Nose to Tail: The Nutritional Value of Eating the Whole Animal

The Nutritional Value of Nose to Tail Eating
Photo by adam morse on Unsplash.

If you’re like me, you probably didn’t grow up eating things like organ meat (heart?? Ew!) or bones. Though some people already have a taste for foods like liver pate, beef tongue, and heart, most of us feel squeamish when we think about those “other bits.”

Enter the ancestral way of eating. This promotes the idea that our diets should look much more like what our ancestors ate (a large variety of plants and animals) and less like Lunchables. A core piece of this lifestyle is the need to consume the whole animal – nose to tail.

It’s absolutely true that this way of eating is perfect for those who want to be both economical and environmentally-friendly, but in this article, let’s explore the health benefits behind eating the whole animal.

So why care about those other bits at all? In short, they’re nutrient powerhouses! Parts like liver and bones are concentrated sources of important vitamins and minerals. Let’s take a closer look…

Organs

First up: organ meats.

Organ meats like liver and heart offer an abundance of nutrients, such as CoQ10 (an impressive antioxidant), vitamin A, vitamin D, B vitamins, magnesium, zinc, and iron. These nutrients alone are commonly supplemented in pill form to make up for deficiencies!

Just look at how 100 grams of chicken breast stacks up to 100 grams of beef liver, according to the USDA food database:

Chicken Breast

Beef Liver

Vitamin A

8 mcg

4968 mcg

Vitamin D

5 IU

49 IU

Vitamin K

2.4 mcg

3.1 mcg

Folate

4 mcg

290 mcg

Vitamin B12

0.39 mcg

59.3 mcg

Choline

67.1 mg

333.3 mg

Iron

0.89 mg

4.9 mg

Magnesium

25 mg

18 mg

Selenium

17.8 mcg

39.7 mcg

Zinc

0.7 mg

4 mg

Copper

0.039 mg

9.755 mg

 

Now, I’m not totally hating on chicken breast (or any other muscle meats). They’re versatile cuts and they can be delicious – I cook with them every week! But from a nutritional standpoint, beef liver is going to leave chicken breast in the dust every time.

This is something to pay attention to. Whether you’re concerned about your ability to fight disease, the quality of your sleep, your skin health, or your ability to grow and nourish a baby, these nutrients are all needed for your body’s many and varied processes.

Unfortunately, those same nutrients are often scarce in our diets. Looking at the comparison above, I think you can understand why.

Nose to Tail: The Nutritional Value of Eating the Whole Animal
Photo by Rachel Lees on Unsplash.

Skin & Bones

When it comes to skin and bones, glycine is one of the brightest stars of the show. Skin is a great source of glycine, but bones (consumed by drinking bone broth) are an even better source (good ref here for further reading).

Glycine is an amino acid found in collagen. We need it for good digestive health, detoxification, immune function (glycine aids in the production of glutathione, a powerful antioxidant), muscle repair, and other processes.

Glycine is also an important player in a nutritional balancing act.

Amino Acid Balance

Glycine balances another amino acid, methionine. Why is this important?

In our modern diet, we tend to focus on a lot of methionine-rich muscle meats, while vitamin and glycine-rich organs and bones are left out. This can create a problem of imbalance.

Glycine is needed for methionine to convert to glutathione (that master antioxidant I mentioned before).

Without glycine from skin and bones and B vitamins and choline from foods like organ meats and eggs, methionine won’t convert to the amazing glutathione. Instead, it will convert into excess homocysteine (high levels of which are linked to heart disease) and excessive methylation can take place.

In other words, methionine isn’t a bad guy, but we need to balance it with other nutrients in order for it to do important jobs (like cell repair and detoxification).

When we turn our noses up at bones and skin, we miss out on the balancing act that eating the whole animal provides, and instead consume too much of amino acids like tryptophan and methionine, and too little of amino acids like glycine and proline. It’s amazing how when we eat the whole food, we get the whole package of perfectly balanced nutrients.

So sip your bone broth with pride – you’re nourishing your body in more ways than one!

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Hannah Campbell is a holistic health coach at wholefoodwholeyou.com. As a health coach (and foodie!), her passion is to help people create health for themselves by guiding them to the root of their health issues, while offering support and accountability along the way. She believes that the whole person and their lifestyle should be considered when pursuing health, and that food truly can be medicine.