This article originally appeared in Paleo Magazine.
The Paleo diet is often mischaracterized as first and foremost a high-meat diet, and not just in the media but by some Paleo eaters who carefully build their meals around meat, seeking out only the leanest cuts.
Meat is an important part of Paleo-style eating, yet the most common mistake made by those who go Paleo is eating too much meat—muscle meat, that is.
By always choosing muscle meat, like a steak or a chicken breast, Paleo followers tend to ignore the other bits of the animal:
- Bone marrow
- Organ meats
- Fattier meat cuts
- Animal fats, like lard and tallow
If you’re not eating nose to tail, you could be missing out on important nutrients. Here’s why nose-to-tail eating is an important part of ancestral health.
Can you eat too much meat on a Paleo diet? Yes—when it comes to muscle meats. For a balanced nutrient-dense diet, you need to eat nose to tail, like our ancestors did. Find out how to get other cuts of meat onto your plate. #paleo #nutrition #chriskresser
If You Want to Eat like Your Ancestors, Eat Nose to Tail
From what we know about our hunter–gatherer ancestors, the original “Paleo diet” varied significantly from tribe to tribe. Hunter–gatherers got an average of 45 to 65 percent of their energy from animal products (although estimated ranges stretch from 26 to 99 percent). (1, 2) In this context, however, “animal products” means all parts of the animal, not just the lean muscle meats that populate grocery store meat cases.
Weston A. Price spent his career studying the cuisines of modern hunter–gatherer societies to discover how their food habits perpetuated good health. He found that most tribes didn’t waste any parts of the animal and that dishes containing bone broths, organ meats, and other odd bits were ubiquitous. His work offered great clues about how our ancestors ate. Some examples of their thrifty practices that persist into the 21st century:
- Costa Ricans serve pork shanks cooked with liver, kidney, ears, cheek, brain, and heart, in addition to fried pieces of pork belly called chicharrónes (3)
- In Romania, piftie, which consists of pig tails, feet, and ears, is spiced with garlic and served in bone gelatin (4)
- Beef short ribs, one of the fattiest cuts of meat, is a common dish in Korea (5)
Eating nose to tail provides more complete nutrition than muscle meat alone. Cartilage, skin, and meat synergize when consumed together. For example, methionine, abundant in lean meats, requires B vitamins, choline, and glycine from organ meats, connective tissues, and bone broth. Making and consuming the bone broth provides collagen, gelatin, glycine, and minerals. Rendering the animal fat for use in cooking helps the body to absorb fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K.
Eating Nose to Tail Helps Balance Out Amino Acids
Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, and most have names ending in “-ine,” like glycine, methionine, cysteine, or proline. Muscle meats are loaded with methionine, one of the nine essential amino acids—essential in this case meaning that our bodies can’t manufacture it and therefore we must obtain it from the diet. Glycine and proline, on the other hand, are abundant in connective tissues and bone broth. Although glycine and proline are technically not essential amino acids, our bodies can only manufacture them to a certain extent. (6, 7) We need dietary sources, too. And you’re not going to be getting much glycine or proline in lean muscle meat.
When methionine intake isn’t balanced with glycine intake, it can raise homocysteine levels, a significant risk factor for serious health problems, including heart disease. (8) High homocysteine also increases the need for vitamin B6, vitamin B12, folate, betaine, and choline, which recycle homocysteine and are more abundant in organ meats than in muscle meat.
In addition to balancing out methionine levels, glycine also boasts its own health benefits, including improvements in:
- Gut health
- Wound healing
- Blood sugar
- And more
Why You Should Begin with Bone Broth
Soup consumption dates back at least 20,000 years. (9) I would bet that your grandmother or great-grandmother saved the chicken carcass (probably from a pastured, organic chicken) to make soup stock. This type of bone broth is a far cry from the packaged “chicken broth” product you’ll find in most grocery stores.
Bone broth is a nutrient gold mine, containing 17 amino acids (including glycine from above) and over a dozen vitamins and minerals. Bone broth is also a rich source of collagen, which makes up 30 percent of the protein in your body. Collagen is the building block of connective tissues like cartilage, ligaments, tendons, bone, and skin. When simmered, it breaks down into gelatin and contains glutamine, proline, hydroxyproline, and glycine.
The idea of sipping chicken soup to soothe a cold probably stemmed from the enormous healing potential of the compounds found in bone broth. The advantages of bone broth are bountiful, ranging from skin, bone, and joint health to brain, gut, and cardiovascular benefits. (10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20)
Best of All? You Can Make It Yourself
Making bone broth requires very little culinary skill. Here’s a basic recipe: Place the carcass of a chicken—preferably organic and pastured—or the cartilaginous bones like ankle, shoulder, and other joints from a grass-fed, grass-finished cow into a large pot. Add roughly chopped veggies like carrots, celery, and onion, enough water to cover by a few inches, a splash of vinegar to help extract the minerals, and herbs and spices (try marjoram, thyme, and rosemary), plus salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer and cook for most of the day. Strain well, season to taste, and enjoy one-half to one cup each day.
If you don’t have access to good-quality bones or you lack the time, there are a few high-quality bone broths you can buy. My current preferred brand is Kettle & Fire.
Next Up: Organ Meats
After mastering bone broth, it’s time to give the “odd bits” a try. Some organ meats have nutritional profiles similar to muscle meat, like heart and tongue, while others are nutrient goldmines, like liver. Aim for at least three ounces of organ meats per week.
Liver fell out of favor when saturated fat and cholesterol were demonized, which is extremely unfortunate because it is one of the most nutrient-dense foods in existence. There’s a reason it’s sometimes called “nature’s multivitamin.”
Beef liver has about 17 times more vitamin B12 content per serving than ground beef and over 500 times more retinol, or preformed vitamin A. (21) A common misconception is that carrots and other vegetables have lots of vitamin A, but in reality, they contain beta-carotene, a precursor of vitamin A, of which very little is actually converted to vitamin A in the body. Liver is also high in vitamin B6, folate, choline, iron, zinc, and much more.
Liver, I will admit, is an “acquired taste.” It’s not my favorite food, but I’ve found ways to include it in my diet. Try grinding and combining it with ground beef for lettuce-wrapped spicy tacos or adding it to meatballs. And liver isn’t “full of toxins,” as some may tell you in error. The liver filters toxins; it doesn’t store them.
Heart and tongue are the closest to muscle meat, and both require long, slow cooking times to become tender. The heart is particularly rich in CoQ10, a nutrient that’s often deficient in people with chronic health conditions.
Talk to vendors at your local farmers market about kidney, fish head, ham hock, tripe, and more. Many sustainable farms offer animal shares, where a few people can split the cuts from an entire cow, which makes eating grass-fed, grass-finished beef more affordable. When you order a quarter- or half-cow, inquire about all the odd bits—sometimes they will throw in some bones, the tongue, and more for free!
Don’t Forget about Fish
Eating nose to tail shouldn’t exclude fish. Aim for 12 ounces of cold-water fatty fish per week to get plenty of DHA and EPA, which have been linked to heart, joint, and brain health. Incorporate fish stock into Thai dishes. Canned fish with soft, edible bones are a terrific source of calcium, which many Paleo followers struggle to get enough of.
If nose-to-tail eating is out of your comfort zone, it’s time to change that! Be adventurous. Nose to tail is the wise way our hunter–gatherer ancestors ate, and it provides more complete nutrition than only eating muscle meat. Just like eating a variety of colorful vegetables helps balance out vitamins and other micronutrients, eating nose to tail balances out amino acids while providing abundant vitamins and minerals.