The Slow Carb Diet – Korean Style

by Jason -- June 20, 2011

A few months ago I read Tim Ferriss’ latest book, The 4-Hour Body. I enjoyed it and would recommend it to those interested in learning more about health, nutrition and exercise. One of the key parts of the 4-Hour Body, is the diet he recommends to follow — the “Slow Carb Diet”. I’ve decided to follow this diet and in the following post I’ll tell you why I like it. I’ll also include all of the changes I’ve had to make to it in order to make it more feasible in Korea.

What is the slow carb diet?

For 6 days a week the diet is:

  • No carbs
  • No sugar
  • No fruit
  • No dairy

Then, there is also 1 cheat day where you can eat and drink anything you want (although it’s recommended to still eat a proper breakfast on cheat day).

What I like about the diet

For those who know me well may be wondering why I’m “on a diet”. I’m not overweight and generally consider myself to be quite fit.

First off, it’s not really a diet, but more of a lifestyle change. I enjoy eating like this and don’t plan on going back to my old way. The two primary aspects of this diet that appeal to me are:

  1. As long as you eat food that follows the rules of the diet, you can eat as much as you want. In fact, Tim says that you’ll need to eat a lot more than you think. Carbs are a calorie dense food and taking them out of the diet means you need to eat more to ensure you’re consuming enough calories.
  2. One day a week is a cheat day, where you’re supposed to eat all of the things you’re not allowed on the diet.

Before this diet I essentially tried to eat every meal healthfully, hardly ever allowing myself to “cheat”. Allowing myself one day a week for ice cream, tteobokki, doughnuts or whatever else I want to eat is great. I love the structure of the diet.


I have begun my day essentially the same way for the last 25 years — a bowl of cereal with milk and a sliced banana on top. Unfortunately, all of those things are a no-no on this diet. Now, I eat 2 eggs, spinach, and beans, topped with salsa. It’s a delicious and filling meal and I don’t miss my old breakfast at all. Check out this video from Tim showing you how to make this breakfast in 3-minutes:

My additional notes for Korea:

  • I’ve looked for egg whites at all of the major grocery stores, but have not been able to find them. For now, I’m eating 2 eggs with the yolk. I realize this may be bad for my cholesterol and so I’ve been considering taking out the yolk.
  • I have high blood pressure and don’t want to eat canned beans. Instead, every 2 weeks I buy about a kilogram of beans, cook it all up and freeze the extras. In the morning I microwave a few spoonfuls and top it with salsa.
  • Buying the beans from the grocery store turned out to be very expensive. After searching around, I found a small vendor who specializes in beans. She sells black beans for 2,500Won for 700 grams – far cheaper than the grocery store.
  • Instead of frozen spinach, I buy fresh spinach, cut off the stem, rinse and microwave it — just as easy as Tim’s frozen spinach.


Because I work by myself at home, I use lunch as an excuse to get out of the house and see other human beings. This means that I eat out every day. The best meals I’ve found to be slow carb friendly are jjigaes (stews). Kimchi jjigae (김치찌개), Doenjang jjigae (된장찌개) and Sundubu jjigae (순두부) are what I primarily stick with. The banchan (sides) served with all Korean meals are almost always slow-carb friendly. The hardest part is the fact that these soups are meant to be eaten with rice. Because of this, I typically cheat a little and eat some of my rice with my soup.

Korean barbeque is another really good meal that’s slow-carb friendly, but it’s more expensive and not typically eaten by yourself. Because of this, I tend to stick with the jjigaes.


Being the house husband, I’m now in charge of cooking dinner. Cooking delicious slow-carb friendly meals has come with some trial and error, but I’ve got it down now. I have 8 meals that I rotate through. Most of them share the same core ingredients – onions, peppers, mushrooms, garlic, broccoli, cauliflower and chicken. I originally found recipes online, but had to change the spices in almost all of them because it’s difficult to find spices in Korea that are common in the states (cilantro and cumin for example). If you’re looking for slow-carb friendly recipes that you can easily make in Korea, you can download my spreadsheet of dinners (of course I have a spreadsheet of dinners!). I have all of the cooking instructions in there as well as ingredients. This spreadsheet is all I use now when I cook.

