitute the principal organ influenced by evolutionarily abnormal quantities of postprandial carbohydrate concentrations. Akin to the bacterial havoc wreaked by sugars on dental health;[7] acellular flours, sugars, and starches all propagate inflammatory microbiota through the upper gastrointestinal tract.[8] Essentially, the consumption of novel and unrecognisable foods at the expense of ideal and familiar foods, is understandably translated by the human body as a signal of famine.  

Moreover, the current evidence engendered from nitrogen stable isotope analysis of hominin bone data – being studied by Professor Michael Richards and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology – has confirmed that our human ancestors truly were high-level carnivores.[9] In fact, one-hundred percent of the early hominin bones studied from Upper Palaeolithic Europe reveal an even more carnivorous stable isotope footprint than that of foxes and wolves; while, comparatively, the data from omnivores such as pigs or the Brown Bear validates that these species truly did have an omnivorous diet.[10]

It is common for starch-apologists to point towards the abundance of edible plant foods available – and consumed by particular forager populations – in parts of Africa today as evidence of food availability and dietary practices in the savannah prior to the human migration out of Africa. Forgotten, however, is the crucial point that our early ancestors would have been competing with manifold better-adapted and highly defensive herbivores and frugivores, not to mention the various insects, bugs, birds, and rodents at large in the environment. Acquiring sufficient plant foods in these early habitats would pose a difficult and metabolically-disadvantageous challenge.[11]

To date, the archaeological, anthropological, and evolutionary data reveals that large quantities of starch were never consumed prior to the Neolithic period, and consequently remain biologically recognised as neither benign nor optimal. Moreover, few (if any) modern peoples remain sufficiently equipped with the genetic, metabolic, immunologic, and GI robustness of our ancestors that would render any starches a “safe” dietary staple.

[1] Sevenhuysen, Holodinsky, and Dawes 1984.
[2] Squires (1952) – in addition to the findings of previous investigators – found elevated salivary amylase activity to be associated with a diet high in carbohydrates. Furthermore, amylase activity was found to vary in accordance with the carbohydrate content of the diet. In addition, Neilson and Terry (1906); and Neilson and Lewis (1908) contended that continued subsistence on a high carbohydrate diet increased amylolytic activity. See also: Wesley-Hadajia and Pignon 1972. Additionally, for whatever reason, it appears that there also exists a correlation between salivary a-amylase activity and stressful situations. Increases in enzyme concentrations have been documented in participants under physical stress and psychological stress, such as watching distressing images of mutilation or accidents, for further, see: Nater et al. 2005; Arhakis et al. 2013.
[3] Perry et al. 2007.
[4] Hancock et al. 2010; See also Ben-Dor et al. 2011.
[5] Perry et al. 2007.
[6] Spreadbury (2012) argues that “if the high carbohydrate density of modern foods produces an 
inflammatory microbiota in both the mouth and small bowel, it may be this that is the root cause of both periodontal and atherosclerotic disease, as well as obesity and other metabolic syndrome-linked “diseases of affluence.”
[7] Hujoel 2009; Wood, Johnson, and Streckfus 2003; Goodson et al. 2009.
[8] Spreadbury 2012.
[9] See: Schoeninger and DeNiro 1984; Schoeninger 1995.
[10] Larsen, Shavit, and Griffin, 1991; Richards and Trinkaus 2009; Richards 2009; Mannino et al. 2011; Richards 2008.
[11] For an examination of archaeological evidence for plant use in the Palaeolithic, see Copeland et al. 2011.


Arhakis, A. Karagiannis, V., and Kalfas, S. 2013. “Salivary Alpha-Amylase Activity and Salivary Flow Rate in Young Adults,” The Open Dentistry Journal 7:7-15.

Ben-Dor, M., Gopher, A., Hershkovitz., I. and Barkai, R. “Man the Fat Hunter: The Demise of Homo Erectus and the Emergence of a New Hominin Lineage in the Middle Pleistocene (ca. 400 kyr) Levant,” Plos One 6:28689.

Cohen, M. N. 1989. Health and the Rise of Civilization. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Copeland, S., Sponheimer, M., de Ruiter, D., Lee-Thorp, J., Codron, D., le Roux, P., Grimes, V. and Richards, M. 2011. “Strontium Isotope Evidence for Early Hominin Landscape Use.” Nature 474:76-78.

Goodson J. M., Groppo, D., Halem, S. and Carpino, E. 2009. “Is Obesity an Oral Bacterial Disease?” Journal of Dental Research 88:519-23.