A sampling of some of our typical dinners:

  • “Pasta” with sauce — To make it slow-carb friendly, the “pasta” is string mushrooms, bean sprouts & zucchini cut into string-size pieces
  • Tofu mashed “potatoes” — Again to make it slow-carb friendly, the “potatoes” are cauliflower.
  • Yellow curry chicken soup — The main ingredients are beans, chicken and peanuts.
  • Chicken Chili — The main ingredients are chicken, beans, topped with a can of stewed tomatoes.


Have you ever tried a no-carb diet? Are you trying Tim’s slow-carb diet? What do you think of it? Let me know, leave a comment below.

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20 Responses to “The Slow Carb Diet – Korean Style”

  1. You had me at “korean”. :)

    I’ve been following a slow-carb diet for about 5 months, and one of my favorite things is figuring out how to make “fancy” foods like these. I’ve been making my own kimchi for about 7 months, so I was particularly excited to see it specifically mentioned in the book.

    I like your noodle ideas. Cauliflower “rice” has also been a lifesaver for me. If you have some authentic Korean recipes that are slow-carb, I’d love to see them!


  2. Jason
    I have read some pages of the book, (Jenneil) has it and i just can’t find myself to start doing what your doing. So, a big YAY for you :) I have a lot of doubts about it, I guess I have to read the book ‘more’ to make up my mind but your post made me want to do it, so thank you for the post and for sharing the spreadsheet :)

  3. Hi Jason! It’s great that you’re making healthy lifestyle changes!

    I’ve been doing 4HB to maintain weight since I can’t exercise until my shoulder heals. One good resource I found for recipes is Technically they’re primal recipes, but there are good ideas there to make regular dishes fit the diet.

    I don’t know how you can stand to eat jjigae in the hot summer months. It’s 95° here in Mountain View. Can you find a good ssam place near your house?

    Anyway, good luck with the diet!

  4. @Jason — Haha! Wow, I’m really impressed that you make your own kimchi! And I agree, I thought it was really cool that Tim mentioned Kimchi. I have a couple Korean recipes in my spreadsheet you should check out. One for Kimchi Jjigae and one for Soondoobu jjigae. You may have to go to a Korean store to buy the right spices and pastes, but you should be able to get most of the other ingredients at any grocery store.

    @Linda — You sound pretty similar to Sharon actually :-). One thing I didn’t include in this post were results. Sharon is only following this diet because I do the cooking now, but she’s lost over 6 pounds in the last 2 months which she claims is the first time in her life that she’s lost weight. So, it definitely works. Plus you get a cheat day on Saturday which is fun! Good luck, let me know how it goes!

    @Vy — Thanks! I really appreciate the website, I’m always looking for more recipes, I’ll check that out. Unfortunately, I don’t have much of a choice to not eat jjigae. There aren’t a ton of other korean dishes that are slow-carb friendly. We have a few ssam/bbq places around, but it’s really not intended for 1 person. So, for now, I’m going to try my best to eat the jjigae!

  5. @Jason, I found it cheaper to make my own kimchi. :) I have a Korean friend who I give some to every time I make it and he tells me what to adjust. It’s gotten better, but he said it’s still at 90% of what his mom makes. I’m going to keep trying!


  6. Makes sense — I’m always surprised by how expensive kimchi is, even in Korea. And if you’re at 90% of a Korean mom’s kimchi, you should give yourself a huge pat on the back, that’s impressive.

  7. Hey Jason,

    I was really pleased to come across your post. I have just moved to Korea about 2 months ago and have been doing the slow-carb diet for about 6 months now and I definitely love it. I was looking for some Korean meals that I could eat while out with some friends, and your advice is definitely very helpful. The only questions I have is, isn’t there a lot of sodium and fat in the jjigaes? I have been eating them for lunch almost every day, and although the calories are really low, I was worried about the sodium levels and the fat levels, any thoughts on those? If you could let me know that would be awesome. Thanks again, and best of luck on the diet :)

  8. Hey Will — Thanks for the comment. Hope you’re enjoying your time in Korea, we loved it! I’ve never found (or truly looked) for sodium and fat content in jjigaes. I suspect that they’re pretty high in sodium though. However, fat and calories they’re going to be pretty low. I tried to keep my sodium intake extremely low outside of lunch and found that this balance worked for me. Good luck!


  9. Hi there Jason,

    Ran across this post as my wife and I contemplate the move from the Caribbean to S. Korea. Refreshing to know that there are slow carb options.

    I’ve been 4HB for a year and a half and have lost 70lbs on it. It’s become such a part of my life that I can’t imagine scrapping it.

    Based on your post I have a lot of research yet to do.