Hancock, A. M., Witonsky, D. B., Ehler, E., Alkorta-Aranburu, G., and Beall, C. 2010. “Colloquium Paper: Human Adaptations to Diet, Subsistence, and Ecoregion are Due to Subtle Shifts in Allele Frequency,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 107:8924–8930.
Hujoel P. 2009. “Dietary Carbohydrates and Dental-Systemic Diseases,” Journal of Dental Research 88:490-502.

Katzenburg, M. A. 2008. “Stable Isotope Analysis: A Tool for Studying Past Diet, Demography, and Life History. In Biological Anthropology of the Human Skeleton, edited by Katzenburg M. A. and Saunders, S. R. 413-41. Hoboken: Wiley-Liss.

Larsen, C. S., 1995. “Biological Changes in Human Populations with Agriculture,” Annual Review of Anthropology 24:185–213.

Larsen, C. S., 1997. Bioarchaeology: Interpreting Behavior from the Human Skeleton. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Larsen, C. S., 2000. Skeletons in Our Closet: Revealing Our Past through Bioarchaeology. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Larsen, C. S., 2002. Post-Pleistocene Human Evolution: Bioarchaeology of the Agricultural Transition. In Human Diet: Its Origins and Evolution, edited by P. S. Ungar and M. F. Teaford, 19-35. Westport: Greenwood Publishing.

Larsen, C. S., 2003. “Animal Source Foods and Human Health During Evolution,” Journal of Nutrition 133, 3893S–3897S.

Larsen, C. S. 2006. “The Agricultural Revolution as Environmental Catasrophe: Implications for Health and Lifestyle in the Holocene,” Quaternary International 150:12-20.

Larsen, C. S., Shavit, R., Griffin, M.C., 1991. “Dental Caries Evidence for Dietary Change: An Archaeological Context.” In Advances in Dental Anthropology, edited by Kelley, M. A., Larsen, C. S, 179–202. New York: Wiley-Liss.

Larsen, C. S., Griffin, M.C., Hutchinson, D. L., Noble, V. E., Norr, L., Pastor, R. F., Ruff, C. B., Russell, K.F., Schoeninger, M. J., Schultz, M., Simpson, S.W. and Teaford, M. F. 2001. “Frontiers of Contact: Bioarchaeology of Spanish Florida,” Journal of World Prehistory 15:69–123.

Mannino, M., Di Salvo, R., Schimmenti, V., Di Patti, C., Incarbona, A., Sineo, L., and Richards, M. P. 2011. “Upper Palaeolithic Hunter-Gatherer Subsistence in Mediterranean Coastal Environments: An Isotopic Study of the Diets of the Earliest Directly-Dated Humans from Sicily,” Journal of Archaeological Science 38:3094-3100.

Nater, U. M., Rohleder, N., and Gaab, J. 2005. “Human Salivary Alpha-Amylase Reactivity in a Psychosocial Stress Paradigm,” International Journal of Psychophysiology 55:333-42.

Neilson, C. H. and Lewis, D. H. 1908. “The Effect of Diet on the Amylolytic Power of Saliva,” Journal of Biological Chemistry 4:501-506.

Neilson, C. H. and Terry, O. P. 1906. “The Adaptation of The Salivary Secretions to Diet,” American Journal of Physiology 15:406-415.

Osterdahl M, Kocturk T, Koochek A, and Wandell P. E. 2008. "Effects of a Short-Term Intervention with a Paleolithic Diet in Healthy Volunteers," European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 62:682–685.

Perry, G. H, Dominy, N. J, Claw, K. G, Lee, A. S. and Fiegler, H. 2007. “Diet and the Evolution of Human Amylase Gene Copy Number Variation,” Nature Genetics 39:1256–1260.

Richards M. P. 2009. “Stable Isotope Evidence for European Upper Paleolithic Human Diets." In The Evolution Of Hominin Diets Integrating Approaches To The Study Of Palaeolithic Subsistence, edited by Hublin J. J and Richards M. P, 251–257. Dordrecht: Springer.

Richards, M. P., Pacher, M., Stiller, M., Quilès, J., Hofreiter, M., Constantin, S., Zilhão, J. and Trinkaus, E. 2008. "Isotopic Evidence for Omnivory among European Cave Bears: Late Pleistocene Ursus Spelaeus from the Pestera cu Oase, Romania," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 105:600-604.

Richards M. P. and Trinkaus, E. 2009. “Isotopic Evidence for the Diets of European Neanderthals and Early Modern Humans,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 106:16034-16039.

Schoeninger, M. J. and DeNiro, M. 1984. “Nitrogen and Carbon Isotopic Composition of Bone Collagen from Marine and Terrestrial Animals,”  Geochim Cosmochim Acta 48:635-639.

Schoeninger, M. J. 1995. “Stable Isotope Studies in Human Evolution,” Evolutionary Anthropology 4:83-98.

Sevenhuysen, G. P., Holodinsky, C. and Dawes, C. 1984. “Development of Salivary Alpha-Amylase in Infants from Birth to 5 Months,” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 39:584-8.
Spreadbury, I. 2012. “Comparison with Ancestral Diets Suggests Dense Acellular Carbohydrates Promote an Inflammatory Microbiota, and may be the Primary Dietary Cause of Leptin Resistance and Obesity,” Diabetes, Metabolic Syndrome and Obesity: Targets and Therapy 5:175–189.
Squires, B. 1953. “Human Salivary Amylase Secretion in Relation to Diet,” Journal of Physiology 119:153-156.
Talamo, S., Soressi, M., Roussel, M., Richards, M., and Hublin, J. J. 2012. “A Radiocarbon Chronology for the Complete Middle to Upper Palaeolithic Transitional Sequence of Les Cottés (France),” Journal of Archaeological Science 39:175-183.

Van der Merwe, N. J. 1982. “Carbon Isotopes, Photosynthesis, and Archeology,” American Scientist 70:596-606.

Wesley-Hadajia, B. and Pignon, H. 1972. “Effect of the Diet in West Africa on Human Salivary Amylase Activity,” Archives of Oral Biology 17:1415-20.

Wood, N., Johnson, R. B., Streckfus C. F. 2003.Comparison of Body Composition And Periodontal Disease using Nutritional Assessment Techniques: Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey,” Journal of Clinical Periodontology 30:321-7.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

What I Eat [Part Two] – In Turkey!

My language fluency flourished significantly throughout my stay in Turkey. More often than not this was due to simple necessity: I was travelling primarily in the Eastern highlands (‘remote’ would constitute an understatement) where utterances of the English language came from no other lips than mine! Ha. Alas, it wasn’t until the cab ride, from my hostel in Istanbul to board my flight home, that I finally achieved a full and lengthy exchange in Turkish, all the way to Ataturk airport.

While I’ve travelled in Turkey before, I was still worried whether I would be able to find consistently low-carb, gluten-free traditional Turkish food. Now home in Australia, I'm amused by the idea that I ever doubted the low-carb potential of Turkish cuisine. In fact, I now yearn to replicate my favourite dishes at every meal.


Breakfast in Turkey is typically light, fresh, and simple. However, as I was hiking up mountains looking for Palaeolithic caves each day, I tried industriously to mainline as much free breakfast as humanly possible.

Breakfast in Turkey consists of an assortment of cheeses (beyaz peynir, kaşar  - made from unpasteurised sheep's milk), hard-boiled eggs, beautiful fresh selections of Turkish olives, butter, tomatoes, cucumber, kaymak (clotted cream), yoghurt. Turkish tea and coffee are fearsomely strong, and for me, essential. One of my favourite breakfast dishes was something called menemen, cooked in a single-serving, piping hot, metal pan.


2 tbsp olive oil or butter
2 onions, sliced
1 red or green pepper, halved deseeded and sliced
1-2 red chillies, deseeded and sliced
400g can chopped tomatoes
2 garlic cloves, crushed
4 eggs
6 tbsp thick, creamy yogurt
feta or hard cheese
small bunch parsley, roughly chopped
cumin and oregano to taste

As I was always hiking thoughout the day, lunch was never accessible. However, I would take hundreds of Turkish roasted hazelnuts with me in my backpack, along with a sturdy, durable wheel of locally made goat’s milk rind cheese. Berries and figs were ubiquitous in the Turkish mountains and lowlands, providing many succulent, fresh, free snacks and lunches.