    Thanks for the info….

  10. Thanks for the comment Ben. Congrats on all of the weight lost, so awesome! Definitely lots of slow-carb options in Korea. Good luck with the move, I’m a huge fan of Korea.


  11. Hey Jason,

    So I arrived in country on Sunday and am having a tough time finding where to buy the ingredients I need!

    Wondering if you could share some of those stores you mentioned for the beans and if you ever solved the egg white issue… We have a CostCo trip scheduled for Saturday, maybe we’ll get lucky. I’m kind of in the same boat as you health wise and it’s killing me to put all those whole eggs into my bfast every morning. I’m using 3, b/c my chicken sausage protein boost isn’t available as well.

    Thanks in advance!


  12. Hi Ben — Congrats on the big move! There’s really no way for me to tell you a store name of where I bought my beans. It was literally a tiny little shop in a small alley. I don’t even think the store had a name. I imagine those kinds of small bean shops are all over though.

    As for egg whites, I never solved it. I ended up just sticking with 2 eggs with yolks — in fact I’m still eating that (and now I’m back in California). You may have better luck at Costco, in my entire time there, I actually never made it, so I don’t know what their selection is like. Good luck and sorry I wasn’t more helpful!



    Hey, Ive just finished reading the 4 hour body and implementing it, I believe strongly that it could work. I’ve eaten this way anyway for a while now.
    Anyway, my point, I love GMarket and I cant even read Korean very well, but I found eggwhites a couple of months ago and buy them buy the kgs in a tetra pak. I grew up in Australia and can say they’re even better than home! They are delievered frozen and I got 4kgs (4 seperate bottles) frozen for 19,500. Im not endorsing this company just thought you might want to know!

    I came across your site because I make my own kimchi and even though I only add 1 tbsp sugar to 4 heads of napa cabbage (I use an apple for the sweetness) I was concerned that the sugar may be a dealbreaker, as I eat ALOT of kimchi…..

    Sorry for the long post :)

  14. Hi Suzi!

    You have just made my day! My week! About how many egg whites are in one bottle?

    Thanks SO SO SO much!


  15. Hahaha Hi Ben, Happy to help!

    Ok, based on 1 egg white weighing about 28g, there would be about 35 egg whites in a 1kg container, 3.5 egg whites to 100g which is what I have per serve.


  16. You rock Suzi — thanks for the suggestion! I’m also a HUGE Gmarket fan :-).

  17. Hello, enjoying the blog. I am also in Korea and following the slow carb diet. I was hoping some one could point me in the right direction for the right place to buy beans. I want to avoid the canned stuff. Any recommendations? Also, another question I had is about kimchi? Is all kimchi created equal in terms of health benefits? I like to buy the small packages at 711 as a snack. Are these a good option or should I be looking for some better/healthier kimchi?

  18. Hey Danny,

    After dealing with the dry beans at various grocery stores in the US, the Caribbean and even at CostCo, I’ve found that the advantages to canned beans far outweigh the time and effort expended versus the convenience of popping (or even opening) the can and rinsing black beans as needed. I store the leftovers in glasslock or ziplock containers and have them with practically every meal. I don’t have a problem with lentils and red beans, but black are my favorites. I stocked up on a few cans from the foreign food mart in Itaewon for 2,000KRW and have seen the S&H brand around as well.

    The key to SCD friendly kimchi is the sugar. I stay away from 99% of convenience store prepackaged foodstuffs in favor of edamame or almonds and even then I limit myself as much as possible. Anything that has more than two ingredients and comes in a package is bad in more ways than I think we want to know. :) (Aside: In desperation, I’ve been known to pay the ‘fat-tax-man’ by buying an overpriced salad with prepackaged chicken.) With the average kimchi recipe the 2tbs +/- are inconsequential to me, but some people hit stalls with it.

    The best thing to do is to experiment on yourself and track the right things at the right timw.

    FWIW, since I arrived in SoKo, I’ve dropped another 3lbs. And that’s with two weeks ‘off’ the SCD… one in the USA with tons of ice-cream and luxury foods and one here without all my usual stuff.

    Good luck!

  19. Awesome, thanks for the response. Is there any way you can hook me up with the info for the black bean vendor you mentioned? I am also having trouble finding some reasonably priced black beans.

  20. Hey Danny,

    I’ve seen both the S&H and La Costena brand here:

    Also saw the S&H brand at ilovecookie at the Jeongja station. A pic here and some general info here:

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