I will begin with a brief selection of the many meze on offer. In addition to olives, mature and white cheeses, and various mixed pickles, meze consists of a selection of sensational appetizers:

Acılı ezme – hot spicy freshly mashed tomato with onion and green herbs

Acuka –Aleppo pepper paste, tomato paste, ground walnuts, garlic, and spices

Arnavut ciğeri – fried liver cubes served with onion, parsley and hot pepper

Patlıcan salatası – eggplant salad, mashed eggplant with garlic herbs and olive oil 

Barbunya pilaki – beans cooked with garlic, tomato paste, carrot and olive oil

Cacık – yogurt with cucumber, mint, and olive oil

Cevizli biber – a meze prepared with walnut, red pepper, pepper paste, onion and cumin

Çiğ köfte – raw meat patties, similar to steak tartare, prepared with ground beef or lamb

Çoban salatası – a mixed salad of tomato, cucumber, onion, green peppers, and parsley

Dolma – vine leaves, cabbage leaves, chard leaves, peppers, tomato, squash, pumpkin, eggplant or mussels stuffed with rice, but sometimes solely with meat

Fasulye – marinated stewed green beans in olive oil, tomatoes, onion, garlic, dill, cumin. Serve with yoghurt

Grilled octopus in white wine vinegar, garlic and chillies,

Haydari – strained thick ‘zuzme’ yoghurt, with garlic, oregano, mint, basil or dill

Kabak çiçeği dolması – stuffed zucchini blossoms

Karnıyarık — fried eggplants with a minced meat, onion, parsley, garlic and tomato filling. 

Kızartma - various fried or roasted, caremalised vegetables such as eggplants, peppers, courgettes in a rich tomato-and-garlic sauce, sometimes with chilli, paprika, and cumin, served with thick garlic yogurt

Zeytin piyazi - olives and green onion salad

Kepaps (Kebabs)

Kebaps deserve their own section and need no introduction. Made even more sensational alongside a nice cold glass of ayran – a salted yoghurt drink made from cow or ewe’s milk, sometimes frothed.

Adana Kebabı – lamb meat, tail fat, dried red and green hot pepper and fresh local red pepper are kneaded, brochette mounted on the skewers, charcoal grilled and served with grilled onion, tomato and green pepper on the side.

Alinazik – sauteed baby lamb is served on top of chargrilled, smoked, spiced mashed eggplants, tomato puree, yogurt, butter, garlic and spices.

Antep Kebabı – lamb kneaded with dried red hot pepper and salt. The chunks of meat are lined on skewer with either onion, tomato and green pepper or eggplants on the skewer and grilled onion, tomato and green pepper are served on the side.

Beyti Kebap – lamb or beef is kneaded with tomato, tomato paste, garlic, parsley, salt and pepper, oven baked and served in thick slices with tomato sauce and yoghurt on top.

Buğu Kebabı – small pieces of lamb are first roasted with shallots briefly and then stove cooked with tomato, thyme, salt, pepper and daphne on top in a clay pot.

Çağ Kebabı – sliced lamb meat and tail fat are marinated in onion, yogurt, salt and pepper for a day, impaled on a spit and vertically charcoal grilled. Thin slices are cut like döner and served on special small skewers with grilled pepper, tomato and onions.

Döner Kepap – dish of beaten pieces of meat seasoned with suet, local herbs and spices, skewered on a spit and grilled vertically. 

İskender kebab – thinly cut döner lamb basted with hot tomato puree, red peppers, slathered generously in thick fresh sheep’s milk butter. The chef will commonly pour on a generous piping hot serving of melted butter from a frying pan when you get your meal.

Patlıcan Kebabı – lamb thigh meat, salt, pepper and sometimes garlic are kneaded as meatballs, put on the skewer in turns with thickly chopped pieces of eggplant, charcoal grilled and served with grilled tomatoes and peppers. In some restaurants the same ingredients are oven cooked and served with tomato sauce and yoghurt.

Sebzeli Kebap – small pieces of lamb are roasted with butter briefly and then oven cooked with lightly fried eggplants, potatoes, carrots, green pepper and grated tomato.

Şiş Kebap – cubes of mostly lamb or beef, chicken and even goat are marinated in onion, yogurt, salt, pepper, olive oil and sometimes tomato paste are marinated in the fridge for minimum two hours and charcoal grilled on skewers with cubes of pepper and tomato.

Tandır Kebabı – lamb chops or a whole lamb are baked with lemon, onion, tomato and green pepper.

Urfa Kebabı – lamb meat, dried red hot pepper, onion, tomato and parsley are kneaded, mounted on the skewers and charcoal grilled.

This is but a minuscule sampling of the sensational food I got to consume every day while living and working in Turkey. The food is fresh, inexpensive, sensationally spiced, and much care is taken in its preparation and consumption. Ultimately, Turkey offers a colourful sundry of meal and cuisine options for the decidedly glucose-restricted. Hopefully I’ve inspired departure from the standard, habitual fare of tired low carb / paleo recipes.

May your spice cupboards proliferate and prosper ;)

- Anna